A “poverty truth commission” set up by the North of Tyne Combined Authority has faced criticism from councillors.

Poverty commissions are models of direct engagement where civic and business representatives are brought together with people with lived experience of poverty, known as community commissioners.

The idea is that the commissions work to understand the “specific features” of poverty in the areas they cover and work together to come up with solutions.

When NTCA’s poverty commission was set up in 2020 in partnership with Children North East, it was the first commission set up covering the area of a combined authority. However, the area covered by the NTCA presented some challenges.

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A report presented to members of the combined authority’s overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday (March 19) pointed out that Northumberland alone is more than 5,000 square kilometres. This had an impact on the involvement of both community and business and civic commissioners due to time constraints and other commitments.

One community commissioner was reported as saying: “Towards the end of this project, I did become a little disillusioned and felt all the work we were doing and effort was futile. I was close to leaving at that point.”

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Labour councillor Caroline Ball, who represents the Ashington Central ward, raised concerns about the cost of the project. The report showed that the poverty truth commission had a final budget out-turn of just under £98,000.

Cllr Ball said: “How much has this report cost? I look at the figures and they’re terrible for the return.

“We need impact from this. I have sat for the last fifteen years and seen multiple reports like this, and I’m not seeing the change or the impact.

“Is it worthwhile commissioning reports? I work in the voluntary sector, I know the community and voluntary sector could do lots if they only had the money.”

Responding to this, Joanna Unthank, NTCA’s senior programme manager, said: “I sense your frustration and I understand it.

“This is not something that necessarily works well in a combined authority. There’s a huge amount we have learnt through delivering this.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Greg Stone, who represents the Manor Park ward on Newcastle City Council, added: “At the previous meeting it was clear that there were some issues about what the impact was going to be because it wasn’t clear what the outcomes would be.

“I think the officers have tried to do the best they can with what they’ve got. I think the problem here is this was a mayoral, political priority and that was something in the mayor’s manifesto which hasn’t been a success.

“There have been some really good things that could be applied in terms of giving people agency – I think that’s a really important issue. We know a lot of this already, we do know what works.

“This has been a rather well-meaning, but lame experiment.”

Defending the report, Ms Unthank said: “This is one of the first pieces of work where we really tried to work directly with communities. There is a lot of transferable learning in it.”

Chief executive Henry Kippin added: “I welcome the learning and the discussion. Through this document we are trying to explain how does a combined authority add value in this space.

“I think the work was meant to be a representative piece of work, it was about having the voice of people at the sharp end of this, visible and audible to us as we made decisions.

“If you look at skills, housing and jobs there is a huge amount that will be informed by that work.”

Furthermore, the report did state that the PTC had been “extremely impactful” in a “number of ways”. These included the personal growth identified by commissioners, and changes within organisations involved in the way they work with those with lived experience.

A “Call to Action” event, held on January 24, was attended by 60 leaders and was described as an “amazing event”, with commissioners praised for sharing their “intimate, traumatic and very raw lived experiences”.