Coun Nick Forbes – who is approaching his final weeks in the job after being controversially deselected in his Arthur’s Hill ward ahead of May’s local elections – brought what was the last meeting of the board to feature both himself and Prof Milne to a close with a touching address.
Coun Forbes has been leader of Newcastle City Council since 2010, while Prof Milne has served as Director of Public Health since 2014. Prof Milne has been a highly visible presence throughout the pandemic, and also a key driver behind efforts to tackle health inequalities locally.
Coun Forbes told the meeting: “This is Eugene’s last meeting as our director of public health in this context. I couldn’t let that pass without formally recording – as the City Futures Board – our sincere and heartfelt thanks for all of your wisdom throughout the pandemic.”
Coun Forbes said he wanted to highlight how Prof Milne’s leadership had helped the city navigate the pandemic, but also that he had been part of changing how public figures and organisations thought about public health.
He added: “It is not just how you have in no small part been key to how we have come through this. It’s also a tribute to your resilience as I have seen how hard you have worked and how tirelessly you have worked. You have been absolutely inspiring to us all in terms of guiding our city through this most challenging of times.
“When public health was absorbed back into local government there were questions about how this was going to work. But what you have done is embed public health across the city. I think we all see public health as part of our job and the role of whichever organisation we are in.”
Coun Forbes then took a moment to compose himself as he reflected on the fact that it was also the last City Futures board meeting he would chair.
“This is also my last time at this meeting, as you will know I will soon no longer be leader of the council,” he said. “So I would also like, for me, to say a huge thank you to you all for everything you have done, the partnerships built and the sense of community that has been represented in service of our city in this most difficult of times.
“This spirit of Newcastle that you represent has been an absolute privilege to be part of. So thank you to all of you.”
The City Futures board includes councillors along with leading figures from local NHS bodies, the charitable sector and the police.