On May 4, we enter a new phase of devolution that will profoundly change the way that our region is run. I have lived in the West of England for the last 40 years and for the first time in my life I see the possibility of a real shift in power from Westminster to local people.
Last year three councils in the West of England – Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire – agreed to a devolution deal which will allow our region to determine its own future, as well as an additional £30 million in extra funding from government.
This is an unprecedented opportunity for the West of England and it is essential that we do not waste it. We need a leader who can work across the three local authorities; someone who will not be bound by bureaucracy nor party interests.
This is not the time to be divisive, but to unite the West of England around a common purpose and, in doing so, truly let this region reach its full potential. The West of England’s Mayor must use their position to facilitate co-operation between the local authorities for the good of all.
I intend to stand as an independent candidate for this election and draw upon my vast experience of partnership working – with government, local government, businesses and charities – to bolster the status of the West of England and champion it as the best places to live and work. My vision as Mayor will focus on five areas that can be delivered in my first term.
During my career, I have secured significant deals for regeneration, charitable endeavours and for business. As mayor, I will press Westminster to give us more power and responsibility, and more money to affect our own decisions. I believe this devolution deal is only the beginning and want to take a long-term approach to ensure that we capitalise upon this opportunity. We will choose how our region is run in the future.
It is no secret that we are plagued by poor transport infrastructure in the West of England. Politicians have failed to do enough over a very long time to change this. Yet the mistakes of the past do not need to be repeated. I will get on with fixing our roads and buses, and set the foundations to build decent and sustainable public transport that makes a difference for everyone. We must achieve attractive and efficient alternative forms of transport to ease congestion and improve air quality.
I will take a new approach to tackling the housing crisis. It is a national disgrace that no strategic, cohesive and credible plan to provide homes for all exists. We can secure more imaginative deals with developers, swapping clarity about land availability and timescale so that we don’t just see new houses, but new, complete communities with the right amenities, transport infrastructure and essential public services. For me, it is nothing but an obscenity that here in the most civilised country in the world, we are still not able to provide shelter – the most basic of human requirements – to so many that desperately need it.
Outside of the capital, the West of England remains the only net contributor to the Treasury and is home to businesses and institutions that are global leaders. In difficult times, we must keep our region open to the world and I am proud to promote the value of the diversity of businesses and people in the West of England.
This region is home to an innovative, creative, highly paid and skilled economy; yet not everyone here is part of it. It deeply saddens me that we continue to see so many people left behind through lack of a good education. As mayor, I will use my powers to make sure that young local people can learn the skills to do the jobs that we create here so that they can all reap the benefits of a productive and creative life. We have been careless about so many of our young people for far too long.
I am standing in this election because I believe our politicians must do better. In our region, businesses, charities and academia lead the way globally. The local political system has been plagued by a myopic approach to planning and displays little inclination either for a long term, strategic approach to these issues.
We need the West of England to be fiercely ambitious if we are to become the best that we can be. We must compete with other city regions here in the UK and beyond if we are to maintain and grow as an internationally competitive region.
Strength of purpose and serious determination are needed, not just to get better and create better places, but to be as good as we can be and achieve as much as we possibly can. We cannot afford the complacency of the past. The role of metro mayor is for someone who can match the ambitions of every sector and get on with the job in hand.
John Savage is officially declaring he is standing as an independent candidate for the West of England metro mayor on Tuesday. He is the Chairman of University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and executive chairman of Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative. He served for 10 years as a board member of the Regional Development Agency and was chairman of the South West Learning and Skills Council from inception until its closure.
Photo by Jon Craig
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