Firstly, may I say I’m very proud to be elected as the first West of England Mayor.
This is an exciting time for our region as the West of England Combined Authority takes on new powers, funding and responsibilities from central Government.
This means that as a region we can be much more ambitious – we can make decisions here in the West of England about things that affect our residents every day – decisions about homes, transport, skills for jobs and how we support businesses to ensure our economy continues to grow.
I think it is important that I take some time to listen to what people have to say, especially the mayor and leaders of the local authorities who are already working closely together.
I am committed to working collaboratively and constructively with my colleagues in the combined authority, including Marvin Rees, mayor of Bristol, councillor Tim Warren, leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, and councillor Matthew Riddle, leader of South Gloucestershire Council.
Together, we will make decisions about what is best for our region, cutting across the divides of council boundaries.
I know the three councils have worked together very successfully over many years, and I want to complement and build on that track record and ensure that the benefits of our devolution deal can be used to benefit everyone across the region.
Whilst we appreciate that North Somerset Council is not part of the combined authority at this stage, we will continue to work closely with them to ensure we can deliver economic growth for the wider region.
The devolution deal unlocks a billion pounds of funding over the next 30 years. This will help us work together to tackle priorities such as improving transport, delivering affordable homes and investing in the skills training needed for the local economy.
I hope this is just the start – I want us to plan ahead and work with Government to secure more funding and future devolution deals to benefit our area.
The West of England region is already well and truly on the map. We are one of the UK’s most prosperous regions; well-connected, nationally, internationally and digitally.
In the last decade, our economic contribution to the UK has outperformed the national average. That kind of performance has not happened by chance.
Since its inception in 2010, the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has supported the creation of over 11,000 new jobs, supported 477 businesses and levered hundreds of millions of pounds of public and private sector funding into the region (£126m in public sector and £104m in private sector.)
I will work closely with the LEP’s new interim chair, Steve West, and look forward to him attending the combined authority meetings to represent the views of the Local Enterprise Partnership and its members.
The new combined authority will work to ensure that local people benefit from more job opportunities, a stronger economy and a higher quality of life.
We have high quality jobs in many areas including aerospace, civil engineering, architecture, professional services and global finance, and benefit from highly-skilled talent, grown locally at our world-class universities.
We have many dynamic new businesses developing. A very recent Tech Nation annual report shows Bristol and Bath as the most productive area in the country, with the highest digital business concentration of any major city region.
I want to see our businesses fulfil their potential, and will ensure our policies support businesses to start and grow here in the West of England.
Attracting new investment into the region, bringing more job opportunities for our residents, will also be key to our future development.
Yet, despite these characteristics, the West of England is not without its challenges. We must do more to ensure our region provides opportunity for all.
Skills shortages are a barrier to growth in some sectors, such as advanced manufacturing, creative and digital.
So we must plan ahead, working with employers and colleges, to ensure that local people have the skills that local businesses need.
We will encourage more employers to get involved in careers advice and apprenticeships, and I am passionate that we take a positive message to the next generation about the great job opportunities that exist for everyone in the region.
Housing and transport
The region is a great place to live and work, so our population is growing and this puts pressure on our existing infrastructure.
We need to plan ahead to ensure that we have transport fit for the future, and that we provide the right mix of homes in communities where people want to live.
We will prioritise improving transport to make it easier for people to get to work.
One of our first actions as a combined authority will be to agree the key route network. These are the priority roads that enable people and businesses to move effectively across our region.
We will work to improve our public transport provision, developing smart ticketing and improved bus and rail services.
We must also increase the availability and affordability of housing in places where people want to live and work.
House prices are high and there is a wide disparity in wealth across the region. This means parts of our community are being disconnected – cut-off from living and work here.
The scale of the challenge will require a joined-up approach. We will work with the Leaders and Mayor to address these challenges together.
Over the coming weeks and months I’ll be going out and about to meet as many people as I can.
I’ll be visiting businesses of all sizes, transport operators, local colleges and universities, as well as community groups, to talk about the challenges we face and how we can work together.
The West of England offers an exceptional quality of life, with significant cultural and environmental assets.
We must work together to deliver good growth that benefits all our residents, communities and businesses.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard to bring devolution to our region. I know it has been a long journey and it is testament to all those involved who have worked together for the greater good of the region.
I believe we have a great future together and look forward to helping deliver a stronger region for all of us.
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