West of England needs to ‘act like powerhouse before it is recognised as one’, says Business West MD

January 2, 2024

The West of England needs to come up with some “big, bold ideas” this year if it wants the government to treat it as a regional powerhouse similar to the North and Midlands, the leader of the region’s largest business group has said.

In his New Year message, Phil Smith, managing director of Business West – the organisation behind Bristol Chamber of Commerce – said the West of England’s business and political leaders were often critical that the region was not centre stage in terms of “shouting about its great businesses”.

Mr Smith, pictured, added that these leaders also often wondered why the region was rarely mentioned in Parliament in the same way as the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine.

“Well, I think we do make the mistake of holding out a begging bowl and wanting Whitehall and Westminster to recognise us,” he said.

“So, in order to get real recognition from government, we do need to start acting like we are a powerhouse rather than just wanting it conferred on us.

“We certainly don’t deserve to be regarded as a powerhouse unless we really have something to add value to our regional economy. What we need to have is big, bold ideas in 2024.”

Addressing the business climate in the region and what its firms want this year, Mr Smith added: “In some respects, I think it’s the same as they always want, and that is certainty and stability with infrastructure that actually works.

“Business needs to feel that government has a clear plan that will help them grow and not hinder them with too much bureaucracy and regulation.”

That meant transport systems that could be relied upon to get staff into work and allow a company to get their goods out to customers.

Also on businesses’ wish list for 2024 was having council planning departments that work for them far more quickly and an electricity power grid that could also cope with their growth, he said.

“If government gets these basics right, most companies would be happy for it to then back out – but that level of satisfaction is just not happening enough to make a difference for many companies,” he added.

“On infrastructure and how we finance it, I believe there could be investment opportunities for the UK with countries like Australia and Canada through billions of superannuation pension monies.

“These countries still like Britain and are always looking for good investments.”

Business West represents more than 21,000 businesses through its network of chambers of commerce members in Bath, South Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire as well as Bristol.

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