West of England tops table for Govt investment with £86m boost to create thousands of jobs

July 7, 2014

The Bristol and Bath area is to receive £86.2m of Government funding to accelerate economic growth and create 5,000 jobs. The amount is the highest in England and seven times that of London calculated by population size.

Bosses at the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which will receive the money to spend on projects across the area, were delighted with the amount. They see it as a ringing endorsement from ministers of their economic blueprint to back the Bristol city region's burgeoning creative and tech sectors and harness its innovation.

The investment, under the Government’s first Local Growth Deal, will be used to fund economy-boosting projects such as a world-leading next generation broadband, an internationally-recognised specialist robotics institute of technology, a dedicated ‘growth hub’ to provide small businesses with access to all the advice and support they need to grow, and a raft of new or modernised and extended colleges that will provide a much-needed boost to skills and training.

These colleges will ensure local people have access to the skills they need for future jobs in nuclear, advanced engineering, creative, hi-tech and other key growing industries in the region. They include extensions of  the Advanced Engineering Centre at Bristol College and the Advanced Construction Centre in South Bristol as well as a Future Technology Centre at Weston College and a West of England Law and Professional Services Academy in Weston.

But there was no up-front investment for a number of flagship projects including the proposed food and drink sector centre of excellence at junction 21 of the M5 close to Weston-super-Mare and a 'grow-on' centre at the Bristol & Bath Science Park. The LEP had hoped to bring in Government investment of £3m to kick-start both these scheme in 2015/16.

These projects were among 34 ‘interventions’ named by the LEP in its strategic economic plan submitted to the Government earlier this year and seen as essential for the future growth of the West of England’s economy over the next five years.

The LEP is now in talks with Whitehall chiefs to see if it can shift part of the money announced today to some of these schemes. LEP bosses are also this week starting talks with the Government on the next tranche of Local Growth funding to be approved next year and hopes to secure backing for projects not included this time.

Business Secretary Vince Cable officially announced the funding when he visited the Robotics Lab at UWE Bristol on Monday.

Touring the Robotics Lab at UWE Bristol, he said of the Local Growth Deal: “We are reversing half a century or more when central government told local government how to spend its money.”

The funding is in addition to the previously committed £126.4m for the MetroBus and MetroWest transport schemes, meaning the West has received a total of £213m from the growth fund.

The LEP says this is will also unlock an additional £185m of investment from private sector and local partners, creating an investment package totalling £400m.

LEP chair Colin Skellett said: “Government has told us we have a strong and ambitious long-term strategic economic plan and we welcome this first instalment of funding for a number of our key projects.

“But this is just the first round, so now our discussions begin on the next round, where we will be pushing hard to fund our other key projects.

“We also expect to have some flexibility on how we spend the current allocation, to enable us to begin to bring other projects forward. Our plan set out an ambitious programme of major projects for the region. We are committed to the plan and delivering those projects, whether using Government money or funding from other sources.”

UWE vice chancellor and chair of the West of England Academic Health Science Network, Steve West, who is also president of Bristol Chamber & Initiative, added: “The West of England is increasingly being seen as a leader in a number of sectors, such as hi-tech, creative and digital innovation.

“The Local Growth Deal recognises these strengths and provides the means to deliver a number of key projects that will secure our place at the forefront of these sectors. Having the right skills in our workforce is also key to the area’s success, therefore the funding to ensure we can provide the right skills for our industry is vital. This deal will complement the £4m just announced for the University Enterprise Zone.”

Pictured: Business Secretary Vince Cable at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory

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