Business leaders demand ‘strong political leadership’ from region’s next Metro Mayor

April 9, 2021

The West of England is being outshone by other devolved English regions such as London and Greater Manchester, a survey revealed this week as business leaders called on the next ‘Metro Mayor’ to strengthen its profile and help bring in much needed investment.

With less than 30 days until voters across the region go to polls to elect the next West of England Mayor, its largest business group demanded ‘strong political leadership’ from the successful candidate. 

Business West’s comments came as results from a survey it staged among West of England firms of all sizes and from all sectors revealed that most felt the region lacked a high enough profile to attract attention and bring in much-needed investment from government and the private sector to improve the lives of its residents.

Some 70% felt that the West of England – which takes in the Bristol, South Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset local authority areas – was being upstaged by other devolved regions with directly elected mayors.

A majority of the 400 businesses surveyed also said that the national and international profile enjoyed by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and London’s Sadiq Khan far outshone that of the West of England.

As a result, there were concerns over the region’s ability to compete for political attention and encourage inward investment from within the UK and overseas.

The current – and first – Metro Mayor, Conservative Tim Bowles, is not standing for re-election on May 6.

A further 80% in the survey indicated that the next West of England Mayor, who leads the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), should play a leading role in driving development towards net zero, as well as championing a green recovery as the region builds back following Covid. 

The survey also revealed that 64% of businesses thought that North Somerset should join WECA, convinced that such a move would help to strengthen the economic prosperity of the region overall.

North Somerset Council declined to become part of the WECA, which has strategic and spending powers in key areas such as transport, housing and skills training, when it was set up in 2016.

Business West, which runs Bristol Chamber of Commerce and the West of England Initiative, has argued that the continued absence of North Somerset has ‘fractured’ the region at a time when it needs a united voice to ensure it received its fair share of government support for the post-Covid economic recovery.

West of England Initiative chief executive James Durie, pictured, said: “On behalf of the business community I’d like to recognise the progress in establishing WECA in the region over the last four years.

“This has made our local governance more joined up on vital issues like transport, planning and skills, after many years of disjointed political relationships across our area.

“We are calling upon the next West of England mayor to build upon these foundations to accelerate and unlock the delivery of clean and inclusive growth and prosperity.

“As highlighted by the survey, business wants the next mayor to confidently and assertively represent the region’s interests in Westminster and to encourage inward investment from within the UK and overseas, championing the strengths that the Bristol and Bath city region offers.”

The call for a stronger Metro Mayor is included Business West’s Manifesto for Business for the May 6 elections – which include all council seats across the region as well as for the directly elected Mayor of Bristol and regional Police & Crime Commissioner.

Other priorities highlighted by the business community in the document include transport and digital infrastructure, employment and skills prospects, affordable housing and strategic planning for sustainable land use.

Taken together, these points spell out the vital importance of the business challenge to the candidates. They will be debated at a special business and economy focused hustings event held in association with the Centre for Cities on April 28.

The four candidates standing in the West of England Mayoral election are:

  • Dan Norris,  (Labour Party)
  • Jerome Thomas (Green Party)
  • Samuel Patrick Sutherland Williams (Conservative Party)
  • Stephen Roy Williams (Liberal Democrat)

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