My one-year anniversary as Mayor of the West of England is fast approaching. I am incredibly proud to have been elected into this brand-new role.
My role as mayor is to understand the bigger picture, looking ahead and working with partners to plan for future growth for the region. We’re already making a difference, investing in those things that will improve all our lives – better transport, better jobs, more homes. We’re supporting businesses to grow and boosting residents’ skills and opportunities.
Devolution has given us the opportunity to do things differently. Our three constituent councils – Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol, and South Gloucestershire - came together to agree a devolution deal because they could see the value of collaboration and new ways of working.
It has been a pleasure to work closely with my colleagues, Marvin Rees (Lab), mayor of Bristol; Tim Warren, leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, and Matthew Riddle (Con), leader of South Gloucestershire Council. Together we have come up with new ideas and ambitions to benefit the West of England region and our residents. Planning at regional level makes sense – roads don’t end at council boundaries and many of us live work and travel across the region.
I’m also working with the other regional mayors across England to make sure our voices are heard at national level. We meet regularly to talk about key issues and make representations to government.
The relationships we have developed across government departments are already making a difference. The West of England is seen as a key player and this has led to significant new investment including £80m for transport, £3m to progress housing development, £5m for a 5G trials, and £4m for our new skills programme Future Bright. This is money that wouldn’t be coming to our region without devolution.
I became a councillor because what happens within my local community really matters to me, and that experience has been invaluable as I’ve worked with council colleagues and others to shape the West of England Combined Authority and set priorities. Today I see my local community as the West of England region – my horizons are broader and my ambitions much bigger.
My plans are moving up a gear as I enter my second year in office.
Transport continues to be a priority. We’ve already invested millions looking at how we can improve transport on the busiest routes – including rail, road and walking / cycling routes. I’m particularly passionate about improving suburban rail; I want to see more and better services and I’m talking to government and Network Rail about this.
Building more homes, particularly affordable homes, is another priority for us all. The government’s housing package will help us progress housing development sites, and we’re making plans with our housing associations about working together to deliver more affordable homes.
Skills will also take centre stage this year. We have many high-quality jobs and we need to give locally-grown talent every opportunity to secure employment. To do this we have to make sure our residents have the right skills for businesses. We’re going to review careers advice and guidance and develop proposals to make improvements. Future Bright will be launched soon, and will support around 3000 people living in social housing into to better jobs.
Much has been achieved this year, but there’s so much more we can do. I will continue to work with all of our partners to secure further investment into our region, and to ensure that the West of England is recognised nationally, and internationally, as a place of growth and innovation and a great place to live and work.
Tim Bowles (Con), West of England mayor