The leaders of the West of England are asking the Government to back a devolution bid that could generate an extra £2bn per annum for the economy whilst improving local lives in terms of employment, homes and better transport options.
The region is already the country’s most economically productive area and offers a high quality of life to its citizens.
Now, in a submission to Her Majesty’s Treasury, the West of England proposes a £1bn investment which could triple the level of spending on major projects such as transport, flood defence and housing over the next 10 years.
The package, which also proposes greater local control over post-16 training and skills, is focused on increasing economic productivity to grow the region’s economy by at least 5% more than it would without the deal. In doing so it will create a fairer region where people have better access to employment, more homes available and better transport options.
It would be closely linked to existing and highly successful joint working in the region, opening up opportunities for more cross-border projects. It will mean an even more collaborative approach to issues such as where new homes are built and how public transport improvements are delivered.
The submission proposes a ‘Payment by Results’ approach to the £1bn for infrastructure. This means the region is seeking the freedom to borrow money to invest up-front, with the Government committing to repaying it once the economic success of the investment has been demonstrated.
The Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, Cllr Tim Warren, said: “We’ve put together an ambitious proposal which has at its heart the need to deliver new homes, create more jobs, and improve our area’s transport infrastructure.
“The West of England is a key contributor to the UK economy and we want a deal that recognises that.
“We already have ambitious plans for our area, but devolving more powers and funding to the region in this way will have a huge benefit to the residents of Bath & North East Somerset.
Creating new jobs and more affordable houses are essential to our growth and prosperity, and our economic strategy seeks to address this by supporting higher wage industries to grow and locate here.
“By working collaboratively with our West of England partners we can deliver greater investment for our whole region whilst at the same time maintaining the distinct identity of each of our areas. We will be able to deliver more jobs, better infrastructure, and work together on transport initiatives that will make it easier for residents, businesses and visitors to get around our area.”
George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol said: “I am delighted with the progress we have made over the last few months which has enabled us to come up with a unique devolution offer tailored to suit the special qualities of the city region and the particular challenges we face.
“I strongly believe in investing in success and we’ve an excellent record in this region with so much to offer the UK economy. By putting more investment and power in local hands we’ll be able to drastically improve the speed and efficiency with which we improve our transport system, reduce congestion, create affordable new homes and help some of society’s most disadvantaged people into training and work.
“The West of England is already the UK’s most economically productive region, but this deal will help to secure and improve our position rather than risk falling behind some of our Northern counterparts. We’re calling on the Government to recognise the obvious advantages of backing a winner by giving us the freedom we need to be even more successful and make a real difference to local lives and UK PLC.”
Cllr Nigel Ashton, Leader of North Somerset Council said: “The devolution deal builds on the strong partnership working we have in the West of England and in making this submission to government we are signalling our ambition for growth. Alongside this we are also seeking to secure powers so that we can make sure that growth takes place in appropriate places and is supported by improvements to our transport network and provision of essential infrastructure.”
Referring to the proposition around skills Cllr Ashton added: “The proposals also give us a real opportunity to work with businesses, government and our training and education providers, making sure we develop skilled people locally to sustain growth in our area.”
Cllr Matthew Riddle, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council said: “We are pleased to be able to make the case to Government that South Gloucestershire and the West of England have the track record, vision and the capability to take on the devolved powers that will enable us to grow this region for all our futures.
“People are at the heart of these proposals, and people in every part of the region will be best served when the Government devolve to us not only the powers we are setting out, but also the mechanisms to fund the plans that will deliver housing, education and transport infrastructure for a sustainable future.”
Colin Skellett, Chair of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership added: “This is a major step forwards and builds on the excellent joint working between the four Unitary Authorities and business. We have clearly demonstrated our ability to manage devolved funding and responsibilities through our City Deal. This further proposition will enable our strong regional economy to grow even faster to the benefit of UK PLC and everyone who lives and works here.”
Following its submission the West of England will work closely with the Government on the detail of the proposals. The Government is expected to make its decision in time for the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 25 November.