In recent weeks, you may have seen some coverage about North Somerset joining the West of England Combined Authority (WECA). In the interests of transparency, we are pleased to share details of our correspondence on the issue as well as a timeline and the prospectus that we had hoped to share with Government, had we been able to secure a meeting with them.
It’s important to again be clear that I’ve always supported the expansion of WECA. North Somerset are a key part of our region and I would support them joining where it would benefit and not disadvantage Bristol residents. In fact I’ve supported co-operation that extends beyond the WECA footprint including North Somerset, to ensure we’re taking a truly regional approach to key issues such as transport, housing and jobs.
I believe we have an opportunity to deliver what the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine have delivered in the North and Midlands respectively. That’s why I’m pleased to see the progress that’s being made in relation to the Western Gateway, which we founded with Cardiff and Newport, a cross-border economic partnership with a focus on clear and inclusive growth for the region. This partnership covers an area from Swansea to Swindon and from Gloucester to Bath.
The issue here is not that we don’t want North Somerset to join. The issues are many. Among them are:
- That there is no Government financial offer on the table to support expansion, which means we potentially risk splitting the existing pot four ways instead of three. That would disadvantage Bristolians. It is not possible to have a meaningful consultation with people of Bristol and the city region if we don’t know the offer or what we’re asking people. We’ve had two cancelled meetings with government at which we wanted to get a Government commitment to adequately fund any expansion. The only offer has been for Luke Hall MP to have a conversation with the Treasury. We have had no new offer, despite other regions having up to six new financial deals since they created their combined authorities.
- We are the economic centre of the region, representing around two-thirds of the region’s economy, but there is no recognition of this in the way in which regional decisions are made. I have repeatedly highlighted concerns when it comes to governance, when so often I have faced a push for money to be split three ways. Not in relation to population, not in relation to need or economic impact, just a crude three way split. Combined authorities exist to take a strategic look at where money is best invested in a region. Sadly we are lacking that. An example of this is High Streets where we face the assumption that funding is shared evenly, despite Bristol having 47 high streets – a third more than Bath & North East Somerset and four times as many as South Gloucestershire.
Beyond this, we have sometimes had open opposition voiced to the investment needs of Bristol, on issues ranging from housing in Hengrove, to the mass transit system, to the work to bring forward the new University Campus in Temple Quarter. This is important to our city’s interests and ensuring that WECA works.
I am batting for the investment that Bristol needs for us to grow in an inclusive and sustainable way. It’s my job to stand up for Bristol’s interests and I make no apology for doing so, even when the consequences get contentious.
It’s disappointing that these debates are being had in public. It does nothing to improve government trust in our ability to deliver. Bristol is focused on delivery and that is why we have taken a stand for our city.