My plans for a prosperous and sustainable West of England economy
My ambition is to make Bristol, Bath and the West of England the most dynamic, pleasant and sustainable place to live, work, invest and visit. I will use the office of Metro Mayor to work with businesses and other political leaders to establish the region as the best place to start and grow a business. Investors and employees will be attracted by a high quality of life, with good connectivity to the rest of Europe and the world beyond.
The Bristol and Bath cities region economy is already the most prosperous in England outside London. It contributes over £25billion to the national economy. The taxes its people and businesses pay subsidise the rest of the country. I am not attracted by prosperity for its own sake. Our region’s wealth must be grown in a sustainable way, with opportunities for everyone to share in our growing success.
The Strategic Economic Plan produced by the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership in 2014 identified five sectors that are strong in our region and are of European significance. Professional and business services employ over 50,000 people. I started my own professional career with PWC, after graduating from Bristol University. The most iconic sector worldwide would be our advanced engineering, especially in aerospace companies such as Airbus and Rolls Royce. We are also well known for our creative and digital expertise, with Aardman Animations being the most famous. It’s less well known that Bristol and Bath is the largest cluster of silicon chip designers outside California. The SEP rightly recognises that the low carbon sector is well established here and has huge potential as we all transition to a more sustainable economy.
I will work to showcase and grow all of the above sectors. I would add that our universities are critical to our knowledge driven economy. They are especially strong when they collaborate, for instance in the Bristol and UWE joint Robotics Lab, the Bristol and Bath Science Park or the SET Squared Business Incubator. I will work to promote the tourism potential of both Bath and Bristol. The region is home to a strong agricultural and food and drink sector and I will work hard to sustain a strong rural economy. The West is also known for doing things differently and I see huge potential for the growth of social enterprises.
Here are some of my ideas for growing and sharing the opportunities of our strong local economy:
• Leading trade delegations of local businesses to win more inward investment, capitalising on what should be a world renowned brand of Bristol and Bath
• Establish Bristol and Bath as a national hub for the creative and digital industries, with new opportunities for growth at Temple Meads and Bath Quays
• Work with the Welsh government to make the Severn Estuary the world leader for clean energy from tidal lagoons
• Use part of the £30million annual investment fund that comes with devolution to create affordable space for start-up creative and high tech businesses and also for social enterprises
• Improve road connectivity with a new junction on the M4 to serve the Science Park, ensuring that villages north of the M4 are protected by a new direct link to Yate
• Share the growth potential more evenly so that north Bristol and South Gloucestershire do not overheat. There is potential for employment and housing growth in South Bristol and in the Somer Valley, with enhanced road links and new bus services
• Rail connectivity will be improved with at least four new stations (Ashley Hill, Portway, Charfield and Saltford) and I will lead a delegation of our MPs and business leaders to the Department of Transport to get electrification back on schedule
• The devolution deal allows the Metro Mayor to ask government for an increase of 2% in business rates in the region. I will work with the business community, including the Federation of Small Businesses, to prepare an investment schedule that would be financed by the increased revenue, before pursuing this option
• Jointly request with the Welsh Government that the Severn Bridge tolls should be scrapped, rather than reduced in 2018
• Bring together the cultural and hospitality sectors in Bath and Bristol to grow the number of domestic and international visitors to the cities
• Set up a joint house building social enterprise between the three local councils in order to build homes for sale and private sector rent with the surplus invested in homes for social rent. The home affordability gap in the West of England is one of the worst outside London and holds back our economic potential.
• Support Bristol Airport with a study into the potential for a tram link to Bristol
• Skills funding is devolved in 2018, I will work with local business leaders, colleges and other training providers to plan for a skills system that meets the business needs of the economy and also contributes to social mobility and social cohesion
• Work with DCMS to roll out broadband to all of the region’s villages so that business growth in a diversified rural economy is maximised
• I will be a strong voice for the 30,000 workers from other EU countries that are essential to our economy and public services. I will press the government to avoid a hard Brexit, which will be deeply damaging to our economy.
I will be publishing a full manifesto at the end of March and in the meantime would welcome feedback and other ideas for how we can grow a prosperous and sustainable economy.