We must not miss the devolution bus in the West of England - says Steve West

Issue date: 09 July 2015


Professor Steve West

Business leaders across Bristol, Bath and the West of England are calling on the four local authorities not to miss out on the potential opportunities that devolution offers for Bristol, Bath and the West of England.

“George Osborne has put out a very clear message that regional devolution is on the table for those who really want it ” says Professor Steve West, President of Bristol Chamber of Commerce, Chairman of the West of England Initiative at Business West and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West of England.

“We seem to be lagging behind our regional counterparts,” he said. “Manchester in particular have had the vision and the will to establish a 'Northern powerhouse' aiming to be a real economic force to the benefit of all their citizens. They've found a way to work together and we need to do the same and it's looking likely that deals will shortly be announced for the cities of Leeds, Sheffield and also for areas like Cornwall.”

“We have to work quickly to define what, as a city region, we all want out of devolution, and ensure that we have the governance and leadership capacity and capability in place to guarantee that we use the funds raised in an accountable way that will satisfy Government.”

“Compared with the rest of the UK we may be the only city region, outside of our capital that is a net contributor to the Treasury, but there is huge unrealised potential here and a long way for us to go to ensure we can compete in a global economy for talent and resources. We may also be one of the most liveable places in the UK but we simply cannot afford to be complacent or allow the challenges that change brings to miss this opportunity. Devolution could potentially mean that far more of the money raised locally would be spent locally on what matters most to us – potentially infrastructure, skills, education – in the same way that Scotland and Wales are carving out a greater say in what happens to their tax pounds.”

He adds “The devolution agenda is the Government's way of redressing the severe economic imbalance we currently have between London and the rest of the UK and this new government are now moving at real pace to deliver on their manifesto pledge to devolve power to the devolved nations and also to major English cities and regions that come forward to negotiate new deals.”

“We all want to help create inclusive, exciting, healthy and prosperous futures for everyone who lives and works here and the business community is clear that our councils need to respond now and fully explore and take forward the opportunities offered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.”

“In return for our councils working closer together on the matters that are so important to us such as transport, housing and skills we believe we have the chance to negotiate a deal that can strengthen the long term sustainability and prosperity of the West of England.”

“It's firmly in our hands to shape a stronger, healthier future for the West of England.”

A sticking point may be on the Government's preferred model of governance for directing regional devolution which is something that not all the local authorities in the West of England are all signed up to.

“If that is not a way that works for us, then we need to find alternatives that the Government would accept,” said Steve West. “I am keen to host a meeting with local authority leaders in the next few weeks to see what common ground we have to take us forward. It is critical that we work with local authority leaders to really explore how we can best respond to these opportunities and serve the 1.1 million people we collaborate with and who the Councillors were elected to represent.”

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