My first 100 days as West of England Mayor have been fascinating. I have met and discussed challenges and priorities with key partners – including our constituent councils, central Government, business, transport and housing providers, universities and colleges.
As a result, in July I launched our draft regional strategy and vision. Developed with the LEP, it sets out to create the right conditions to boost economic prosperity for all, focussing on three key areas of business, skills and infrastructure. This is an important document and I’d like as many people as possible to take a look at it and provide feedback. This will used to inform the West of England Combined Authority’s more detailed plans, priorities and funding decisions.
Whilst the strategy is very much about our long-term vision, in developing it, and in my conversations with partners, it became evident that there are some areas we need to start work on quickly. These include:
Digital connectivity – this is essential to our future success. Businesses need good connectivity to compete and it is vital to opening up more skills and employment opportunities for residents. This week I’ve announced plans for a study to identify where the gaps in digital connectivity are across the region. We will use the findings as a basis for conversations with Government, providers, businesses and house builders, to make sure that we address issues together.
Improving skills is another key area where we’re making progress. Earlier this month we received £3.9m million to help improve the skills and opportunities of up to 3,000 adults. The money is coming to us from the Department of Work and Pensions directly as a result of devolution. The two-and-a-half-year Innovation Pilot will start in January 2018 and aims to support social housing tenants into secure, more meaningful and better-paid careers.
In Housing we’re putting together a bid for a share of Government’s new £2.3 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund. We are working with our constituent councils on a regional bid which, if successful, will help us build more homes that people want to live in.
We need to be planning for the future and attracting new employers and more jobs. I have put an ambitious bid in for one of Heathrow Airport’s four regional logistics hubs which would bring important new jobs to the region.
I also announced £10m support through the Local Growth Fund for a new Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS). Led by University of Bath it will be a global centre of excellence, leading development of ultra-low emission vehicles and creating important new jobs.