Great news – we’re looking at investing up to £10m in boosting our region’s high streets, with a proposal for three pilot projects – in Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire. The new Love our High Streets project will look at how we can work with our constituent councils and communities to transform high streets and town centres, supporting them to embrace their future in the digital age. I look forward to sharing more details about this soon, after it has been discussed in more detail at our next committee meeting on 30 November.
Last week’s Budget also had good news for our high streets, with business rates being reduced by one-third for small businesses with a rateable value below £51,000 – for two years from April 2019 – benefiting up to 90% of small independent businesses including pubs, cafes and traders.
The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, also gave us an additional £23m in the Budget through the Transforming Cities Fund; we’ve already allocated millions to kick-start improving our busiest routes – including rail, road and walking / cycling, and this extra funding will help us to speed up this work and do even more to improve transport.
Channel 4’s announcement that Bristol is to be the home to one of its new creative hubs is also terrific news – recognising our region’s wealth of local talent and thriving creative industry. Well done to all those involved in the successful bid – including everyone at the West of England Combined Authority’s inward investment arm, Invest Bristol & Bath, with their knowledge, expertise and tireless efforts to increase national and international interest and growth in our region. Through our significant investment in the bid, and the combined efforts of all our councils and Bristol’s fantastic independent TV production cluster to support Bristol City Council, we’ve definitely been tuned-in to giving Channel 4 the perfect location for the future. We’ll continue to give Channel 4 the practical support they need for their move into our region to be a huge success.
Continuing the theme of bringing new business to our region, I welcomed an international delegation representing 16 countries from the Department for International Trade (DIT) to the West of England this week, with Invest Bristol & Bath. This was a great opportunity to raise the profile of the West of England with officers from around the world, and show how much we value the importance of foreign direct investment to the region. I’m confident that the delegates gained a valuable insight into our tech sector, so that when DIT officers are meeting prospective investors in areas relevant to our region they will think of the West of England first.
The West of England Combined Authority is also working with two major housing associations to get more much-needed affordable homes built in our region, more quickly. Sovereign and LiveWest have recently secured a strategic partnership with Homes England, the Government’s housing delivery agency, to build 2,275 new homes across the South West of England by 2024 with £111.5m grant funding. They have ambitions to deliver half of these extra homes in the West of England – a mix of social or affordable rent as well as shared ownership – in addition to their existing investment and development programmes. This radical approach will help more people in our region secure the right type of home, in the right place and crucially, at the right price. I am confident that the partnership will deliver successful places where people will aspire to be.
Finally, it was brilliant to meet some inspiring young people at Sir Bernard Lovell Academy’s “World of Work Day” and join their mock interview panel to put the pupils through their paces. They presented themselves very well, especially for their first time under interview conditions, and were a real credit to their school.
Sir Bernard Lovell Academy is one of the 25 schools in our new Careers Hub; which is helping improve career opportunities for young people and forging closer ties with businesses – encouraging them to realise their potential and help ensure they possess the right skills for our region’s businesses now and into the future.