Here in the West of England we already have an international reputation for innovation and we must build on this, so over the past few weeks I’ve visited, and been impressed by, a number of highly innovative businesses.
Just this week we heard how the West of England is set to lead the world in the development of ultra-low emission vehicles. Investment through the West of England Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership will support the University of Bath to establish a new Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS). Located at the Bristol and Bath Science Park, it will lead the development of future generations of ultra-low emission vehicles and attract sector-related businesses to the region, generating economic growth.
I visited the Bristol and Bath Science Park a few weeks ago and was impressed by the amount of collaborative work in research and development going on there; in some cases we have business competitors working together with our universities for their mutual benefit.
I was introduced to the ‘super computer’ at the Centre for Modelling & Simulation, and at the National Composites Centre I was fascinated by the new generation of materials being created, for use in a variety of industries including automotive and aerospace.
Attracting new investment and generating more job opportunities for our residents, are key to our future economic success. On a visit to Bristol tech firm Ultrahaptics, I announced that a record 1,600 jobs were created in the region in 2016/17, thanks to targeted campaigning by Invest Bristol & Bath. Around 800 of these new jobs are in digital and high tech businesses.
Mayden in Bath is innovating in a slightly different way, setting up its own academy to run intensive training in coding, software development and project management for potential employees.
Also in Bath, I met a delegation of visitors from Jinan in the Shandong region of China, led by Party Secretary Wentao Wang. They were very excited to hear about our tech and digital success and amazed at our academic offer of four world class universities. It’s important that we develop longer-term links with this region as we seek to raise the profile of the West of England on the world stage.
I enjoyed attending a meeting of the Bath Initiative; we talked about the importance of supporting innovation and business growth and how regional transport planning can help us tackle congestion.
Collaboration is what the Combined Authority is all about; by working together we can achieve so much more. This month our activities stepped up a gear with my first formal meeting as Chair.
I and my fellow board members: Tim Warren, Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol City Council, and Matthew Riddle, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council agreed how we will work together to ensure we make the most of our new devolved powers – unlocking opportunities and funding for our region at a scale not seen before.
We discussed how we will prioritise funding to projects that generate economic growth for all, including funding for skills, business and infrastructure. We also agreed to develop a new Joint Local Transport Plan (JLTP) covering the Combined Authority area and North Somerset. This will be an essential tool to ensure that transport is planned in a way that best meets the needs of the area, ensuring the right infrastructure is in place to support growth.
This month I also met my fellow new Regional Mayors from across England; it was good to start a conversation about how we can work together to benefit the future of all our regions.
I presented our regional industrial strategy to the Local Government Association conference in Birmingham. I told delegates that I believe Government in this country is too centralised, and said we need a true partnership between central, regional and local government, and with business.
Closer to home, I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend visit to officially open Abbeyfield House in Keynsham. I found a wonderful sense of community amongst the older people living there.