Life has been something of a whirlwind since I was elected on May 4. I’ve met so many people and enjoyed discussing with them the challenges we face, and our ambitions for the future of our region.
We’re already one of the UK’s most prosperous regions, well-connected, nationally, internationally and digitally. As we take on new powers, funding and responsibilities from central Government, I want to work with our partners to build on that prosperity, to benefit all our residents.
I am committed to getting our region moving, improving transport to make it easier for people to get to work. This is why I started my series of roundtable discussions earlier this month on the topic of transport. I met representatives from organisations and businesses with responsibility for, and an interest in, our roads, cycle networks, buses, railway, port and airport to talk about today’s issues and, importantly, how we plan ahead for future challenges.
Ensuring our residents have the right skills for the future is another priority, and I’ve already had discussions with our universities, colleges, skills and training providers.
It’s essential that we all work together, not only to ensure that our residents have the skills employers need today, but that we’re planning for the skills they will need in 10 or 20 years. One of the most challenging questions raised was around how we go about educating people for jobs that we don’t even know exist yet…
Just Eat, who I visited at their Bristol offices, are a great example of how important the right skills are in attracting new businesses to our region. This constantly-innovating company expanded into the West of England from London as it recognised that we are home to some very skilled developers, as well as being a great place to live and work.
Supporting innovation and business growth is key to our economic success. I want to see our businesses fulfil their potential, and will ensure our policies support businesses to start and grow here in the West of England.
I’ve started talking to those working in the housing sector too, and have more meetings planned in the next few weeks, to discuss how we can build more new homes that our residents can afford.
I saw, first-hand, how many dynamic new businesses are developing here at the Business Showcase SW at Ashton Gate, and when I met start-ups working at Engine Shed, and at the Watershed creative sector incubator.
During my first weeks in office, I met with my fellow board members of the Combined Authority: Tim Warren, Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol City Council, and Matthew Riddle, Leader of South Gloucestershire Council. And, whilst North Somerset Council is not part of the Combined Authority, I’ve been talking to them too to ensure we work together to deliver economic growth for the wider region.
I also attended my first meeting of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and look forward to working with the interim chair, Steve West. The LEP is essential, as it brings the public, business and academic sectors together to help guide our strategic vision for the West of England.
Back at the office, I’ve enjoyed meeting and pulling together a team full of expertise, comprising staff moving across from the LEP and from our constituent councils, a team I believe will be greater than the sum of its parts.
On a more personal note, I met with the Alzheimer’s Society to talk about its work in the region. It’s something very close to my heart and I’m very keen to ensure that the WECA team become Dementia Friends.
Looking ahead, I’ve lots more fact-finding meetings planned with local organisations and businesses. I’m looking forward to chairing my first WECA meeting on June 28. It’s a public meeting and can find out more here.
I plan to blog about once a month, but in the meantime please keep up-to-date with WECA activities on twitter – @WestofEnglandCA and on our website.