Everybody on the planet will agree that 2020 turned out entirely differently to how they expected. As I look back on the last 12 months from the end of the year, it is remarkable to consider just how much has changed and how quickly.
The global pandemic escalated at such a scale, that along with governments across the world, the Combined Authority was forced to entirely change its focus. Rather than accelerating the positive economic growth and low unemployment that the West of England was sustaining, we are now working to mitigate the challenges of the biggest economic crisis in 300 years and keep unemployment as low as possible.
I would like to pay tribute to all staff at the Combined Authority and our partners across the region who have reacted so dynamically to the new challenges we face – all while adapting to a new regime of remote working and meetings via video call.
When the first wave shocked our nation back in March, the Combined Authority worked closely with our transport operators to ensure that essential workers could still safely get to work. We also worked closely with industry and businesses across the West of England to source donations of over 250,000 pieces of personal protection equipment for our NHS staff.
To deal with the economic fall-out of lockdowns, I have enhanced our business support offerings to help thousands of businesses increase their resilience, and ensure they are getting the grants and support from Government they are entitled to. I have also invested to expand our skills and employment programmes such as Future Bright to ensure that every resident in the region whose job and livelihood is impacted by the pandemic can access training and coaching to find a secure new job.
The economic impact of the pandemic will, unfortunately, continue into future years. I want the region to bounce back as quickly as possible, which is why I convened a Regional Recovery Taskforce with representatives from our businesses, councils and voluntary or community groups. We have published the West of England Recovery Plan which outlines how we will harness our region’s creativity and diversity to protect and secure jobs, while building back greener and creating opportunities for all residents. I have committed £9.4m to our regional recovery fund, meaning that we are investing over £100m into business and skills provisions over the next four years.
It is vital that between the Combined Authority, Government and our councils we do everything possible to support businesses and secure the jobs that they create. Before the pandemic, it was clear that our region’s economic success was what gave residents prosperity and made the West of England a great place to live.
2021 brings new hope. Already the first residents have been vaccinated in the West of England, and I know that our fantastic NHS is getting ready for a fast and wide roll-out of the vaccine. Until then, we must all do our part and remain cautious and responsible to prevent a third wave and third lockdown.
I would like to thank all residents, particularly our front-line workers, for everything you have done this year. The events of the pandemic have really shown the West of England as a region where people work together and support one another. I hope that the New Year is a healthy, happier one for us all.