It’s been a very busy few months. As well as my work here in the region, I’ve been travelling across the country, promoting the West of England and building new partnerships to help us on our journey to build a prosperous, positive future for all.
Last week I attended the first regional Mayors’ meeting. All seven regional Mayors were together for the first time and we talked about the need for Government to increase the pace and scale of devolution so that we can make more decisions at regional level. In the West of England, we understand what our residents, communities and our businesses need. We know our key sectors and the skills they need to thrive, and we are prepared for the challenges we face in terms of infrastructure. Government now needs to give us greater control and responsibility over spending in our regions; after all, that is what devolution is all about.
It was clear from our conversations that devolution has and will continue to provide more opportunities for our regions, and that by building effective partnerships with central, regional and local government and business, we can increase our influence, maximise opportunities and achieve our ambition of boosting economic growth for all.
I attended MIPIM UK, the largest property conference in the UK, where I talked about the incredible potential the West of England offers to investors. There was a lot of interest in our region which we will follow up on.
In October, I spoke at a meeting of the National Infrastructure Commission in Birmingham, chaired by Lord Adonis. I, and my fellow Regional Mayors, talked about our infrastructure challenges and the importance of having long-term plans to tackle them at regional level.
For our part, we’re already working to get the West of England region moving. Last week we announced a £6.5m investment to kick-start a series of major schemes, which will make a real difference to residents and businesses across the region. This includes improving transport routes – rail, public transport, road, walking and cycling – and investing in infrastructure to support building new homes.
Closer to home, I had an inspiring day at Venturefest Bristol and Bath, where 500 delegates from local, national and global businesses gathered to talk about innovative approaches to the way we will live, travel and work in the future. Smart tech has the potential to revolutionise our lives. This is a real passion of mine and in Parliament last week I spoke about how we in the West of England have the right foundations, the vision and ambition to become the first smart region. The tech industry – which contributes £1.6bn to our economy every year – is critical to our growth and sustainability, and we will continue to be bold in attracting innovators.
Construction is another key industry for our region, and at the end of October I met with staff and students at Bath College’s new Somer Construction Centre in Radstock to launch a report into the sector. It was fantastic to see how the courses and facilities, funded through the Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership, are helping apprentices and higher education students prepare for careers in traditional trades such as stonemasonry, building services and electrical engineering. The centre is attracting students from across the country and overseas too, with many planning on staying in the area and creating their homes here after their courses have finished. The construction sector is a vital contributor to our economy and it offers huge opportunities for the region so it was a real privilege to spend time with the people who will literally be building our future.
I launched the new ‘Unexpected Mentor’ campaign alongside the chief executive of The Careers & Enterprise Company, Claudia Harris, at OVO Energy. The campaign aims to widen the appeal of mentoring to employees and entrepreneurs. I firmly believe that mentoring can really help boost the confidence of young people, and it works particularly well when the mentors are people they can relate to. It’s also a good way of ensuring that young people get to know the vast range of career opportunities available to them in the West of England. Find out more about how you can get involved.