Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen enormous and rapid change to everything in our lives. In this blog, I just want to take stock of where we are and where we are going as the West of England region and Combined Authority join the national effort to tackle the impact of Covid-19.
Firstly, I would like to reiterate my sincere thanks to all of our key workers on the frontline, especially our incredible NHS and care staff. Also a big thank you to the hundreds of residents and businesses in the West of England who have stepped up at this time of need; be this through getting shopping for a self-isolating neighbour, donating Personal Protection Equipment for our health and care workers, or simply by adhering to government advice and staying at home.
Despite the huge changes, the fundamentals of what we do as a Combined Authority have not changed. Every day I am in touch with Government, our councils, and regional employers. Even at this difficult time, my team and I are working tirelessly to ensure that people can get around the region (for essential travel) and that we are doing all we can to protect people’s jobs and support our economy.
I’m proud to have worked with Combined Authority Mayors across England to successfully lobby the Government to cover the losses of bus companies over the next three months. This will ensure that bus services can continue to run for essential travel; for key workers needing to get to work or those who rely on buses for their shopping. I’ve been in regular contact with our operators, such as First West of England, and would like to reassure everybody of the precautions they are taking to prioritise passenger safety, including regular disinfection of all touch points such as grab rails and door handles.
I’ve been talking to businesses to ensure that they’re getting the support they need at this difficult time, and are best placed to recover from the economic fallout of the virus. I have established and chair the West of England Covid-19 Business Response Panel, and working closely with our Local Enterprise Partnership we’re making sure our regions efforts are joined-up and greater than the sum of their parts. I’ll do everything I can to ensure that the support and structures are in place for as rapid an economic recovery as possible. We’d been making tremendous progress as a region in terms of economic growth and employment, and it’s vital that we preserve this .
Just one example of the work now happening to support the recovery – this week I’ve expanded our Future Bright career coaching programme to cover all residents who have seen their jobs affected by the pandemic. This means that people will be able to access a dedicated career coach, free coaching and training to support them into finding a new job or more secure, better-paid employment. I know that many across the region are facing real challenges with changes to their employment and incomes as a result of Covid-19, so I want to help everybody understand their options and make informed choices.
This is an unprecedented and worrying time for us all, and the virus will have a greater impact on human life and the economy than anything else most of us have seen in our lives. But I want to reassure everybody that I am working every day to keep the region running as best as possible and lay solid foundations for future recovery, because we must all remember that this current situation will, eventually end.
Thank you again to everybody who has done their bit to support this regional and national effort. The West of England has always been a region where we work together and support each other. This has never been more important than at this time of need.