On the 4th May, the West of England, along with a number of other regions across England, will elect a new Metro Mayor, who will have control of a £1billion budget over the coming three decades (£30m / year over 30 years). The driver behind the devolution of powers and responsibilities to the regions is a belief that it is regarded as an effective way to tackle the problems caused by centralised governance within the UK. Amongst other things, the Devolution Deal agreed with the Government, will give the Metro Mayor:
- Responsibility for a consolidated, devolved local transport budget.
- Ability to franchise bus services to help deliver integrated ‘smart ticketing’.
- Responsibility for a new Key Route Network of local authority roads.
- Powers of strategic planning for the region and enhanced ability to implement the Joint Spatial Plan and Joint Transport Plan.
- Responsibility for the 19+ Adult Education Budget
- Joint responsibility with central government to co-design the new National Work and Health Programme.
Importantly the new Metro Mayor should not be confused with the elected Bristol City Mayor, who’s role will continue, with him expected to work as Bristol’s representatives on the Combined Authorities Cabinet, alongside the Council Leaders from South Gloucestershire and BANES.
With this additional money to invest and the ability to make positive decisions at a local level, this can only be good for the WoE, however, as is often the case with politics in and around Bristol, not everyone has chosen to be part of the party. In June 2016 North Somerset Council decided not to participate further in the devolution deal – citing the perception of a return to Avon County Council and the introduction of a Metro Mayor as key reasons for withdrawing. What the implications of this decision are difficult to predict, however considering North Somerset is home to the regionally important transport hubs at Bristol Airport and Bristol Port, not to mention the need to accommodate additional housing to serve Bristol’s need, there are sure to be some interesting and challenging discussions ahead.
Whoever is elected on the 4th May will almost certainly have to deal with big challenges from day one, but it is without doubt a potentially enormous opportunity for the City, but only time will tell whether our elected politicians are able to grasp it.