Recently it was announced that the Bristol City Region was going to get a range of new powers from what is being called a City Deal. Bath Chamber of Commerce executive director Ian Bell has been pondering whether that spells good or bad news for Bath
On the face of it, the Government decision to put more powers into local hands looks like the sort of idea we have long been arguing for. It should free things up to allow economic growth and the creation of much-needed jobs.
The most crucial change is that the whole of the West of England, the former Avon area, will be able to keep the business rates growth in its Enterprise Areas and Zone. It has been calculated this will make up to £1 billion available for local investment.
It remains to be seen what arrangements will be put in place to pool the money and then how decisions will be made about how it is spent. But there are already people expressing their concern that Bristol will take the lion's share of the cake. It is a perfectly fair worry.
However, the task for our business community is to support our political leaders in making the case for additional investment in our economy. We must be ambitious and active in telling our story to convince others that making funds available in B&NES will contribute to the overall success of the sub-region.
It is a great story that we have to tell. We have some tremendously dynamic companies working at the cutting edge of technology, we have a strong base of professional services, great shops, marvellous attractions and we have a highly skilled workforce, with more well prepared young people coming out each year from our universities and colleges.
And we have an attractive environment in which to live – a key element that draws people to Bath and persuades them to stay here. Above all, we have a distinctive quality identity which is recognised around the world.
That said, it would be a mistake to believe that we can do it all on our own. Close links with Bristol and the other local authority areas of North Somerset and South Gloucestershire which make up the West of England can deliver benefits.
For example, Government is looking more and more to dealing with sub-regional groupings. Hence the creation of the Local Enterprise Partnership has been helpful, providing a forum for councils and business to join forces and to make sure our voice is heard. That helps when it comes to bidding for funding for infrastructure and skills which will make the area more attractive for inward investors.
We should not shirk from competing with our neighbours, but on balance there is a lot to be gained from finding a way to co-operate with them. That way, we will not only get our fair share, but it will be a slice of a much bigger cake.
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PUBLICATION: This is Bath - 23 July 2012