Business West, the Chambers of Commerce for Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire representing 21,000 businesses across the West of England, is urging candidates in the upcoming Metro Mayor election to avoid putting the region’s long-term economic future at risk, and listen to businesses.
In a report backed by the Institute of Directors, Black South West Network, Bristol Media and TechSpark, Business West lays out its ‘challenge’ to the future Metro Mayor of the West of England by highlighting key issues affecting local businesses, as well as setting out the core attributes that prospective candidates will require to successfully deliver the economic promise of devolution.
With an additional £900m in funding secured from central government, the Metro Mayor will play a leading role in the social and economic future of the region as a strategic infrastructure chair and the ‘Business Challenge’ makes it clear where the priorities should lie.
Skills are high on the agenda. Improving the skills base of the local workforce is not only good for business; it has a profound impact on our communities, bringing opportunities to disadvantaged groups in the local population. The Metro Mayor will therefore have much to do in terms of helping to match the skills and attitudes of the local labour market to the available jobs.
Transforming the West of England’s digital infrastructure also ranks highly. The gross value added in the region by tech and digital businesses alone stands at £1.8bn a year, and grew by 26% between 2010 and 2014. A strong digitally enabled city region brings promising opportunities for growth, employment and stronger communities and the new Metro Mayor and combined authority need to deliver the infrastructure to make the West of England the leading digital hub of the UK.
The issue of employment land is also raised. Businesses need a physical location, be it agile modern offices, warehouses, start up spaces, live/work developments, business parks or factories. Alongside being a great place to live, the West of England needs to provide great places to work.
These have to meet the needs of our full range of diverse and growing businesses – including the ability to attract new and relocating businesses to help strengthen and regenerate our economic base.
James Durie, chief executive of Bristol Chamber of Commerce and Initiative at Business West, comments:
“Key to delivering on the promise of devolution for businesses and residents is strengthening decision making at a regional level.
“This requires a strong single voice, the ability to understand issues and the capacity to build alliances and convince decision makers at the highest levels.
“Furthermore, the City Region Mayor must take a collaborative approach, working in partnership with local government, businesses and local communities to get on and make things happen which will strengthen this area as the best place to live and work.”