Businesses are at the heart of our community and are vital for the West of England’s economic recovery and long-term prosperity and growth, creating and sustaining jobs, skills and opportunities for residents. Businesses can also help unlock solutions to the challenges we face – from climate change, recovering from recession, driving innovation or providing jobs and homes for young people.
The wide variety of businesses in the West of England already make our City Region the most productive outside London and the South East but we know there remains huge, unrealised potential. And in a world of growing external pressures and rising competition between city regions both in the UK and globally we need strong political leadership to support our future success.
With the right political leadership and economic support for the region’s enterprising firms we can deliver sustainable and inclusive economic growth which will benefit the whole community and provide solutions to the challenge of climate change as we recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Business West, Chambers of Commerce and Initiative represents members across the West of England including the cities of Bristol and Bath and beyond into Swindon & Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. We work with 23,000 businesses across all sectors and sizes of the region’s economy. It conducted a survey in February 2021 gathering the opinions and priorities of 400 businesses across the region. It is the biggest survey of its kind focusing on the upcoming Mayoral elections on 6th May 2021 and has helped inform the picture of what business wanted from the next Mayor of the West of England Combined Authority.
We have produced a manifesto for business from which there are 6 focussed requests:
1. Regional economic leadership and political advocacy for the region: Work across local authority borders and promoting the area by providing a much louder voice for the area on the national and international stage. Working with business and through partnerships such as the Western Gateway to attract and retain talent, secure new inward investment and Government support to help secure inclusive growth for residents.
2. A transport and connectivity revolution: Given only 1 in 11 people currently commute by public transport our region urgently needs low carbon and sustainable alternatives to the private car on which residents currently depend. The next Mayor needs to create and deliver a sub-regional transport investment plan incorporating a mass public transport system. Investments in digital connectivity, infrastructure to support walking and cycling and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles can all dramatically address the economic and health costs of congestion and poor air quality experienced in the region.
3. Housing and planning: The West of England has some of the least affordable housing in the UK, particularly in the cities of Bristol and Bath. That makes business operations more expensive, and the area less attractive to potential talent. The Mayor, working closely with the four local authorities, should review the Green Belt and deliver an ambitious and sustainable Spatial Development Strategy that addresses the undersupply of (especially affordable) homes, and the land necessary to support commercial sites – making sure they are close together to build sustainable communities.
4. Support for the recovery and growth of businesses and employers in the region: Awareness of the Local Industrial Strategy is low, with almost half of respondents to our survey being unaware of its existence. The Mayor should refocus the Strategy to support a rapid recovery from the pandemic emphasising the Green Agenda, improving the way business support is delivered and better communication with businesses.
5. Leading the Post Pandemic Recovery Plan: Emphasising our vision as being the leading digital hub in the UK and building on our reputation as a thriving creative and tech hotspot. Supporting businesses who have been hardest hit to ensure their survival and recovery, such as the highly skilled aerospace sector and tourism and leisure-based businesses.
6. Skills and opportunities for residents: The area boasts one of the highest proportions of graduates in the country, yet unacceptably high levels of educational inequality persist. We need to tap into this talent via a Skills Plan to urgently transform the employability of excluded groups and the work readiness of school and college leavers. This includes supporting pathways to employment, skilling up for the sectors needing to grow and boosting the productivity of our labour market.
Business West wants the new Mayor to come in with an agenda to work with business and make the area a more inclusive, resilient and healthy place to live, work and thrive. We commit to work with the successful candidate to deliver a powerful shared agenda and programme of change and prosperity for the business and communities we serve.