A devolution deal offering to boost the West of England economy with over £1 billion worth of investment and bring new opportunities for businesses and residents has been announced by Chancellor George Osborne.
Leaders of the West of England councils, the Mayor of Bristol and the Government have negotiated the proposed agreement seeking to devolve significant powers, funding and responsibilities to the region.
Negotiations have also been supported by the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
This agreement will go to all four councils for consideration, who will then make a decision on how to proceed.
The move would represent a major change, bringing decisions on transport, investment, funding, skills training, business support, housing and strategic planning to the West of England and away from central government.
The West of England is the most productive city region outside of London, with a number of flourishing sectors, including: creative, health, advanced engineering, aerospace, food and drink, business services such as legal, property and insurance and a growing “low carbon” technologies and services industry.
The deal could mean a significant boost to economic growth and prosperity for businesses and citizens.
Councillor Tim Warren, Chairman of the West of England Strategic Leaders Board and Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council said: “I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised that there is a case in the West of England for a devolution deal to build on the area’s very successful local economy.
“The deal would bring over £1bn of investment, which would allow the region to bring forward some important infrastructure projects.”
Robert Sinclair, Interim Chair of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) said: “Businesses in the West of England are very supportive of this ambitious devolution deal which transfers new strategic powers and responsibilities to local decision-makers.
“Importantly, we see a critical need for investment in major infrastructure projects to unblock congestion and drive economic growth and prosperity in this vibrant region of the UK.
“The deal will build on the successful joint working arrangements in place, be a real catalyst for sustainable, long-term growth and ensure the West of England can reach its full potential as the most productive economy outside London and a great place to live and work.”
Chancellor George Osborne said: “When I delivered my Budget today I said that believing in our United Kingdom is not the same as believing that every decision should be taken in London.
“That is why this government is overseeing the most radical transfer of power to our different nations, great cities and counties in modern British history.
“Today for the first time we have reached agreement for the West of England authorities to all be part of our devolution revolution.”
The Rt. Hon. Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said: “The West of England already offers significant opportunities across a range of innovative industries – we’re determined to ensure this success continues for years to come.
“Today’s historic devolution deal does exactly that, transferring a host of powers from Whitehall directly to local people who know their area best so they can shape its future, through more homes, better transport links and improved skills provision.
“By agreeing this deal and the proposed creation of the new Combined Authority, local leaders will be at the forefront of driving economic growth for the area.”
The agreement will see:
- The creation of a West of England Investment Fund to deliver infrastructure to boost economic growth. Government will provide £30m a year for funding towards this fund for 30 years, or £900m. Additional sums from other sources take the total over and above £1 billion.
- Devolution of multi-year transport budgets, enabling the area to deliver more ambitious transport projects with greater certainty. This will be coupled with further powers over transport including the ability to franchise bus services and responsibility for a Key Routes Network of roads.
- Responsibility for the new Adult Education Budget from 2018/19, helping the West of England ensure that adult skills provision meets the needs of local businesses and learners.
- Enhanced powers to speed up the delivery of new housing where most needed and resist unsustainable developments that are not in line with jointly agreed planning policies.
- Closer cooperation between government and the West of England on promoting trade and investment with the region.
- Co-design with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) of the new National Work and Health Programme focusing on supporting those with a health condition or disability and the very long-term unemployed. The West of England will also bring forward a pilot scheme to offer intensive support for those furthest from the labour market.
- Support for realising the potential of the Bristol and Bath Science Park, the Food Enterprise Zone at Junction 21 of the M5 and the development of the West of England Growth Hub.
Final agreement remains subject to the legislative process and is conditional upon the agreement of the four local councils that would make up the Combined Authority.