It was a tremendous honour to be elected as the first West of England Mayor. As my term has come to an end, I am proud to reflect on much of what has been achieved since I came into office.
I am particularly pleased to reflect on the support the Combined Authority was able to offer businesses and residents, especially during the Coronavirus pandemic and setting a path for our region’s economic recovery and renewal.
I am also proud that the big infrastructure projects that I initiated and secured funding for, are progressing well and will be completed over the coming decade. These will show the positive impact the Combined Authority can have for the region.
It is remarkable to consider where we were back in 2017. Following decades of under-funding, there was no comprehensive vision and plan for the future of transport in the West of England. Today, thanks to the tireless work of my team at the Combined Authority, and effectively working closely with Government and our transport operators, the infrastructure of a new transport network is in the process of being constructed, and there is a vision to meet the region’s transport needs for decades to come.
Take rail as an example. For the first time ever, our region has a ten-year rail improvement plan. The flagship programme is my MetroWest suburban rail project which is already underway, and residents will soon be benefitting from new stations across the region, with much more frequent services.
I am particularly proud to have secured the funding to reopen the railway from Bristol to Portishead and Pill. This was something which had been talked about for decades, but thanks to devolution and being able to speak as one, united voice for the region, this is a project which will definitely be happening.
With new stations also soon to be built at Portway, Ashley Down, Henbury, North Filton and Charfield.
My ambitions go further than this, and we are already planning the next generation of stations, meaning we are well underway with my vision to connect more residents to the railway network. This will give tens of thousands of us access to new rail services, meaning that we can become less reliant on our cars, reducing both pollution and congestion.
We are also getting the region moving by investing millions of pounds of new money to deliver better active travel options with more cycle lanes and pedestrian paths connecting our region. Equally, our trial of e-Scooters has been one of the most successful in the country. I have sought to introduce innovative alternatives to the car, particularly while social distancing measures have been in place. This is on top of our investment to improve the bus network and greatly expand MetroBus to new destinations. We have seen the introduction of new biogas buses into the region, and over 20,000 car journeys have moved to MetroBus. We are now a leading region in the UK where bus patronage is rising.
It is easy to forget that back in 2017, there were no new stations scheduled to open in the West of England, we still used the old-generation of diesel trains from the 1970s, there were no e-scooters, and many of the walking and cycling paths we enjoy were yet to be built.
During my election campaign, I pledged to back the West of England’s excellent businesses, and support residents in finding decent, well paid jobs through investment in skills and training. Although we have faced an unprecedented pandemic which has had severe economic effects, I am proud that I was able to keep this promise and back our job and wealth creators. During the first Coronavirus lockdown, I convened the West of England Regional Recovery Taskforce made of senior business and educational leaders, and together we rapidly produced a plan to help rebuild and renew our regional recovery.
We made further investments into programmes such as Future Bright, to ensure that all residents whose jobs were impacted by the pandemic could receive coaching and careers advice to get them back into work. I also directed programmes such as the West of England Creative Scale-up to change their focus to helping our precious Creative sector survive the downturn and increase its resilience, helping to protect important jobs in the region.
Devolution has meant we have taken control of the Adult Education Budget, meaning that we can provide millions of pounds to our colleges and apprenticeships providers, helping meet the skills needs of both our residents and businesses. Furthermore, I have ensured that every school in the region is able to offer careers and enterprise advice to our young people, including pupils from six Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) schools, meaning that the next generation are well equipped for successful careers.
I am always proud to represent the West of England on the national and international stage and have been struck by how our region has a reputation for both creativity and innovation. This is one of our strengths, and I hope that as a region, we continue to ensure our diverse and world-leading industries can thrive, while supporting the emerging industries of tomorrow.
I am glad to have supported the construction of new research and innovation centres such as the Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS) and Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) and will be rooting for the continued success of West of England innovations in connecting our world and leading us to a more sustainable future, from the Wing of Tomorrow to nuclear fusion power.
As a region, and indeed a country, we face the common challenges of delivering a healthy economy, protecting jobs and livelihoods, ensuring that there are affordable homes for everybody and connecting communities both physically and digitally.
All of this needs to be done in the context of increased global competition and sustainability as we combat climate change.
I am convinced that devolution is an important tool to tackle these challenges.
By empowering local decision makers and encouraging the working across council boundaries, the Combined Authority has helped the region move faster to develop and implement crucial plans for the future such as our Mass Transit system and Future Transport Zone. These will be tailored to our regional needs and strengths, using new technologies and innovations to build another layer to our truly transformational next generation transport network, connecting residents and businesses across all corners of the region.
I am proud to have been the first West of England Mayor, and know that the plans I have put in place will help our region to succeed and thrive into the future. The work the Combined Authority has been doing has helped create more than 11,000 new jobs and over 13,000 residents have now gained new skills and qualifications. I am confident that the West of England can continue to thrive and hope that the Government continues to support devolution with the required resources.
I wish the next West of England Mayor every success in delivering for the region.