A couple of months ago I wrote encouraging our councillors to support a deal which would bring devolution to the West of England and allow Bath and North East Somerset to play a major part in it.
This is such an important decision that I make no apology for returning to the topic since it has become clear there is real uncertainty about how the vote will go and a real risk that our district may be left on the outside.
Whilst it is true that some of our members in the business community are opposed to signing up to devolution, the broad consensus believes it would be beneficial to economic development, helping generate jobs which will benefit the whole community.
This time there is no referendum. The decision will be made by our already elected councillors. Those who are opposed to the deal seem to have two principal concerns – they don’t like the idea of a Mayor for the West of England and they don’t think it’s a particularly good deal.
There isn’t anything to be done about the first. The legislation clearly says the role will be called “Mayor”, though there is scope to add additional words, such as “Strategic” or “Mayor for all the named local authorities in the area. And there are safeguards in place which would prevent them from pursuing a personal agenda.
The deal itself brings with it no less than £800 for every person in the West of England. Compare that to the deal Manchester negotiated, which brought them just £400 per person. The money will be spent on vital infrastructure and skills, two elements which will strengthen our economy. Housing delivery will be speeded up and multi-year transport budgets will allow for proper, long term planning on major projects.
Businesses don’t have a vote, but they are entitled to express their views, so I would encourage people to write to their elected members letting them know what they think, whichever side of the argument they sit.
Councillors have a tricky balance to find but I would urge them to put aside their instinctive mistrust in what they see as the toxic word “Mayor” in order to gain a prize that will ensure our district remains at the top table in the West of England. At least if we are there we can argue the case for our slice of the cake, rather than being left outside hopefully waiting for any crumbs that might come our way.