A spat between Bristol mayor Marvin Rees and his West of England counterpart could jeopardise vital government funding for the region in the wake of the pandemic, it is feared.
In a leaked letter to metro mayor Tim Bowles, revealed earlier this week, Mr Rees claimed the city was being left out of key decisions and meetings with government and branded the West of England Combined Authority (Weca) a “separate entity”.
Now the pair have been warned this is “no time to be going tribal” as the UK emerges from lockdown and the economic recovery begins, and that the dispute could actually harm the area.
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In a statement, Conservative Mr Bowles refused to be drawn into the row, saying they were all focused on working together for the recovery from the coronavirus.
Bristol’s Labour mayor did not attend a meeting of the Weca committee on Friday (June 19) and sent cabinet member Cllr Kye Dudd in his place.
No reason was given other than Mr Rees had sent his apologies in advance.
Bristol City Council has been asked why but has not responded.
Hours after the letter was leaked to the media, transport campaigner David Redgewell told Weca’s overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday: “I am very concerned about any disagreements between the two mayors.
“That won’t help us in getting money out of government.
“We must have one voice for greater Bristol.”
Bath & North East Somerset Lib Dem Cllr Winston Duguid told members: “This is no time for unitary authorities to be going tribal.
“This is the biggest crisis we have had since the Second World War in all sorts of ways, so it’s really important we are in sync.”
Bristol Lib Dem group leader Cllr Gary Hopkins said Mr Rees’s letter was “ironic” because it was exactly how opposition members felt about the city mayor’s leadership.
Bristol Tory Cllr Geoff Gollop said: “I understand why the recovery has to be led regionally because we are all interdependent in all sorts of ways.
“I want to be assured that the individual local authorities are playing their part and contributing in working together with Weca to enable this to happen.
“The exchange that happened this morning suggests they are not.
“As a Weca scrutiny commission we should be urging that all the constituent authorities work with the combined authority to bring about the best outcomes in terms of recovery from the pandemic.”
Asked by committee chairman Bristol Green Cllr Stephen Clarke whether he was referring to Mr Rees’s leaked letter, he said he was not.
Cllr Gollop said: “I would like to feel my local authority is working with Weca to achieve the best possible outcomes in terms of the recovery.
“I wouldn’t want to sully the meeting on Friday by getting political.
“I simply want to put on record what I hope would be a view we all agree with.”
Bristol Labour Cllr Mhairi Threlfall said: “For balance we could say local authorities should work with Weca but Weca should work with local authorities, and make sure we are not getting into anything too political.”
Weca director of strategy Jessica Lee told the remote meeting: “The mayors and leaders of each of the authorities are members of the regional economic taskforce and also the Local Enterprise Partnership board.
“They have either been at or have representatives at the meetings that have been held and contributed to the discussions we’ve had.
“So it’s working well in terms of bringing together the different parts of the authority.”
In the letter, revealed by BBC Radio Bristol, Mr Rees said he feared the city would miss out on Whitehall funding for infrastructure, housing and skills if the Government was “not confident in the effectiveness of Weca and our joint working”.
He said that while the city council and Weca had agreed a “shared vision and understanding of the challenges” in running a “successful partnership” he did not experience much of this in practice.
According to the BBC, he gave the example of how economic recovery following Covid-19 was organised and said a press release had been issued “with no input or chance to comment; no opportunity to contribute to your input to M9 [the nine metro mayors] discussions with government and no meaningful cascade of what comes out of them”.
He demanded a meeting with Mr Bowles “as a matter of urgency… to ensure maximum impact from our collective effort on economic recovery”.
The metro mayor said In a statement: “The mayor and the combined authority are all focused on working together to manage our region’s economic recovery and doing what is best for the West of England.”