Not joining regional partnership would be “stupid”

Joining a regional partnership could secure vital funding for retraining as people lose their jobs in the pandemic, the leader of North Somerset Council has said.

Councillor Don Davies said it was “stupid” not to join the West of England Combined Authority when it formed in 2016 but now it has a second chance.

The timetable will be tight – the other three members would have to agree and then legislation would need to be in place ahead of the elections in May 2021.

Regional growth and local government minister Luke Hall has urged regional leaders to launch a public consultation and send the responses to the secretary of state by November 27.

He said in a letter to metro mayor Tim Bowles and councillors in North Somerset, Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire : “I know we all see the potential for an expanded Weca to substantially benefit the people and businesses there.

“The government is committed to devolving powers and funding to combined authorities and see them as key delivery partners for investment where they exist.

“Expansion would enable key economic levers all being exercised over the same geography by a strong and accountable mayor and combined authority.”

It is understood that North Somerset Council joining Weca could potentially see up to £900million of additional funding brought to the greater Bristol area.

In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service in July 2019, Cllr Davies said it was “stupid” to be left out of the conversation and missing out on the extra powers and investment opportunities open to Weca.

Bristol City Council, B&NES Council and South Gloucestershire Council all voted to join and have had a seat a the table on major decisions. They would need to support North Somerset Council’s membership bid.

Cllr Davies said this week: “We have to have a governance consultation across the four councils and Weca to see if it’s acceptable. They will all have to unanimously agree to it.

“There will be a parallel discussion about funding. No one will want to do it if there’s no additional cash around.

“I’d imagine there would be some additional funding of the type Weca already gets, lump sums for projects like the Temple Quarter and mass rapid transit.

“The other thing that is even more important with the Covid situation is funding for adults skills – there’s going to be a lot of people losing their jobs and needing training. That will make a massive difference.”

A source close to the discussions said: “From the discussions we’ve had, it’s clear the government want to deal with combined authorities and see them as a good thing.

“Time is tight but everyone agreed to start the conversations, and now it’s time to get to a decision point. We have a chance to show we are doing what’s best for the whole region so we can recover from Covid, address the climate emergency and support deprived communities.

“It’s time to put politics aside and do the right thing.”

The legislation needs to be in place by late March 2021, before the election is called.

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