By Helen Tilton, Associate
Postal voting cards for the West of England metro mayoral elections started landing on doormats the other day (19th April). At the same time, both Sir Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Boris Johnson were visiting the West of England to highlight critical political agendas around economic recovery and home ownership… but with very different consequences.
Keir Starmer was in Bath to support West of England metro mayoral candidate Dan Norris, and to mark Labour’s launch of an independent commission to rebuild Britain’s high streets by visiting independent traders in the city. One local pub landlord was less than pleased with the visit, and with a reaction evocative of Peggy Mitchell at the Queen Vic, his forceful ejection of Starmer from his establishment resulted in national news coverage and the trending of the hashtag #getoutofmypub!
Meanwhile, at a new housing development in Stonehouse, Boris Johnson was laying bricks with Siobhan Baillie MP to publicise the Government’s mortgage guarantee scheme. Reportedly the bricks had to be swiftly replaced by two apprentice brickies, but it was the subsequent interview with the BBC that became the standout moment of the visit.
When asked if he knew who the current regional mayor was, Johnson said: “I’m very much in favour of powerful mayors in the West of England and elsewhere”. Pushed further to name the current mayor, he replied: “Well I can tell you I’ll be out campaigning for the West of England mayor, and all Conservative candidates, throughout the week.” This is the crux of a regional issue – the ‘silent’ metro mayor.
As others have pointed out, there has certainly been progress in establishing the West of England Combined Authority over the last four years and local governance has become more joined up on vital issues such as transport, skills and planning. However, if there is one thing that everyone in the region seems to agree on, it is that the West of England needs strong political leadership that can match the growing scale and ambition of the place.
Of 400 businesses recently surveyed by Business West, 70% felt that the West of England is being upstaged by other devolved regions with directly elected mayors. Feedback also suggests that awareness of the role and purpose of the metro mayor itself needs to be improved.
80% of respondents believe that the next mayor should play a leading role in driving development towards net zero and championing a green recovery. This sits alongside other key priorities identified, including transport and digital infrastructure, employment and skills prospects, affordable housing and strategic sustainable planning.
The new mayor must have the ability to strengthen the region’s profile, state the region’s case in Westminster, win investment from within the UK and overseas, and unlock barriers to existing urgent growth needs.
The 2021 mayoral candidates are diverse but have serious intent. Is business acumen and local political experience enough? For that matter, is fresh thinking and an ability to collaborate, adequate for such an important role as regional mayor, or, will success rely on having a background as a former MP or Minister to provide the necessary skills?
Profiles of the four candidates standing in the West of England Mayoral election – Stephen Williams (Liberal Democrat; Jerome Thomas (Green); Samuel Williams (Conservative); Dan Norris (Labour) – will be featured on our website over the coming week.