Stephen Williams

Economy: My ambition for the West of England

My plan for a prosperous and sustainable West of England economy

My ambition is to make Bristol, Bath and the West of England the most dynamic, pleasant and sustainable place to live, work, invest and visit. I will use the office of Metro Mayor to work with the Local Enterprise Partnership, businesses and other political leaders to establish the region as the best place to start and grow a business.  Investors and employees will be attracted by a high quality of life, with good connectivity to the rest of Europe and the world beyond. 

The Bristol and Bath cities region economy is already the most prosperous in England outside London.  It contributes over £25billion to the national economy. The taxes its people and businesses pay subsidise the rest of the country.  I am not attracted by prosperity for its own sake.  Our region’s wealth must be grown in a sustainable way, with opportunities for everyone to share in our growing success.

The Strategic Economic Plan produced by the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership in 2014 identified five sectors that are strong in our region and are of European significance.  Professional and business services employ over 50,000 people.  I started my own professional career with PWC, after graduating from Bristol University.  The most iconic sector worldwide would be our advanced engineering, especially in aerospace companies such as Airbus and Rolls Royce.  We are also well known for our creative and digital expertise, with Aardman Animations being the most famous. It’s less well known that Bristol and Bath is the largest cluster of silicon chip designers outside California. The SEP also rightly recognises that the low carbon sector is well established here and has huge potential as we all transition to a more sustainable economy.

I will work to showcase and grow all of the above sectors.  I would add that our universities are critical to our knowledge driven economy.  They are especially strong when they collaborate, for instance in the Bristol and UWE joint Robotics Lab, the Bristol and Bath Science Park or the SET Squared Business Incubator.  I will also work to promote the tourism potential of both Bath and Bristol.  The region is also home to a strong agricultural and food and drink sector and I will work hard to sustain a strong rural economy.   The West is also known for doing things differently and I see huge potential for the growth of social enterprises.

Here are some of my ideas for growing and sharing the opportunities of our strong local economy:

  • Leading trade delegations of local businesses to win more inward investment, capitalising on what should be a world renowned brand of Bristol and Bath
  • Establish Bristol and Bath as a national hub for the creative and digital industries, with new opportunities for growth at Temple Meads and Bath Quays
  • Work with the Welsh government to make the Severn Estuary the world leader for clean energy from tidal lagoons
  • Use part of the £30million annual investment fund that comes with devolution to create affordable space for start-up creative and high tech businesses and also for social enterprises
  • Improve road connectivity with a new junction on the M4 to serve the Science Park, ensuring that villages north of the M4 are protected by a new direct link to Yate
  • Share the growth potential more evenly so that north Bristol and South Gloucestershire do not overheat.  There is potential for employment and housing growth in South Bristol and in the Somer Valley, with enhanced road links and new bus services
  • Rail connectivity will be improved with at least four new stations (Ashley Hill, Portway, Charfield and Saltford) and I will lead a delegation of our MPs and business leaders to the Department of Transport to get electrification back on schedule.
  • The devolution deal allows the Metro Mayor to ask government for an increase of 2% in business rates in the region.  I will work with the business community, including the Federation of Small Businesses, to prepare an investment schedule that would be financed by the increased revenue, before pursuing this option
  • Jointly request with the Welsh Government that the Severn Bridge tolls should be scrapped, rather than reduced in 2018. 
  • Bring together the cultural and hospitality sectors in Bath and Bristol to grow the number of domestic and international visitors to the cities
  • Set up a joint house building social enterprise between the three local councils in order to build homes for sale and private sector rent with the surplus invested in homes for social rent.  The home affordability gap in the West of England is one of the worst outside London and holds back our economic potential.
  • Support Bristol Airport with a study into the potential for a tram link to Bristol.
  • Skills funding is devolved in 2018, I will work with local business leaders, colleges and other training providers to plan for a skills system that meets the business needs of the economy and also contributes to social mobility and social cohesion
  • Work with DCMS to roll out broadband to all of the region’s villages so that business growth in a diversified rural economy is maximised
  • I will be a strong voice for the 30,000 workers from other EU countries that are essential to our economy and public services.  I will press the government to avoid a hard Brexit, which will be deeply damaging to our economy.






Growing the West of England economy by playing to our strengths

The economy of the Bristol and Bath cities region has a number of sectoral strengths. Some are of international renown and significance, most notably aerospace and silicon semiconductors.  Others make a major contribution to local employment by servicing the national economy, such as our financial and legal professional services.  We are a region that is attractive to visit.  Bath is the third most popular tourist destination in Britain, beaten only by London and Edinburgh.  As Metro Mayor I want to capitalise on all of our sectoral strengths to put together an attractive and compelling case for investment in our region.  Bristol and Bath together can be a world beating brand.

Aerospace – flying the flag for Bristol Aviation

Bristol has been leading the way in aviation since 1910.  A century on, the region has 14 out the 15 global leading aerospace companies located here, employing over 25,000 people.  Airbus in Bristol manufactures landing gear for all its civil planes, makes the wings for military craft and designs the wings for all its planes.  Rolls Royce designs, manufactures and maintains military engines for air forces and navies from around the world. GKN, BAE Systems and Stirling Dynamics are other world renowned companies based in Bristol and Filton.   The aerospace cluster is supported by an extensive supply chain of advanced engineering.  The region is also home to the National Composites Centre, designing the lighter weight materials that are making aviation more sustainable.  Our universities also support the sector through their academic courses and research.

As Metro Mayor I will work with all of our aerospace and advanced engineering companies to make sure that they have access to the skilled workforce necessary for their growth.  I will use the devolved control of the adult skills budget from 2018 to increase the number of young people accessing advanced apprenticeships in engineering and related field, with particular emphasis on bringing more of a gender balance to the sector.  The sector is more exposed than many to the uncertainty of Britain’s exit from the European Union.  I will represent the sector’s interests to the government, particularly over skilled workers needed from abroad.  I will further support the companies by improving the transport links by bus and rail to the Filton area.

Creative and digital – entertaining and informing the world

Bristol and Bath are home to the third biggest cluster of creative, digital and media companies, after London and Greater Manchester.  Film making for screen and broadcast, gaming and virtual reality, publishing and advertising are all local strengths.  While there are some large corporations such as the BBC, Aardman Animation and Future Publishing, there are hundreds of small businesses and sole traders.  I will champion and support this thriving ecosystem of creativity.  I will promote the growth of creative companies in the Temple Meads Enterprise Zone.  I will use part of the four year £120million local growth pot to invest in premises for business start-ups in the creative sector and will also identify via the Public Property Board any state owned premises that could be better used by new businesses.   I will support festivals and events that champion the sector, for instance in the fast growing virtual reality industry. As part of showcasing Bristol and Bath to the world I will work with UKTI to include examples of West of England creative businesses in trade fairs.  I will also work with skills providers to ensure that the needs of the sector are being met by our colleges and universities.

Silicon Gorge – a hub for silicon and high tech innovation

The largest cluster of silicon chip designers outside California is in Britain, not in London or Cambridge but here in Greater Bristol.  It is a fact that I have long promoted and as Metro Mayor will be able to shout about more loudly.  I want the West of England to be known as the home for high tech innovation in computing, robotics and virtual reality.  This sector has seen phenomenal growth in my lifetime, with Moore’s Law still holding good.  Bristol and Bath will have a highly prosperous future if we continue to nurture the industries of tomorrow.  Our universities are key to this success, particularly when they work together.  The Bristol Robotics Lab, the Bristol and Bath Science Park and the SET Squared business incubator are all contributing to our future prosperity and improved quality of life through innovation.  I support a new road link from the M4 to the Science Park, as long as local traffic routes are not over-loaded. I will support our universities to navigate the uncertainty of Brexit, pressing the government on freedom to study and work for students and academics.  The retention of graduates in Bristol and Bath is essential for our economy. My policies to enable the building of more affordable homes, improve public transport and provide more space for entrepreneurial start-ups will help retain graduates and attract skilled workers from around the world.

Professional Services

Our financial, legal and property services sector is the biggest collective local employer, supporting 50,000 jobs. My policies to improve housing affordability and public transport will support the continued reputation of Bath and Bristol as attractive places to live and work.  My review of the emerging spatial plan will include an examination of whether sufficient provision has been made for future growth of office space.  The national government’s permitted development has allowed much of the office space constructed in the 1960s-80s to be converted to housing.  This has brought some benefit to Bristol city centre, which previously had few residents.  As part of my ask of government for the second round of devolution I will include devolved power to suspend or vary national planning  rules if they are not in the interests of the local economy.

Low carbon – the essential industrial future

I want the West of England to be an exemplar of transition to a low carbon economy.  Bristol in particular has long been a national hub for sustainable thinking and business activity.  This contributed to the award of European Green Capital status in 2015.  I will support a move to locally owned and locally sourced clean energy.  On the large scale this will include working with the Welsh government on harnessing the tidal energy of the Severn.  I also support more local generation of gas for electricity or direct to the domestic grid, sourced from anaerobic digestion of unavoidable local organic waste.  I do not support any exploitation of underground sources of shale gas, through hydraulic fracturing.  I will veto any provision for such “fracking” in the spatial plan. Though my public transport powers I will support a move to clean energy buses.  I will also support our universities in their research programmes leading to a low carbon future.  My housing plans will include the highest possible home energy efficiency measures.  I will expect new domestic and commercial building to be of the highest BREAM standard.  I will work with the Building Research Establishment (founded by Lloyd George!) to identify innovative building methods that could be trialled in the West of England. Information is crucial to changing behaviour and I will support smart metering and other projects that make citizens better informed about their carbon footprint.

Food and drink - feeding the West and protecting habitats

As Metro Mayor for the West of England I will champion the locally grown and produced food and drink products of the whole of the West Country.  I will work with local producers, retailers and the tourism and hospitality sectors to market local produce for regional consumption and for export. Through my regional planning powers I will support biodiversity and protect pollinators, for instance by requiring a variety of tree species in the planting schemes that enhance housing development.

Tourism – capitalising on our culture and heritage

Bath is a destination for tourists from all over the world.  Bristol’s hotel sector is also booming, with tourists now supplementing the well-established business visitors.  I will bring together the marketing of our two cities.  Together they can be a powerful, world beating brand.  Bath is World Heritage Centre, with Roman baths, an Abbey and sweeping Georgian terraces.  Bristol also has its share of architectural wonder and has a modern reputation for street art and general quirkiness.  Bristol’s shipping history is already well told at SS Great Britain and later in 2017 a new museum of aviation will open at Filton.  My transport policies will ensure that there is a drastic improvement in the connectivity between our two cities.  I have previously advocated a “Georgian Line” of direct rail services between Clifton and Bath. This would not only be a boon for tourists but would also join up the creative and digital clusters in our cities.  I will use the new skills powers to ensure that the local colleges continue to support the visitor and hospitality economy.

Social enterprises – a different way of doing business

I have long championed an increased role for social enterprises.  Businesses that generate a surplus for re-investment in their core purpose can be more efficient providers of public services.  I will work with the three councils to set up a very large social enterprise to build homes for sale and rent.  Surpluses will support homes for social rent.  I will also support social enterprises in renovating empty homes and other redundant space.  This will create new homes and also train people from challenging backgrounds, giving them the skills to get back on track in life. There is a shortage of office space for social enterprises and I will work with the LEP and use part of the £120million local economy pot to create space for this sector to grow.



Ensuring economic growth is sustainable and equitable

Prosperity and economic growth are not good enough on their own.  The benefits of prosperity must be felt more evenly, both socially and geographically.  Growth should be sustainable, contributing to well-being whilst being in harmony with our local environment and minimising our carbon footprint.

I will ensure that the West of England’s regional spatial plan for the allocation of land for homes and jobs is drawn up alongside and fully integrated with a sustainable transport plan.  New homes will be built primarily in existing urban areas.  New homes will only be added to country towns and villages when adequate public transport is in place.  Incentives will also be put in place for local employment, minimising the need for commuting.  An example would be the Somer Valley, which has scope for new housing but also needs more local employment and better links to existing opportunities in Bath and Bristol.

Improved bus and rail links will enable more people to access existing employment growth areas, in particular in north Bristol. The Metro Bus route will soon be in operation, with better links between north and south Bristol.  There is scope for huge employment growth in the Severnside area.  I will work with Network Rail to increase the frequency of services along the Severn Beach Line to ensure people are able to get to work without a car. I will also use the new bus franchising powers to make sure that there are adequate late evening bus services to get people home to the towns and villages of South Gloucestershire and North East Somerset from work in our two cities or edge of city work places such as Cribbs Causeway. I will give high priority to a step change in bus and rail links between our two cities.

I will use the devolved powers over the adult skills budget and the “soft power” influence of the Metro Mayor to encourage employers to open up opportunities for people who have difficulty accessing work.  There are some geographical areas with relatively high deprivation, such as Lawrence Hill.  There are some communities, such as women from newly arrived groups with limited English language skills, who will need support to enter work.  Raising aspirations and skills levels will share out the benefits of the region’s prosperity and also contribute to community cohesion.

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