METRO MAYOR ELECTIONS
In May voters in South Gloucestershire, Bristol and B&NES get to choose their next Metro Mayor.
The boss of the West of England Combined Authority, or WECA, is in charge of coordinating the region’s transport, housing jobs and skills policy and will oversee the spending of more than £1.1 billion over the next 30 years.
The first Metro Mayor, Conservative Tim Bowles, is standing down and, while nominations were still open as the Voice went to print, the main political parties had already announced their contenders for the post.
Aiming to keep it for the Tories is Samuel Williams, the founding director of Hodos Consultancy. Labour, runners-up in 2017, have selected former Wansdyke MP Dan Norris. Former Bristol West MP Stephen Williams is the Liberal Democrats’ choice. The Green Party has picked Jerome Thomas, deputy group leader on Bristol City Council.
As they ask you to vote them into a new job, the Voice asked each candidate to answer four interview questions to find more about who they are, their priorities and plans.
1) What are the three biggest issues facing the region?
Dan Norris: Jobs, climate change and housing. The pandemic has exacerbated the need for effective leadership. It’s not good enough to have money to support our High Streets languishing in the Metro Mayor’s bank account. We can’t wait any longer to take action on climate change and we need more affordable homes. I have a vision for a green recovery, building a society where we value what’s truly important.
Samuel Williams: Jobs, Jobs and Jobs! Our region is full of opportunity; as we recover from the impacts of Covid, following the tremendous vaccine roll-out, I will connect all communities across the West of England with the opportunity to secure our future progress. I will invest over £100 million over the next 4 years to secure the recovery of our skills, training and business. In addition, I will invest in our transport network with new services and build homes for the future.
Stephen Williams: First, a recovery from the twin economic shocks of Covid and Brexit. I will lead a recovery that is green and socially just, setting up a Centre for Green Technology Excellence and using the skills budget to make sure everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Second, putting more oomph and vigour behind plans to revolutionise our bus and train networks and to enable safe cycling. Third, a plan to build socially balanced new communities with climate-friendly homes.
Jerome Thomas: Obviously our recovery after Covid – we need to support communities and businesses to rebuild and adapt, ensuring that we are creating jobs that have a future. To protect the climate, we need to build homes in places with good local services and transport links which allow people to get around quickly without needing to use their cars. And for our well-being as well as the environment, we must protect and improve our green spaces and wildlife areas.
2) If you win the election, what would your first action be?
Samuel Williams: It is vital that the Mayor works with Government not against it. Once in post, I’ll pick up the phone to the Prime Minister and Chancellor to secure their support for the region – and it’s a call they’ll take.
Stephen Williams: I have a detailed manifesto for transformative change in the West of England, on my website at www.stephenwilliams.org.uk. I would run through my top priorities with all the staff of the regional authority, setting out milestones for action.
Jerome Thomas: I would meet with local town and parish councils to hear what their priorities are and how we could work together to improve the quality of life in their neighbourhoods.
Dan Norris: I’ll be a jobs-first mayor, holding a jobs summit in my first 100 days in office and launching my Green Recovery Plan. I’ll set out plans to double investment in affordable housing, shifting resources to support councils and housing associations.
3) What prior experience do you believe qualifies you for the job?
Stephen Williams: To be successful, this major role needs a Mayor with deep knowledge of both business and government. I was a small business consultant before becoming a Bristol MP and then Minister for housing and local government.
Jerome Thomas: I’ve had a long career in business and been a city councillor for six years. I’ve lived in this region most of my life. Above all, I know how to create a realistic plan bringing people together, whatever their politics.
Dan Norris: I’ve lived and worked locally all my life as an NSPCC trained child protection officer, an MP and Environment Minister, and I’ve run my own businesses. I’ve got a record of securing jobs and investment. I’m a children’s charity trustee.
Samuel Williams: As an international business and charity leader, this is the chance to recover with a Mayor who embodies the future, who connects opportunities and is committed to business minded and community hearted leadership, not the time for old solutions.
4) How would you raise the profile of the Metro Mayor and WECA?
Jerome Thomas: First, I want to do a good job for the region and deliver a solid plan with communities at its heart. Second, I will stand up for the West of England and secure more funds and local control of services.
Dan Norris: I’ll be a visible, active mayor holding regular Town Hall meetings. I’ll win more funding and push for more powers for our region. With strong leadership, I’ll ensure the West of England is a key part of the national conversation.
Samuel Williams: Having led an organisation that works with some of the world’s biggest brands, I know how to grow our profile. With Conservatives at the top levels of Government I am well connected, with a region full of talent.
Stephen Williams: I’d stage a Meet the Mayor roadshow around all the region’s towns and villages and in the distinct communities of Bath and Bristol. I would use my experience to deliver my ambitious plans and win great deals from Westminster.