West of England Combined Authority
Logo of the West of England Combined Authority.png
West of England combined authority location map UK.svg
West of England Combined Authority within England
Type
Type
HousesUnicameral
Term limits
None
History
Founded9 February 2017
Leadership
Structure
WECA 8 May 2021.svg
Elections
Indirect election, directly elected mayor from 2017
Last election
6 May 2021
Next election
2024
Meeting place
Rivergate, Bristol - geograph.org.uk - 475663.jpg
3 Rivergate, Temple Quay, Bristol
Website
www.westofengland-ca.gov.uk Edit this at Wikidata

The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) is a combined authority within the West of England area, consisting of the local authorities of Bristol, South Gloucestershire, and Bath and North East Somerset.[1][2] The combined authority is led by the Mayor of the West of England. The most recent election for this post took place on 6 May 2021, when the Labour candidate Dan Norris was elected on a turnout of 36%.[3]

Establishment

Map of the constituent boroughs within South West England, alongside North Somerset which rejected the deal
Map of the constituent boroughs within South West England, alongside North Somerset which rejected the deal

Devolution of certain powers to the West of England was announced by the UK government in the 2016 budget.[4] The government's vision was to create a "Western Powerhouse" analogous to the Northern Powerhouse concept. The proposal could bring nearly £1 billion of investment to the region over thirty years.[1][2]

The original proposal was to cover the same area as the County of Avon which came into formal existence on 1 April 1974 and was abolished in 1996.[5] However, in June 2016 North Somerset council rejected the proposal.[6] Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils agreed to proceed without them.[7][8]

The West of England Combined Authority Order 2017 came into force on 9 February 2017. The first public meeting of the combined authority took place on 1 March with an interim chair,[9][10] followed by the first mayoral election in May.[11]

Population

The region covered by the combined authority had a population estimated at 950,000 in 2020.[12] The authority also works closely with North Somerset Council; the joint area had a population in 2020 of 1,165,600.[13]

Responsibilities

The authority's functions, as specified by the West of England Combined Authority Order, mostly cover planning, skills and local transport. In April 2017 the authority published a 207-page constitution which includes terms of reference for the body and its committees.[14] An updated constitution was agreed on 15 July 2019[15] and 9 June 2020.[16]

Planning, economy and skills

Responsibilities include:

Transport

The mayor and combined authority are responsible for a consolidated, devolved local transport budget, with a multi-year settlement.[17] They can franchise bus services, subject to necessary legislation and local consultation.[17]

The authority promotes the West of England Joint Local Transport Plan, which includes the MetroBus network and the MetroWest rail project. The fourth iteration of the plan was published in March 2020.[18]

A Key Route Network of local authority roads is managed and maintained by the combined authority on behalf of the Mayor.[17]

Travelwest is a transport information and advice service promoted by the WECA authorities as well as North Somerset.[19]

Budget

In 2018–19 the authority's income was £26.3m, of which £13m was from levies on the local authorities for WECA's transport functions and £7m came in grants. Expenditure was £25.3m, of which £12.8m was spent on concessionary fares and £1.7m on community transport; £2.6m was transferred to reserves and £2.9m was contributed to the Mayoral Fund. From this fund, which also received £17.6m from business rates, the mayor spent £12m on highways and £7m on transport, as well as £0.7m on the Joint Spatial Plan.[20]

In the October 2021 budget the UK government allocated £540 million to WECA for public transport improvements, which will predominantly be spent on improving bus services.[21]

Membership

The membership of the combined authority cabinet is as follows.[22]

Name Position Assumed office
Mayor Dan Norris Mayor of the West of England (West of England Combined Authority) 2021
Cllr Kevin Guy Leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council 2021
Mayor Marvin Rees Mayor of Bristol (Bristol City Council) 2016
Cllr Toby Savage Leader of South Gloucestershire Council 2018

Former South Gloucestershire Council leader Cllr Matthew Riddle was chosen to be interim chair of the combined authority until the first elected mayor took office on 8 May 2017, and Marvin Rees was chosen to be vice-chair.[23]

As of April 2019 the authority employed 84, including the staff of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and the 'Invest in Bristol and Bath' team.[20]

In 2021 there was a dispute between the members and the Mayor of the West of England over the mayor's powers, in particular a power to veto alternative proposals to the joint committee including North Somerset Council. The four local authorities’ monitoring officers, who give legal advice, stated the veto could arguably amount to maladministration.[24] On 15 October 2021, the four council leaders did not attend a WECA meeting with the mayor, which meant over £50 million of spending decisions could not be made.[25] In November 2021, after taking new legal advice, Norris agreed not to claim veto powers on decisions involving North Somerset.[26]

Potential changes

In 2018, Mayor Bowles voiced hope that North Somerset would join the combined authority, saying: "We work closely on a regular basis with Nigel [Ashton, then leader of the council] and his officers on a number of things. Personally I hope they do, and there are lots of people in North Somerset who hope they do too".[11] In October 2020 there were discussions around North Somerset joining the WECA in time for the May 2021 election;[27][28] however Marvin Rees, mayor of Bristol, voted down this proposal in early 2021.[29] He rejected it on the basis that there should be a financial offer from the government for the council's inclusion, and stated that he would like to see North Somerset joining in the future.[29] In 2021, Dan Norris the newly elected mayor showed his interest in North Somerset council joining but also the rest of Somerset.[30]

George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol from 2012 to 2016, suggested in 2019 that his former role should be abolished and the combined authority renamed the "Bristol and Bath City Region", saying "Even when I stood for Bristol mayor back in 2012 I said I would prefer that we had a metro mayor. But a directly elected mayor for Bristol is what we had on offer from the government at the time".[31][32]

References

  1. ^ a b "West of England £1bn devolution deal announced in Budget". BBC News. 16 March 2016. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b Gavin Thompson (16 March 2016). "Metro mayor and £1 billion investment for Greater Bristol announced in Budget 2016". Bristol Post. Retrieved 17 March 2016.
  3. ^ "Mayor of the West of England". BBC News. 8 May 2021. Retrieved 8 May 2021.
  4. ^ "Budget 2016" (PDF). GOV.UK. HM Treasury. March 2016. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  5. ^ "The return of Avon: Osborne announces devolution plans". ITV news. Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  6. ^ Crawley, James (8 June 2016). "West of England devolution: North Somerset rejects metro mayor plan". Bath Chronicle.
  7. ^ "The West of England devolution deal". Bristol City Council. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  8. ^ Crawley, James (29 June 2016). "BANES backs £1billion west of England devolution deal and metro mayor but will residents support it?". Bath Chronicale. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  9. ^ "First meeting set for newly established West of England Combined Authority". Bath Echo. 17 February 2017. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  10. ^ "West of England Combined Authority Order", legislation.gov.uk, The National Archives, SI 2017/126
  11. ^ a b Ashcroft, Esme (4 May 2018). "Weca Metro Mayor marks first anniversary - but what has he done?". Bristol Post. Reach plc. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  12. ^ "ONS Population estimates - local authority based by five year age band [2020] via Nomis". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
  13. ^ "ONS Population estimates - local authority based by five year age band [2020] via Nomis". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
  14. ^ "Constitution" (PDF). West of England Combined Authority. April 2017. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  15. ^ "West of England Combined Authority Constitution" (PDF). West of England Combined Authority. 15 July 2019. Retrieved 12 February 2022.
  16. ^ "West of England Combined Authority Constitution" (PDF). West of England Combined Authority. 9 June 2020. Retrieved 12 February 2022.
  17. ^ a b c "West of England Devolution Agreement" (PDF). Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  18. ^ "Joint Local Transport Plan 4: 2020–2036" (PDF). Travelwest. Retrieved 10 December 2021.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ Travelwest https://travelwest.info/pages/us
  20. ^ a b "Statement of Accounts" (PDF). West of England Combined Authority. 31 March 2019. pp. 1, 6–8. Retrieved 25 December 2019.
  21. ^ Baker, Hannah (28 October 2021). "Autumn Budget 2021: Bristol and Bath region receives £540m boost for public transport". Bloomberg. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
  22. ^ "'Metro mayor' to run new West of England authority". ITV News. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  23. ^ "First WECA Committee Meeting". West of England Combined Authority. 1 March 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  24. ^ Postans, Adam (13 October 2021). "Bombshell leaked letter reveals WECA leaders' power tussle". Bristol Post. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  25. ^ Postans, Adam (15 October 2021). "WECA crisis as all four council leaders pull out of crucial meeting". Bristol Post. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  26. ^ Postans, Adam (17 November 2021). "WECA row could be over as metro mayor Dan Norris backs down over veto". Bristol Post. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  27. ^ "North Somerset Council joining Weca 'could secure vital funds'". BBC News. 28 October 2020. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  28. ^ Sumner, Stephen (27 October 2020). "Not joining regional partnership would be "stupid"". BristolLive. Reach plc. Retrieved 31 October 2020.
  29. ^ a b Postans, Adam (3 February 2021). "Minister offers path for North Somerset to join Weca". Bristol Post. Reach plc. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  30. ^ "West of England Mayor Dan Norris hopes to safeguard jobs and businesses". BBC News. 11 May 2021. Retrieved 29 May 2021.
  31. ^ Wilson, Kate (6 September 2019). "Ex-Bristol mayor says he will be campaigning to scrap the city's mayor role". Bristol Post. Reach plc. Retrieved 12 August 2020.
  32. ^ "Bristol's first elected mayor says role should be scrapped". ITV News. 5 March 2020. Retrieved 12 August 2020.