North Somerset 'missing out' on opportunities for jobs and investment

Weston's Town Hall.

Weston's Town Hall. - Credit: Archant

Leaders in North Somerset are pushing to join the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) to access vital funding for the area. 

North Somerset Council believes the district is missing out on funding in key areas including the economy, transport and education. 

WECA is made up of three of the councils in the region - Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol City and South Gloucestershire. North Somerset Council failed to join when it was set up in 2016. 

More: North Somerset to miss out on 'ambitious' road and rail improvements?

North Somerset Council’s deputy leader Mike Bell believes the district is missing out on vital funding by not being part of WECA. 

He said: “When we took control in 2019, we immediately started conversations with the other three authorities and Government about joining. Whether we like it or not, it is the principal route the government is using to invest in economy and transport so by not being in it, we are missing out on our share of that money.  

“While we do get bits and pieces, we are just outside of the decision making for the combined authority and we are excluded from a lot of Government funding. We hear that from education providers like Weston College which is struggling to access funding. We are just missing out on opportunities for skills, jobs and investment.” 

More: North Somerset will not join WECA after Bristol Mayor 'veto'.

The council put in a bid to join in November 2020, but the proposal was vetoed by Bristol’s Mayor Marvin Rees. Dan Norris has since been elected WECA mayor, and the council has been in talks about joining again.

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Cllr Bell said: “It feels like a really good opportunity to reopen conversations. The issue will be whether we can join on an interim basis or whether we need to wait until the next combined authority election. 

“Conversations have been very positive so far. We’ve got some work to do to make our case, but as far as we are concerned, it’s really key we join the combined authority and get within the programme. We have got to be part of it if we want to benefit from the investment that comes.” 

However, Weston MP John Penrose believes the council's bid was rejected due to party politics, which he says could make it difficult to join in the future.

He added: "There's a legitimate discussion to be had on whether joining WECA would give us better access to government cash, or take us back to the bad old days of Avon. But I’m afraid it’s all a bit academic: North Somerset Council's recent application to join WECA was rejected by Labour-controlled Bristol Council because they were worried admitting us would make the recent West Of England Mayoral Election harder for Labour to win.

"It was about party-political advantage, not what was best for local residents in either Bristol or North Somerset. And, sadly, no-one expects the local Labour Party’s attitude to change in future."

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