What are you doing on 4th May?

by John Darvall

This year the annual Star Wars “funny” date will have a serious and profound change to the way we are governed in the regions of England. We get to vote for a Metro Mayor, a “metro metro mayor, who wants to be a metro mayor?”… sorry, I went all Village People there.

This is election is rather important. A Metro Mayor will be responsible for key priorities in the English regions they are being elected, which will affect you every day. A Metro Mayor will be able to spend around a billion pounds of your money on these priorities over the next ten years. One Billion pounds. 10 years. Metro Mayors will be taking over these key responsibilities from the current local councils and authorities.

Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset along with South Gloucestershire councils have all come together with their 900,000 people to have a Metro Mayor for the West. You get to vote for the one you want on 4th May. So what will she or he actually be able to do for you and me?

Our West Metro Mayor will be responsible for planning, transport and education (apprenticeships) so you can expect that they will build more houses, more roads, improve rail and airport links plus create more jobs and encourage new businesses to come here with apprenticeships schemes. All good news. Well, not quite. There are some key problems with there being a Metro, Metro Mayor.

One. North Somerset are not part of it and Bristol Airport is on their patch. Will the other three council areas vote to hand over their Metro Mayor cash to support North Somerset and improve the links to the airport? North Somerset gain from this but North Somerset are autonomous, not having to answer to a Metro Mayor.

Two. North Somerset are going to be building more than 20,000 homes in the next ten years, some 6,000 more than they wanted to build. That’s central government for you. Those new residents are going to be drawn up the M5 to Bristol and Bath for work and play. That’s a lot of people using the region’s already struggling roads and public transport without any controls on them or where the homes will be built. Will all Metro Mayor spending stop dead at Gordano, like three lanes of caravans on a wet summer Saturday morning?

Three. The Metro Mayor’s spending money is £33m a year. This sounds like a lot when you look at the cuts our four councils are having to make. The new South Bristol link road, which took 18 months to build, is just over three miles long cost £45m. So, by that maths, our new Metro Mayor can build 2(ish) miles of road a year and that’s it. Of course he or she could use that money to borrow more money, which will happen, but this means a Metro Mayor will be more creating debt for the future.

Four. The actual election of the Metro Mayor. There is only one reason to vote in the West on May 4th this year and that is for a Metro Mayor. You will be voting for a new and an extra layer of government on top of our councils and between the West’s MP’s and Westminster. That is going to be a hard sell for all the political parties. The result will be an even harder sell if the turnout is low. Anything less than 20% turnout is going to look a bit rubbish.

As Nat “King” Cole once sang “there may be trouble ahead”. There may also be some answers to some of the key issues of the West on transport, housing and creation of new jobs in a fast changing jobs market. This may help the West with the back ground of both Brexit and a more protectionist United States. We live in a world where adding layers of government or management seems to be an answer. This often seems to be the result of those in charge who say they want to “remove” layers of government and management. Maybe this is a way of deflecting responsibility or maybe it’s a way of creating accountability?

You decide, on May 5th, if you vote on May 4th (be with you).

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