Business Leader Magazine spoke to recently elected West of England Metro Mayor Tim Bowles about his first two months in the job, the challenges he has faced and his vision for the future of the region.
What is a Metro Mayor?
A metro mayor is the chair of a combined authority that has agreed to a Devolution Deal and is voted in by the electorate in the combined authority area. As Metro Mayor, Tim covers the Bristol City Region, South Gloucestershire and Bath and North-East Somerset.
What was Tim’s previous job?
District Councillor for Winterbourne.
How much will Tim be paid?
£62,000 per year
You have been the job for almost two months – how has it gone so far?
I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It has been very pressurised and there has been a lot of work to do – we are setting up a new authority from scratch. We have a lot of different teams coming together from various parts of the different councils.
Other aspects, like our Invest in Bristol and Bath teams are all coming together under the new roof. That is an awful lot of work but it is great fun.
What is the toughest challenge you’ve faced so far?
It has been about identifying opportunities and that is the way I have always looked at these things. I have always been a ‘half full’ kind of person.
The challenge is making these things come together and then start delivering.
Your personal highlight so far?
There have been so many, my diary is full of cracking thing’s we have been doing. There hasn’t been just one highlight but here have been some interesting things that I have done.
Last week I was with a group of school children and we were talking about the skills they needed for the future workplace. We’re thinking about how children at school age can get excited about what we have got, as a region, so they can become the next generation of entrepreneurs.
What are the plans for immediate future?
Last week was an important milestone for us with the first meeting of the combined authority. All of us who have worked so hard to get the devolution deal in place, were present.
The immediate future is an opportunity for us all as the leaders, to get around a table and get the process in place so we can start pushing forward. We are now driving forward our ideas in terms of transport planning, for example.
It is all about strengthening our economic growth in the region, delivering the new infrastructure, house and jobs and skills that we need.
Last week it was announced that there would be a funding boost for transport projects. What will this deliver?
We will deliver a mix of large and small transport projects across the region, which have recently been approved.
Projects worth more than £17m were approved and awarded funding of just over £10m to improve walking and cycling links, public spaces, public transport and road safety in the region. They underpin our aims to support economic growth and improve connectivity.
The projects are (courtesy of combined authority media team):
• £2.8m towards speeding up a strengthening, maintenance and improvement scheme for the Bromley Heath Viaduct reducing the time taken from 52 to 33 weeks;
• £2.2m towards a new single platform rail station next to the Park and Ride at Portway on the Severn Beach Line;
• £1.8m to relocate a coach park in Bath from Bath Quays North to Odd Down Park and Ride; and
• £3.3m towards 14 separate transport projects across the region including new cycle paths and bus lane enforcement.
Through the Local Growth Fund, the Joint Committee can approve projects that will deliver much needed infrastructure for the region.
These developments will give us a better-connected region.
What are your long-term plans?
It is one of those lovely questions that people always ask me. I have just started a new job that no one has ever done before, for which there is not a job description. There isn’t an office and there isn’t something set up.
There are six people around the country who have a similar job title but none of our jobs are the same because we have all got different devolution deals. The answer is that we have got to make this first devolution deal work and that we deliver as a region.
We need to show Westminster and the world that as a region we are strongly joined together and working positively.
That means that the long-term plan must about providing long term jobs and opportunities for people across the region and deliver a growth plan for everybody.
That is what we are here to do and I am confident that we are going to start delivering soon.