02Policy priority 2: A strategic aim
Build the profile of the West of England economy
- Promote the businesses and amenities of the West of England across the UK
- Build international links to make it easier for firms to trade following Brexit
- Represent a range of industries where firms benefit from international links
- Build on the profile of West of England’s globally recognised Universities
- Ensure that a higher national and international profile also translates into benefits for communities across the city region
The West of England is home to some of the most dynamic, innovative firms in the high-skilled industries which drive growth in jobs and productivity. However, despite having one of the strongest economies in the country, the West of England’s success is not well known enough beyond the area. The metro mayor should work with businesses and the established institutions in the area, to make the most of this dynamic and innovative ‘buzz’ and raise the profile of the West of England.
Promote the businesses and amenities of the West of England across the UK
Within the UK, the West of England does not yet have the profile that its economic success deserves, especially compared to their major city regions such as Greater Manchester. Bristol is the economic engine within the city region and Centre for Cities research shows it is the only Core City that punches above its weight for productivity, employment and wages.6 The city region benefits from excellent amenities and a thriving economy. There are large firms across the area, including Airbus in Filton, thriving tourism businesses in Bath, and professional services and digital firms in Bristol. The metro mayor needs to actively ‘sell’ the profile of these industries and the other firms that thrive in the West of England.
Build international links to make it easier for firms to trade following Brexit
The mayor should establish links with cities internationally through joining existing networks of mayors and cities such as the C40 cities, or Global Parliament of Mayors. This enables the metro mayor to quickly benefit from sharing other mayors’ experience, knowledge and best practice. It also opens links for West of England firms with international markets and businesses.
Following the vote to leave the European Union, the metro mayor must help firms to be ambitious and practical in how they build and maintain their trade and exports. Firms in the West of England are particularly reliant on exports to EU markets, with Bristol the third most reliant city in the UK on trade with the EU.7 Therefore the exporting success of firms in the city region will be heavily affected by the details of the trade deal struck by the Government with the EU. But beyond the parameters of these deals, there is much for the metro mayor to do to raise the profile of the city region’s businesses, and to prepare them for the likely uncertainty ahead. The mayor can help to build global relationships and raise the city region’s profile internationally by taking trade envoy trips and forging links with foreign city mayors. These relationships will help firms to open up potential markets and to sustain existing trading relationships.
Represent a range of industries where firms benefit from international links
The metro mayor should use their new profile to represent the whole of the city region’s business base to international investors, firms and new markets. That will mean working with key business representatives such as the LEP, chambers of commerce and wider business community. In addition to membership organisations, forming strong relationships with large firms such as the mobile phone company EE, the BBC, and Airbus will help them realise commercial benefits, build credible and high profile business networks, and raise the profile of the mayoral office itself.
The metro mayor must ensure they represent all firms across the West of England – including smaller firms and niche industries – to help develop the identity of the city region internationally as a highly innovative and productive business community. For example, in addition to large aerospace firms, the West of England has thriving small businesses in the digital and creative firms, but currently these do not have the international profile they deserve.8 By working with these firms to build their scale and raise their combined profile as part of the West of England brand, the mayor can increase awareness of the area and help firms to benefit from its enhanced reputation.
Build on the profile of West of England’s globally recognised universities
The metro mayor should also work with the city region’s universities to promote the ground-breaking research and innovative work they do. To do this he or she should form links with the West of England’s six universities, building on the international recognition and networks these institutions benefit from.
In the early days of office, this will mean making high profile visits and being vocal in supporting the work the universities do with businesses, for example through the SETsquared partnership.9 The metro mayor should also look to take university leaders or representatives of successful university projects on global trade missions, to showcase the innovative work that is done in the area and the benefits and opportunities of locating in the West of England.
The metro mayor must also develop the city region’s identity within the UK and internationally. He or she should use their own voice and profile to bring together the city region’s businesses – both large and small – as well as universities and research institutes to show that firms across the West of England can compete across the world.
Ensure that a higher national and international profile also translates into benefits for communities across the city region
The new metro mayor should consider how they can use – and show they are using – the city region’s economic growth and its higher national and international profile to address issues such as poverty and low educational attainment in some communities across the areas. For example, only 13 per cent of school students in Bristol at GCSE level who receive free school meals go on to higher education – significantly lower than in other cities such as London (42 per cent) and Birmingham (30 per cent).10 The metro mayor should make the most of the city region’s economic strengths to try and tackle these problems, so that more people can share the benefits of its growth.