Lib Dems risk £1 billion investment in West of England

Liberal Democrats in Bath and North East Somerset have been slammed as ‘reckless and irresponsible’ following an attempt to derail £1 billion of investment in the West of England area.

At a B&NES Council meeting last Wednesday, 29th June, councillors met to debate whether to move forward with the Government’s £1 billion devolution offer and put the proposals out to public consultation. 

A majority Conservative, Labour, Green and Independent councillors voted to move forward to the next stage of the devolution proposals. However, during the meeting Liberal Democrat councillors made repeated attempts to thwart the £1 billion offer before ultimately trying to block plans to let the public have their say over the proposals. 

Conservative councillors have said that the attempts by the Liberal Democrats to derail the devolution offer could have jeopardised much-needed infrastructure investment in the area and would have deprived residents of the chance to have their say on the proposals.

Councillor Paul Myers, who is Chair of the B&NES Conservative Group, said:

“The Lib Dems’ repeated attempts to derail these proposals were frankly reckless and irresponsible. By attempting to block these proposals, the Lib Dems nearly managed to cost our area £1 billion in much-needed investment and deprive residents of the chance to have their say on the plans.

“There will be aspects to these proposals that people like and aspects they don’t.  It’s no secret that we aren’t big fans of the idea of a regional Mayor, but we have secured a number of important safeguards to protect the autonomy of each council area and ensure that this does not see a return to Avon.  With so much investment on offer to our area it would be wrong not to at least let the public have their say. Sadly, the Lib Dems clearly didn’t agree.”

The devolution proposals will now be put to a public consultation, starting from the 4th July.  As part of the deal, the three councils in the West of England agreement, comprising of B&NES, Bristol and South Gloucestershire, will benefit from additional powers handed down from Government over transport, housing and skills, as well as a £1 billion investment fund.  The deal also includes a commitment from the Government to look at additional investment in the area’s Enterprise Zones and devolved responsibility over over-19 education to give the ability to tailor skills training to local employment needs.

A number of safeguards have also been secured within the deal to protect the autonomy of each constituent council and ensure that one authority cannot dominate over the others, including a veto over planning matters and the ability of two councils to block any budget proposals they disagree with.