Martin Ford 09 November 2020

Combined authority expansion halted by ‘party politics’

The expansion of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) has stalled after leaders failed to reach an agreement.

North Somerset Council was poised to join the authority, with a promise of up to £900m of additional funding from the Government on the table as a result.

However, North Somerset will not now join in the near future, according to a letter to local government minister Luke Hall signed by the West of England Mayor Tim Bowles, and the leaders of South Gloucestershire, Bath & North East Somerset, and North Somerset.

The letter appears to shift the blame onto the lone Labour-controlled WECA member, Bristol City Council.

It read: ‘Discussions among political leaders of WECA members have not come to a positive conclusion to agree to North Somerset joining to meet the timeline ahead of the 2021 elections.

‘We are particularly disappointed by this as there had been an agreement among leaders at the outset of this process that it was the right thing to do for the region.

'We are afraid to say that party politics has got in the way.’

The Government was supportive of North Somerset joining the authority.

However, all WECA members would have to agree to the admission of North Somerset.

The letter said it was a 'huge missed opportunity’ though the councils expressed an intention to restart talks.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, (pictured) responded that he was ‘disappointed’ at the decision to publish the letter ‘airing internal differences’.

He added: ‘This was an ongoing internal debate and should have remained so.

‘WECA was not able to achieve clarity from the government on a financial settlement for the region.

‘I support the expansion of WECA to include North Somerset but only when there is a clear financial offer that benefits Bristol and the West of England economy.’

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