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Government / Local politics

What challenges will the West of England's new mayor have to tackle?

The latest instalment of our weekly series, in which we use the Centre for Cities’ data tools to crunch some of the numbers on Britain’s cities.

Meet Tim. 

No, not Farron. This one:

Tim Bowles is the new mayor for the West of England, having served as a local councillor for Winterbourne, South Gloucestershire, since 2010. 

We don’t know all that much about him, other than that he used to run an events company, and that he got his phone out in the middle of his acceptance speech to make sure it was switched off. 

He’s a Conservative – which might seem surprising for a metro region until you remember that vast swathes of the West of England ‘metro’ region is just fields and villages – and is now tasked with running a region of around 750,000.

So. Now that Tim and his £62,000 salary are in situ, what’s the plan? What are the big problems in the West of England region that Tim Bowles will have to tackle to be a success as mayor? 

Thankfully, the good people over at the Centre for Cities have a shiny ‘Metro Mayor Data Dashboard’ tool, where you can explore data sets for each of the newly devolved regions. Go play

For the West of England region – centred on Bristol, the beating heart of British wokeness – there’s good news, and there’s bad news. 

The good news is that the region’s population is more skilled than the national average. 

Click any of the following images to expand them. All images: Centre for Cities.

And by quite a large margin, too – the green line is the West of England level, versus the grey which indicates the national average. 

Weekly wages are also rising pretty quickly too, and are now just about on a par with the national average. 

The employment rate for the West of England still sits higher than the national average, though there are signs that may not be the case forever. 

And the West of England’s claimaint count rate – aka, the percentage of the population needing benefits – is still slightly lower than the national average. 

At that point, the good news for the West of England pretty much dries up. 

The region may be more skilled than the national average, but its schools are drastically underperforming. 

The ‘Progress 8 scores’ – a measure, basically, of how much kids match up to the performance they could be capable of – are way down in the West of England, compared to the national average. 

If you look at kids on free school meals – the most disadvantaged pupils – it’s just as bleak, if not more so. 

And the new supply of apprenticeships is down on the national average, too. And that gap doesn’t look like it’ll get smaller any time soon. 

Although weekly wages may be growing faster in the West of England than the rest of the country, the total number of jobs is stagnating a little. 

Admittedly, there is only one year’s worth of decline here, as we don’t yet have the data for 2016; but given that the total number of jobs has fallen for three out of the five years we do have data for, it’s not looking great. 

And in terms of what the economy of the West of England can ship off to other people, the data once again shows a lackluster performance. 

Services exports are less lucrative in the West of England than in the rest of the country, and goods exports tell a similar tale. 

And then there’s this. The important stuff – the part of the article that all true CityMetric believers skim down to find. 

Transport. 

Bus journeys in the West of England region have soared since 2013, growing at a much faster rate than the rest of the country – where buses are basically in decline. 


But of course, being the West of England, there’s no data on anything like light rail, because there are no light rail or metro systems. The buses are literally it. 

So the important question here is whether or not that growth is really good news. Is it that more people are taking advantage of local bus services, enjoying good, quick, cheap journeys to and from work, clubs, their friends’ houses, and the pub? 

Or is it that slow, cranky, smelly, tired old busses are becoming more and more overcrowded and unpleasant, while still charging extortionate prices?

I did a bit of my (continuing) growing up in the West of England, and took the time to sample some of the area’s gourmet busses. From my experience, it’s very much the latter. 

Game on, Tim. 

Let’s see what you can do before re-election time comes around. 

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