The government has issued a major warning to the West of England Combined Authority and ordered local political leaders to get along.

The “best value notice” issued to the combined authority by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities directs it to set up an “independent improvement panel” to tackle a host of issues, from poor relationships between political leaders to “confusion” about what the combined authority does. Metro Mayor Dan Norris insisted he would “redouble” his efforts.

The notice said one concern identified was “the poor state of professional relationships between the WECA Mayor and the representatives of the constituent members of the Authority which is impacting partnership working and potentially limiting the authority’s ability to optimise strategic opportunities.”

Auditors Grant Thornton had previously warned in November 2022 that the strained relationships between the political leaders were a “significant weakness” and called on them to work together but the notice warned there had been “inconsistent action” on this. There have continued to be several high-profile spats between Mr Norris and leaders of the councils, including a row over who should pay for buses and a stalemate over the future of the region’s metro network which left the plans in limbo.

Other concerns raised were the need to review the combined authority’s constitution and the lack of a “clear, shared narrative” about how the combined authority will operate for the benefit of the region.

Responding to the notice, Mr Norris said: “These are familiar issues. As political leaders, we all want the best for the West of England. It’s a fantastic place to live, work, and study.

“I will be redoubling my efforts to continue to deliver on our important priorities during this frightening cost of living crisis.”

The government said the combined authority had already taken some steps but more needed to be done.

B&NES leader Kevin Guy said: “We have been asking for change in the way that WECA works for years. We recognise how hard the WECA officers have worked to improve practices, but change has to come from the top.

“This effectively gives the Metro Mayor a year to turn this situation around, which he has so far failed to do.

“This best value notice represents a serious step, but we believe it is a helpful one. It will lead to a board being appointed to ensure that agreed improvements are put in place. We believe that a new constitution is called for. We will continue to work in partnership with the other constituent authorities and the Metro Mayor to ensure the combined authority delivers for the region, businesses and residents.”

The notice lasts for 12 months though it may be withdrawn or escalated at any time. At the end of 12 months the notice may be reissued if things have not improved.