This morning saw the launch of the Swansea Bay City Region with a key note address given by the Minister for Economy, Science & Transport, Edwina Hart MBE CStJ AM. Giving something of a high speed introduction to the concept of the City Region, she spoke of the need for “local authorities to think strategically, overcome internal rivalry and competition” and that it will “need the private sector on board”.
Now understandably for a good many of us here in Pembrokeshire, the concept of a City Region (definition: an area where most of its population conducts most of their lives – they work, trade, shop, live and spend leisure time there) will seem somewhat far removed from where we are now, and indeed probably stirs responses along the lines of “Why does that have anything to do with me?” and “Is this another one of those quango things?”
To answer the second question first, no it isn’t another one of those quango things. It is an understandable reaction in fairness – we have seen many a strategy, big idea, plan and more come out of governments whether locally or nationally, that have then appeared to only deliver a talking shop, endless committees, all talking about working together and collaboration between private and public sector, and the end result being quietly brushed under the carpet. Obviously, it is early days yet, however in the ‘race’ to launch a City Region, the Swansea Bay City Region has streaked ahead of a similar proposal in Cardiff and is already proving that action will be taking priority.
What does it have to do with us here in Pembrokeshire? This is the interesting bit. It has a huge amount to do with us here. We are shortly going to be moving into the next, and probably final, round of European funding for this area. Previous interventions from these funds have not delivered everything they were intended to. The fact that we still qualify for such support is a clear indication of how poor the overall economic performance of the area is. This round of funding could be our last chance in that respect.
The thinking behind the City Region ties in with a number of different threads and themes. The key high level target of the Swansea Bay City Region – Economic Regeneration Strategy is that by 2030 productivity levels in the Swansea Bay City Region are once again at 90% of the UK level (in 2010 it was at 77% of the UK level). There are five strategic aims supporting this:
- Business Growth, Retention and Specialisation
- Skilled and ambitious for long-term success
- Maximising job creation for all
- Knowledge Economy and Innovation
- Distinctive Places and competitive infrastructures.
The crucial part of this, and as we have already seen with the Welsh Government Strategy for Tourism 2013 – 2020, and the Destination Pembrokeshire Management Plan, is private sector involvement. Without that, without the support of businesses operating on the front line, in whichever sector they may be based, growth, job creation and more, simply will not happen. The days of the public sector creating new jobs as various projects come on stream are over.
So to come back to the question “What does this have to do with us?” it’s a straightforward answer. Everything. As the ways of working and shifts in thinking become clearer, the collaborative approach, the private sector led partnerships with the public sector, the regional aspects all settle, it will be absolutely crucial that each and every one of us at business level are engaged, involved, and understood. Boundaries are changing, the map of Wales in terms of local authorities and other bodies may look quite different in years to come, and so it is now that we all need to start thinking differently, doing things differently, and doing different things.