Four things city deals need to do to boost the Welsh economy

Right, I know few people in or around Welsh politics are in the right frame of mind following yesterday’s news, but I still have a few posts to get through this week and will put together my own thoughts on what’s happened for tomorrow.

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Economy & Infrastructure Committee
City Deals & Regional Economies (pdf)
Published: 2nd November 2017

Chair’s Statement, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery):

“If (city) deals are to be a key driver of future economic activity in Wales, then we need to ensure there is clarity about what is happening, who is responsible for the plans, and what happens if targets aren’t achieved. We need greater certainty that meeting the UK Government’s drive for GDP growth, and the Welsh Government’s ambitions for a sustainable economy can both be achieved at the same time.”

1. Be wary of creating additional bureaucracy

The Open University argued that city deals may be replicating measures that are already in place. The Committee demands a streamlined decision-making system that would avoid creating additional “red tape” for businesses in a given area.

2. We need to know whether they’re working

There are concerns over a lack of transparency and clarity over the relationship between the city deals and local authorities. It was also unclear how small businesses would be represented. There is a clear need to know who is in charge of what, who is accountable for the outcomes of the city regions and whether they actually meet economic targets or not.

The UK Government will review funding every 5 years and will decide whether to continue based on whether individual city regions are meeting targets, so the Committee also recommended that contingency plans be put in place by the city regions should they fall short.

Prof. Dylan Jones-Evans warned about the Swansea Bay City Deal in particular, believing it was becoming too focused on “speculative building projects” (a “Wellness Village” in Llanelli) rather than investment in digital infrastructure as originally proposed; the leader of Swansea City Council was “angry” about the criticism, while Carmarthenshire dismissed it due to private sector input into the project which was “unusual for a city deal”.

3. “Spread the wealth”

The city regions need to ensure that areas on the periphery of the region benefit and the benefits don’t all centre on the main cities in each region (in this case Cardiff & Swansea). Some witnesses argued that the goals of the city regions – to increase jobs and economic growth – was too narrow and more needed to be done to address quality of jobs and long-term economic inactivity.

A Newcastle University study said there were a number of issues in evaluating the success (or not) of city regions, with it being hard to tell if growth was entirely down to the city deal and whether economic development had simply moved from one part of the region to another.

4. Don’t ignore Mid Wales

There are tentative proposals for a north Wales growth deal, but there’ve been no formal moves by the UK Government yet to support it.

However, there’s nothing planned for Mid Wales, with the leader of Ceredigion Council, Cllr. Ellen ap Gwynn, believing the area was “left behind” and “ignored”. There have been moves to get the groundwork read for a Mid Wales deal, but there’s yet to be any agreement on what the deal would involve.

There’s also a problem in that the region lacks a “city footprint” and has a limited number of anchor companies. Any deal for Mid Wales would, therefore, need to be radically different to those in any other region.

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