Going from “Good” to “Great” Through Regional Structure and Strategy

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Thought Leadership

The autumn of 2020 saw the publishing of SQW’s independent report on the work completed by Cardiff Capital Region City Deal since its inception four years ago – a keynote report which will be submitted to inform the UK Government “Gateway Review in early 2021. The assessment evaluated the progress made and results delivered by CCR as good overall.

We asked Kellie Beirne, Director CCR City Deal and Frank Holmes, Chair of the Region’s Economic Growth Partnership, about their vision for 2021 and how they see CCR building infrastructure and driving prosperity across a Region recovering from the shock of Covid.

“We’ve been recognised for promising early achievements as a City Region.” 

“The evaluation was very encouraging” acknowledges Kellie, “especially as it recognised that no other City Region has an Investment Fund that expects to see our return on investment or has the high level of leverage that we’ve built through Public/Private investment. The review also praised the maturity of our Cabinet, the way 10 Local Authority leaders have bonded to build trust and make bold joint decisions for the good of the whole Region. Special mention was also made of the strength and quality of the partnerships we have forged, including the significant achievements of Frank and the Economic Growth Partnership Board. Pride of place probably goes to the monumental work that’s seen our Compound Semiconductor Cluster establish world-class credentials, meet its objectives – and play an important part in helping secure further Strength in Places investment for our other clusters.”

“We’re a work in progress that must seize the opportunity with real ambition”

Frank likewise sees the Review’s findings as “a good start from a relatively small CCR team. We’re very much a work in progress, still learning and discovering as we bring together the potential of the Region. What’s clear is that this potential is huge, our 20-year strategy has put us on the right track and the window is there to build a self-reliance and competitiveness capable of developing a sustainable and resilient economy that delivers inclusive growth. It’s also apparent that we must seize this opportunity with real ambition – and a confidence that as a Region we have the knowledge and expertise to become bigger and better than we have perhaps previously imagined.”

“A strategy for a whole economic geography rather than a single programme” 

Frank’s heartfelt views on “thinking with vision and acting with ambition” are shared by Kellie:

“We’re at the point where we have run the City Deal for four years. That’s an important landmark.  But what we’re really doing here is building up a City Region. And that’s fundamental – a completely different scope and scale of challenge for the economic geography. It’s happening at a time of real change where we have come to a crossroads. We need to choose the right direction to meet the COVID challenge and optimise the opportunities to restructure after it. Beyond that – and bigger than that – we need to deal with the Climate Crisis that’s now upon us, bring in new arrangements for a post-EU successor framework; and embrace the OECD economic governance recommendations that say we need a more regional industrial and economic governance and set-up to maximise regional public investment. It really is a time like no other.”

“We can’t deny this region any funding that’s available to it.” 

“We can’t deny this region access to any funding that’s available to it,” says Frank. “That includes the UK Levelling Up Fund, R&D Funds, Infrastructure Funds, Post-EU Horizon 2020 Funds, International Academic Research Partnership Funds, Sovereign Wealth Funds or even the Green Bond just announced by the Chancellor.  All of that potential needs to open up and we won’t realise that with just a City Deal.”

“Understanding where we can go big will be critical to our future success” says Kellie “especially in a world that’s going to need some time to recover from the impact of Covid; and work around trade wars that have greatly affected import and export markets, particularly for our advanced manufacturers and international R&D base. We’re looking forward to building on that platform and pushing our nascent and emergent industrial strengths in areas such as the rural economy, green economy and ethical investments.” Frank is just as positive in his appraisal of potentially world-changing opportunities: “We have already shown in the Compound Semiconductor cluster that Wales can revolutionise energy and power sources for the whole world. In the field of Hydrogen, our Region has the genuine opportunity to change the game for everyone on the planet. Again, it all comes down to having the vision and structure in place to make that happen.”

“Understanding where we can go big will be critical to our future success”  

As the SQW review noted, much of the groundwork for the ‘next stage’ has already been done by CCR, both in Wales and further afield. “We’ve built great partnerships with the Welsh diaspora and affiliates all around the world” confirms Frank “and 2021 will see us continue our pioneering research with Universities in Taiwan and the Medtech sector in Ireland, which will become a key market post-EU.  In some places we already have the potential to punch above our weight worldwide – with the Compound Semiconductor cluster firmly linked with R&D centres in the US and our Insurtech companies identified as a global USP by the Regional Entrepreneur Accelerator Programme run by the Welsh government.”

“We’re testing our Universities to create real-world impact”

“Closer to home, our Strength in Places bids are testing our Universities to create real-world impact” says Kellie “and in 2021 we’re confident of replicating our Compound Semiconductor success in Cyber and Medtech, as well as in the Creative industries, where the Clwster initiative has shown that we can optimise the advantage built through work with Bad Wolf, Disney and the international production houses. And let’s not forget our Western Gateway across the West of England, where we’re building profitable partnerships locally and with the  DTi – leveraging the sense of combined geography to overcome the fact that we’re relatively small when compared to the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.

“We may not be the biggest but we already stand out as a Region” reminds Kellie “through innovations such as the Challenge Fund, which in 2021 could be a really interesting way and totally new structure for empowering people, business and communities – helping us all get our head around major human issues such as Mobility, Healthy Aging, the advance of AI and even Climate Change. Our work is societal as well as economic; and we have much to be proud of and to build upon.”

“If we put that structure and clarity in place, the investment and opportunities will follow.”

What excites Frank and Kellie most about 2021?

For Frank: “It’s about making the Region ever more investableBy growing our skills base, creating sustainable high value employment, continuing to build out our infrastructure and connecting our region through major programmes such as the South Wales Metro and 5G Broadband.

And Kellie? “What I’m looking forward to most of all in 2021 is progressing the arrangements to strengthen the CCR. The City Deal will be a really important pillar of that, of course – part of a much broader and strategic approach based on the economic geography of the whole region rather than just a single growth programme. If we can put that structure and clarity in place, to reflect the economic reality for a whole region, then I’m convinced that the investment and the opportunities will follow.”

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