Rhys Thomas, Chief Operating Officer, Cardiff Capital Region (CCR)
This past couple of weeks has presented huge challenges and uncertainties to all of us, the like of which few if any of us can remember.
We have all had to adapt our ways of working, our lifestyles, our understandings, plans and expectations.
In Cardiff Capital Region our businesses, communities and individuals have faced up to these challenges and met them head on. Some businesses have had to shut their doors and are waiting to hear more about how they can get the support that has been offered to them by government. Others have been able to carry on business, but only by shifting all or most of their staff to working from home – a massive shift that for many may pre-empt a different way of doing things in the future.
We in Cardiff Capital Region City Deal have also had to adapt to the rapidly evolving emergency. On a practical level, all of our staff are now working from home. Making this possible has been a huge task for the IT departments in our local authorities, as it has been for businesses and organisations in our region, but they have risen to the challenge and worked tirelessly to make it happen.
More fundamentally, we have had to ask ourselves some questions about our purpose and what our role should be in this crisis. Up until three weeks ago our role was well defined: it was to create a more competitive, connected and resilient region by carefully targeted investment in key sectors of our regional economy, with the aim of boosting GDP growth and job creation in the years ahead.
We still think this is the right long-term strategy. But we are conscious that in the short term many of our businesses will be focusing on survival rather than growth. Consequently we need to think about how we can help them in the difficult weeks and months ahead.
Over the past two weeks the UK and Welsh governments have announced a series of measures to help businesses, from business rates relief and wage support schemes to grants and business interruption loans. But it hasn’t always been clear to businesses whether they would be able to benefit from this support, when it would be available or how to access the help. Where we can help businesses cut through the sometimes confusing picture out there, we will.
Some of the support, in particular the business rates relief for smaller businesses, will be delivered by our local authorities. As Cardiff Capital Region we can play a co-ordinating role in facilitating this delivery and helping businesses access it.
Most importantly, we can perhaps use some of our own funds to provide additional, targeted interventions to businesses, and we are looking at ways we may be able to do this.
No-one knows how severe the economic shock of this virus will be, or how long lasting the impact, and this will inevitably affect the way we approach our core role in the months and years ahead. But I believe the crisis has shown that the investment priorities we had previously chosen were the right ones.
The thousands of extra people and businesses working from home have reinforced the need for investment in our digital infrastructure, which we have prioritised. We are planning significant investment in a life sciences innovation park on the outskirts of Cardiff, because of the importance of the medical diagnostics and devices sector in our regional economy. And we also plan to invest in unlocking housebuilding in our communities, and boosting the skills of our young people.
We are going to go through a difficult time economically, and we are looking to see how we can help our businesses cope and get through it. But recovery will come, and our investment strategy is about preparing for that day and making sure our businesses have the support and environment they need to prosper and grow again in the future.