Reimagining the Region – Article 1

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Reimagining the Region – Article 1,

 Coming Together to Create Firm Foundations

We begin our series with a look back on the journey made from the inception of the CCR, assessing the foundations put in place and looking at the key developments and progress made in those four extraordinary years …   

 

2017 was a momentous year by any standards. In the US, January saw President Trump take up residence in the White House. Here in the UK, Britain began the process of Brexit negotiation. And even closer to home, in early 2017, Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) was born – bringing together the 10 unitary authorities of South East Wales in a £1.3 billion ‘City Deal’. This pioneering programme has for the very first time given a regional voice to the different views, perspectives, hopes and ambitions of Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Monmouthshire, Newport, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Torfaen and the Vale of Glamorgan – a combined entity that’s home to 1.5 million people and 50% of Wales’ economic output.

So what have we put in place – and how have we progressed?

“A pioneering programme for a region that’s home to 1.5 million people and 50% of Wales’ economic output”  

From day one, it was clear that CCR came into being to bring about significant and inclusive economic growth across a geographically diverse region – through substantial investment, rigorous upskilling and a radical improvement in digital and physical connectivity. This vision has always been a measurable one: with a targeted delivery, over a 20 year period, of a 5% uplift in GVA, up to 25,000 new jobs, leveraging an additional £4 billion of private sector investment. To achieve this we would need to build on the sectoral strengths of our region – harnessing the power and the potential of our current skills base, identifying and refining our competitive advantage in existing and emerging industries, strengthening our growing critical mass in two regenerated cities; and utilising our well-deserved reputation for innovation built around three successful universities.

“Up to 25,000 new jobs, a 5% uplift in GVA and an additional £4 billion private sector investment”

We couldn’t have asked for a more important remit and that was reflected in LA’s, WG and UKG contributing £1.3bn – £495m to the CCR Investment Wider Investment Fund and £734m, ring-fenced, alongside further WG, EU and UKG funding, to begin building the South Wales Metro network that will in the next few years connect the communities of South Wales for the centuries ahead. In amongst those big numbers, we also set out to avoid the mistake of ‘hitting targets but missing the point’ that this is all about people – giving everyone the best chance in life and making ours a region where people of all backgrounds want to live and work. The CCR has amazing strengths and advantages but that sits alongside deep-rooted challenges that manifest themselves in one of the UK’s lowest measures of GVA and the obvious difficulties faced by some communities to access economic opportunities. Economic inclusion has thus, since been a central priority as we develop the region’s Connectedness, Competitiveness and Resilience.

“We don’t want to hit the targets but miss the point – and the point is all about people”

Anthony Hunt, Leader Torfaen County Council and Chair Regional Cabinet said;

 “Our aim is to spread prosperity across the region, not just look good on paper. This means we need to make sure we deliver to the whole region, not just the areas that are easier to provide for. That’s why our strategy is also focused on the foundational economy; those people and businesses who work in essential services from catering to care. We help this part of our economy in two ways. Our support for our key niche sectors helps indirectly, by stimulating a demand for those services; and, through the launch of a Challenge Fund, we will be looking to provide direct help to small firms in the foundational economy who can help provide innovative solutions for some of the pressing problems the public sector faces, such as how to decarbonise our transport.”

All of this called for a truly transformative approach in developing stronger local leadership, improving transport, increasing skill levels, supporting people into work, delivering an increase in house building – and giving businesses the support they need to innovate and grow. Most perhaps importantly, focussing on the region’s low carbon future, is something which brings all this together and drives a mission much bigger than the sum of the individual parts. That joined-up thinking and shared vision came together around the Cabinet table of CCR itself, which has built a culture of trust and understanding between strong personalities and intelligent minds who naturally bring different opinions and perspectives to that table. The leaders of the ten participating local authorities have been the ultimate decision-making body for the City Deal – each with an equal vote and influence, regardless of their LA size or financial contribution – and they have as a team proven a remarkable success in their ability to work imaginatively and productively in delivering for the common good.

“We’ve built a culture of trust and understanding between political and business leaders of different views and perspectives”

The Cabinet is fortunate to be structurally supported by a small number of core advisory bodies who have proven their mettle and contributed their deep expertise in what has become one of the most challenging periods in modern economic and social history. From the beginning, our Regional Economic Growth Partnership (REGP) set out an evidence based  comprehensive, and robust 20-year Economic and Industrial plan and an Investment & Intervention Framework, both shaped by Frank Holmes and a team of experts handpicked from the worlds of business, higher education, social enterprise, employment and local government. That plan is unapologetically ambitious and empirically achievable – advocating global connectivity through investment in best-in-class transport systems, housing, digital infrastructure and employable skills – enabling us to create the jobs, improve the productivity and leverage the evergreen investment that will shape success for generations to come.

“Our Regional Economic Growth Partnership has set out a cogent 20-year Industrial and Economic Plan and Investment and Intervention Framework”

For the past three years, the REGP has taken responsibility for reviewing this economic strategy, making recommendations on how the City Deal is implemented and advising on investment decisions throughout the Cardiff Capital Region, playing a critical part in making sure that what we do and how we do it is both appropriate and financially robust. It allowed us to pivot in the pandemic through a 10-point COVID Priority Plan aligned to the longer-term vision – and liaise closely and continuously with the CCR Business Council, which recently saw Nigel Griffiths take the Chair to bring renewed drive in giving businesses right across our region the courage, ambition and practical support to be the best they can be – and in Nigel’s eyes that means being the best in the world.

“Our Business Council is supporting businesses to be the very best they can be”

We’ve also been fortunate to have Leigh Hughes leading our CCR Skills Partnership. Skilling, reskilling and up-skilling are simply critical to our success and resilience as a region – not just because of the impact of Brexit and the pandemic, but because we now live and work in a fourth industrial age where according to the OECD, 20% of current jobs will have disappeared forever by 2025. Despite the pace and sheer scale of change, we also have the chance to leapfrog other regions and nations if we are brave enough to grasp the opportunities ahead of us – and our Skills Partnership is committed to helping us achieve that, bringing together businesses, industries, educational institutions, training providers, schools, local authorities and the Welsh Government, to identify the priorities for skills investment. It’s astonishing to think that despite the shock of COVID-19, we’re still on course to meet the targets set out in our Three-Year Priority Sector Plan, which is crucial if we’re to build on our competitive advantage embodied in CCR’s Priority Sector strategy.

“Our Skills Partnership has identified the priorities for skills investment”

CCR realised very early on that achieving this vision meant a monumental moving of the needle – by identifying and investing in those areas of comparative strength where we can compete both at a UK level and internationally. By doing that, we’ve started to create rich ecosystems that stretch and support the development of key sectors within the economy, including:

Artificial Intelligence & Data Science: we are now a model of how universities, business and industry can collaborate to lead in these critical fields.

Compound Semiconductors: our Newport-based cluster already leads the world, built on a centre of excellence that stretches back 30 years.

Creative Industries: CCR is the second largest screen production centre in Europe and already acknowledged as a world leader in TV & Film.

Cybersecurity Analytics: a vital ‘world-sector’ generating high-value employment and at the same time making CCR a ‘Safe Place to Do Business’.

Fintech: we’re home to 3 of Europe’s top 5 insurers and aggregators in a fast-growing sector that generates £2 billion for the local economy.

Medtech: even before the pandemic we were leaders in the medical devices and diagnostic sub-sectors.

Energy and Transport: our region has long been a leader in automotive and aeronautical innovation; and is ahead of the game in the decarbonisation of transport across all fields.

This emphasis on Priority Sectors is a challenge-led approach that seeks to inspire innovation and bring together collective ambitions – encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship, creating employment and improving productivity within the Foundational Economy. Our approach also allows us to target our most deprived and isolated communities and support regenerative growth. Our progress in all these areas (and many more) is evidenced by some of the key milestones already achieved.

“By any measure, the first four years has seen real milestones achieved.”

By any measure, the first four years of CCR saw us reach significant milestones. From the substantial strategic investments made in regionally inclusive initiatives such as Metro Plus and Homes for the Region  to  enterprises as diverse as  IQE, Creo Medical , Pharmatelligence and Zip World, to key innovations such as the Challenge Fund programme that asks communities and companies to propose solutions to public sector challenges, putting a practical challenge rather than a procurement exercise ‘out there’ – a totally new structure for empowering people, business and communities, helping us all comprehend and plan to manage the major human issues that we face right now, including Mobility, Healthy Aging, the advance of AI and  Climate Change.

Gill Bristow; Professor of Economic Geography Cardiff University added;

“The approval of the CCR Challenge Fund is a really exciting development for the city region especially as we seek to rebuild the economy in the wake of covid-19. The Challenge Fund will galvanise the collaboration between Cardiff University researchers and the CCR on local economic development, and offers public service providers the opportunity to benefit from the University’s research and innovation expertise as we jointly strive to find solutions to key societal challenges”.

Our work is societal as well as economic; and our journey has only just begun. But we have much to be proud of – and to build upon. When we reflect upon all of the above and consider the achievements listed below, it’s clear that the CCR is ready for the next stage of development. We’re not alone in that assessment – with the SQW/Gateway Report Findings giving a strong and independent validation of our work to date and green light to move forward – and we’ll look in detail at those findings and that way forward next week.

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