Cllr. Anthony Hunt
Leader Torfaen County Borough Council and Chair of the CCR Regional Cabinet
As we gradually emerge from the Covid-induced lockdown, our thoughts turn increasingly to how we go about rebuilding our economy in the new circumstances that prevail. Can we carry on where we left off with our pre-Covid plans, or do we have to adjust our focus to new priorities?
Our strategy before the lockdown was a new one for the region, only recently set out and consistent with the needs of building a sustainable and resilient economy for all our citizens in the conditions of the 2020s. It was designed for the way we saw the regional and global economy developing over the next 20 years.
Coronavirus has delivered a shock to the economy. But it hasn’t caused it significantly to change course. If anything, it has accelerated some trends – greater use of digital services, homeworking, the vital role of medical devices and diagnostics, the dependence of our communities on the foundational economy for jobs – all of which we had already identified as being key trends for our regional economic development.
Consequently, we don’t see any need to significantly alter our strategy.
Identifying specific areas of impact
Our strategy was built around the concept of being a catalyst for growth, rather than being the principal driver of it. In drawing up our plans, we identified key sectors where we had both a pre-existing strength, and an opportunity for further growth. These sectors included compound semiconductors, medical devices and diagnostics, fintech, cyber security, AI, transport engineering, and the creative industries.
It’s clear that each of these niche sectors are still vitally important for our region, perhaps even more so, in the post-Covid world. The increased use of digital services and devices has implications for cyber security, compound semiconductors and AI. A rapid growth in online sales has opportunities for fintech. The pandemic has provided new demand in the medical devices and diagnostics sector. And a reluctance to return to public transport means the need to develop low and ultra-low emission vehicles is even more pressing than it was before. Even in the creative industries there is an opportunity in the more time that people are spending at home.
Growth must be inclusive
Nurturing the supply chain is vital to achieving sustainable and inclusive success.
We have some great quality indigenous businesses across all our key sectors, from Monmouthshire to Bridgend. For example, companies like Flamguard Calidairein Pontypool, who are world-class providers of dampers in markets such as oil and gas, nuclear power and marine. They’re renowned for what they do around the world; and we need to listen to companies like these to see how we can help.
We need to tap into these specialisms and help create environments where local supply chains can grow, because in so doing we will help to create a diversity of future employment and a truly sustainable resilient region.
One Region with a United Sense of Purpose
We also need to focus on the fact that we’re one region and are committed to bringing the whole of the region forward. We are not just the cities of Cardiff and Newport; we are the valleys towns and the rural communities too, with markedly different socio-economic groups living side-by-side. We are here not just for the people earning high wages in cutting edge technology businesses, but also for the people living in disadvantaged communities, from Torfaen to Grangetown.
Our aim is to spread prosperity across the region, not just look good on paper. In the words of our CCR City Deal director Kellie Beirne, it is vital that we don’t just “hit our targets but miss the point.” 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 our 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.
From Start-Up to Delivery
I’m tremendously excited by the fact that we have moved from the foundation stage of developing our strategy to the delivery phase. We are helping to grow jobs in those key specialist sectors where we have strength and opportunity; and also in the foundational economy, where so many of our people work. As we come out of the deep contraction caused by the lockdown, these endeavours will be vital to our region’s growth.