The Western Mail’s headline about a new report from the London-based Centre for Cities, UK Cities in the Global Economy: “Globalisation means Wales must forget its rivalries and forge links” with the following opening paragraph: “Cities such as Cardiff, Newport and Swansea must work together as part of a Greater Cardiff to prosper in an increasingly globalised world.” The paper’s editorial went on to opine, “It comes as a shock to learn that a London-based think tank believes the greatest of rivals – Cardiff, Newport and Swansea – need to market themselves as one ‘great’ city to deal with the challenges of globalisation.”
Well, it might be a shock, if that was what the report advocated. In fact, the report does not deal with Wales at all; its focus is almost entirely on England.Cardiff and Swansea do get a brief look in as part of Heathrow being “a major driver of growth along the M4 corridor connecting a chain of cities: London, Reading, Swindon, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea” but that’s it. Its talk of using clusters and niches of economic activity around regional centres, and deploying Universities to project the development of cities undoubtedly has some relevance to Welsh circumstances. But its central message of developing a critical population mass to project the identity of some English cities within the globalised economy certainly does not. Welsh cities are simply too small, and anyway Wales has a different and potentially much more powerful option: to project Wales itself as our premier global identity.
Cardiff is the only city with even an outside chance of achieving recognition as a front-line global city – but the reality is that it is the size of Nottingham. Cardiff’s strength is that, unlike the Nottinghams of this world, it is a capital city with a range of institutions that otherwise would never be found in a city of its size – a National Assembly, a National Stadium, the Millennium Centre, the National Museum and so on.
There is a case for the development of Swansea, Cardiff, and Newport to take greater account of their Valleys hinterlands. Public transport initiatives come to mind, especially the notion of a revamped light rail link to connect the communities of south-east Wales with their coastal cities. Given the entrenched parochialism and localism of existing local authorities, however, we will probably have to wait for the recasting of local government boundaries before we will see any significant initiatives on that front.
Meanwhile what is to be done? The best course is to capitalise on the Welsh Assembly’s plan to project Wales as a “world nation”. This will be a central theme of the conference on ‘Wales in the World’ the IWA is organising in Cardiff’s Holiday Inn on Monday 20 October. A key speaker is the Welsh Assembly Government’s Director of Marketing, Roger Pride who will be addressing ‘The Welsh Brand – Connecting Image with Reality’.
In global terms Wales can be projected as a reality in a way that our cities, whether they be St David’s, Wrexham, Newport, Swansea, or even Cardiff cannot. This is why First Minister Rhodri Morgan is speaking at the conference on the theme ‘Putting Wales on the Map’. One answer will be provided by the Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, Roger Lewis, in his presentation on ‘Rugby’s role in Projecting Wales to the World’. In terms of our global identity that’s what we should be rooting for. So the Western Mail’s editorial writer can breathe a sigh of relief. We don’t need to combine Newport, Cardiff and Swansea into a mega city – even if we wanted to – and we know for sure that they don’t.