John Osmond says another report is in danger of becoming an aspiration unless there is more co-ordination and a greater sense of priorities in Cardiff Bay
Struggling with improving the delivery of health and education, and facing a relentless horizon of spending cuts coming from London, is the Welsh Government in danger of becoming a Cabinet full of Ministers for Declarations? It is a question that came to mind when looking through the latest, largely declaratory ‘New Regeneration Framework’ document to emerge from the Cathays Park policy mill this week. It has a snappy title, Vibrant and Viable Places, and who could dissent from its vision – “Everybody in Wales should live in well-connected, vibrant, viable and sustainable communities with a strong local economy and good quality of life”.
But where’s the beef? The document has £30 million attached to it, which frankly is a drop in the ocean when all 22 Welsh local authorities will be looking to spend it.
Conference: Monday 25 March 2013
Cardiff Business School, Colum Road, Cardiff
Making a Welsh Metro happen
Keynote speaker: Owen Smith MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales
This conference explores the practical challenges facing policy-makers in making a reality of proposals for creating a successful Metro for south-eastern Wales. It comes two years after the IWA and the Cardiff Business Partnership launched A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region. It argued that, using the electrification of Great Western Main Line to Swansea and the Valley lines as a catalyst, a Metro linking the Welsh capital with the Valleys would create the connectivity essential to economic development in the 21st Century. This, it said, should be a major priority for the governments at both Cardiff and Westminster, and for local authorities and the business community. Two years later, with electrification of the Great Western Main line agreed, now is the time to press for the advantages to flow through Cardiff’s hinterland. How can we seize the initiative to create an integrated Metro that will connect together the whole of the region? How can we raise the finance to put the project into effect? What kind of delivery mechanisms will be needed? How can local authorities, the Welsh Government and the private sector work together to produce practical answers to these questions? A new report engaging with the policy initiatives needed to make a Welsh Metro happen will be launched at the conference.
For more details and to book, click here
To be fair, there is an an acknowledgement that in the past regeneration funding, especially through the Communities First partnerships – again represented within all 22 local authorities – has been spread too thinly. In future less money will be focused on fewer areas which have the greatest need – defined as coastal areas, Communities First clusters, and town centres.
However, this seems a rather more generalised focus when compared with the existing seven ‘regeneration areas’ – the Heads of the Valleys, Môn a Menai, the North Wales coast, Western Valleys, Swansea, Aberystwyth, and Barry. To help him decide where the money should flow Huw Lewis, the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage is establishing yet another Advisory Group This is supposed to assist him consider “regeneration across the whole spectrum of Welsh Government activity”.
But there’s the rub. Huw Lewis’s writ does not run where it matters most in the politics of regeneration. Edwina Hart controls the budget and civil servants resp0nsible for economic development, while Carl Sargeant has his fingers on the tiller of transport. All that one hears suggests there is a lack of coherence, co-ordination, and communication between these two departments, let along with housing and regeneration. But these are where the big budgets lie and where there is the chance for making the most impact in economic regeneration.
This is despite the fact that over the next ten years the Welsh Government expects to have between £2-4 billion less for capital investment than in the previous decade. The opportunity lies in the Welsh Government’s Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan published last May and its aspiration to spend some £15 billion over the next decade in seven priority areas – transport, telecommunications, energy, housing, public services, the educational estate and enterprise zones. If this is to be achieved three things are required:
- The Welsh Government will have to find a way of speeding up its access to borrowing – currently being negotiated with the Treasury – and utilise European convergence funding for West Wales and the Valleys to gain critical mass.
- An investment delivery mechanism or mechanisms will need to be created.
- There will need for a more ruthless prioritisation of a few large, potentially transformative projects, rather than spreading the funding too widely and thinly, as has been the case in the past.
Where would my priority lie? With the Welsh Metro project which we are promoting at a conference later this month – see panel above. This could do more than any other single project available to the Welsh Government to tackle regeneration in the most deprived Welsh region, the Heads of the Valleys, and boost economic development more generally.