Edwina Hart poised to tackle Welsh parochialism

John Osmond says a forthcoming announcement on a city region for south east Wales will transform the economy.

Edwina Hart is poised to knock some local government heads together in south-east Wales, and make what will be a defining decision in her long career as a Minister in the Welsh Government. In the next few weeks she will establish a new city region political structure for south east Wales, radiating outwards from Cardiff to embrace Bridgend, the Rhondda, Merthyr and Aberdare, Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent, Pontypool and Newport.

After decades of tribal infighting between the local authorities of these areas the Minister for the Economy, Science and transport has lost patience. Local authorities have failed to act in their own interest to provide effective strategic planning for transport, housing, co-ordination of further education, and economic development. Now she is going to act for them.

Back in 2010 Professor Kevin Morgan, an ardent proponent of a city region for south-east Wales, told an Innovation seminar at Cardiff University:

“Cities all over the world are the engines of their regions and it is sad for me to see what has happened in South-East Wales over the last twenty years where I have been struck by the parochialism of the mind set and the poverty of ambition.”

That was a wake-up call that our local government leaders across south-east Wales should have acted upon. Of course, they ignored it. They’ve also largely ignored a report City Regions in which Kevin Morgan’s stark warning was quoted, commissioned by Edwina Hart in 2011 and published in July last year. I suggest they dig it out and give it a quick scan, since most of its trenchant recommendations will soon be announced as government policy. If they do they should turn first to paragraph 154:

“There is a need to reject parochial or tribal approaches in favour of a win-win attitude to working across political and defined boundaries to make a city region work.”

The task force that authored the report, chaired by Elizabeth Heywood, also referred to a note from an IWA conference on Connecting Cardiff and the Valleys in 2011 that tribalism was an obstacle to overcome. It also quoted Welsh rugby coach Warren Gatland who had told the Independent in an interview that, “There is a huge amount of tribalism and parochialism in Wales, and it breeds mistrust” (25.1.08). The report added:

“Wales has long suffered from an ‘us and them’ approach: ‘us’ versus England; south Wales Valleys versus Cardiff; Cardiff versus Swansea; North versus South. The relevance of the city region concept to all those in it is key to ensuring by-in and potential success. Using Cardiff as an example, there has been recent historical tension between the city and surrounding valleys that is perceived as gains for one against loses for other. The result was antipathy in the Valleys towards the development of Cardiff Bay. If Cardiff is acknowledged as a polycentric city region with important settlements throughout, this will encourage and support investment in the Valleys, the hinterlands and the city itself.”

Key recommendations in the report that will be echoed in Edwina Hart’s forthcoming announcement will be:

  • A passenger transport Executive/Authority should be established in the South East Wales City Region, with similar powers, funding and responsibilities to those in English city regions … we recommend that the Valleys Metro is adopted as a key theme for a South-East Wales City Region.
  • An over-arching south-east Wales strategic planning tier should be put in place to ensure the city region hinterlands benefit from the growth of Cardiff and have a voice in cross-boundary development.
  • Housing planning, like spatial planning must be organised at a city region rather than local authority level and linked to transport planning to facilitate commuting and leisure travel and prevent the isolation of more remote communities.
  • Consideration should be given for the idea of pubic sector landowners leasing or endowing land for housing to make development more economically attractive.
  • Skill gaps should be addressed on a city region rather than an individual local authority basis to reflect the private sector’s approach to the geography of their labour markets.
  • Universities should be engaged as part of the city region approach to promote wealth creation, growth, and high skilled value added jobs.

Edwina Hart’s forthcoming announcement will largely pre-empt the work of the Welsh Government’s Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery, chaired by Sir Paul Williams, former Chief Executive of Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust, which is due to report by early next year. Its terms of reference include a call for “greater simplicity in governance and delivery arrangements for services in order to enable effective integrated planning and delivery for people in Wales”.

Mrs Hart is unlikely to have any difficulty in addressing the City Regions report’s recommendations listed above. However, another two are more problematic. The first relates to funding.  Elizabeth Haywood’s report urges that the Welsh Government should continue to press for borrowing powers to enable major capital projects to be undertaken within the city region – in particular the Valleys Metro.

These, of course, post-Silk are subject to the current negotiations with the UK Treasury. Beyond that the report made a number of helpful suggestions around EU funding, and the borrowing that could be levered through local authority investment and pension funds. However, its main recommendation is that Wales should take a fresh look at the priorities it sets for use of the post-2014 EU structural funds and the way its programmes are implemented. As the report recommended, the south-east Wales city region should take advantage of the next EU funding round to ensure their strategic application. It should:

“…agree a small number of regionally significant projects to which EU funds can be applied as part of the finance package, and move away from the traditional approach of small, often competing projects driven by suppliers rather than demand.”

It suggested that:

“The Welsh and UK Governments argue the case (as Germany is doing) for greater flexibility in the use of EU funds, in particular with regard to connectivity.”

A problem for Edwina Hart in this delivery area is that she has to form an alliance with Finance Minister in the Welsh Government Jane Hutt, and more problematically, with the UK Government at Westminster.

A further challenge is the delivery vehicle and its governance arrangements that will make a reality of a south-east Wales city region. In many ways this is the most important matter for Edwina Hart to get right. Here Elizabeth Haywood’s task force was less than trenchant. It recommended that the city region itself “should be free to explore best-fit governance arrangements.”

Was that a hint that the best way forward was to allow the existing local authorities within the city region to work out the answer? If Edwina Hart allows them that role, she will give tribalism its head and fall at the first hurdle.

John Osmond is Editor of ClickonWales.

13 thoughts on “Edwina Hart poised to tackle Welsh parochialism

  1. A timely article.

    Disappointed but not surprised that the author did not reference our timely Masters research in 2011 http://www.rchapmanandco.com/topical_issues.asp?int_id=39, albeit it was recognised and referenced by Dr Elizabeth Haywood in her City-Region report.

    In particular, I draw your attention to pages 57-65 of our research which highlights ‘areas of learning’ about the journey from Chief Executive Officers of the Manchester City-Region.

    Governance is the key issue, which should include active engagement with private and third sectors.

  2. You can, if interested follow on our website the long period of argument, and the hundreds of thousands of words written by Cardiff Civic Society that have been arguing for these very things. CCS pressed WG (before Edwina Hart took up the portfolio) to taken action over and above the local authorities when it was clear that Cardiff’s Local development Plan was going to fail. It has done so more recently before and after Edwina Hart’s task and finish group. A few weeks ago we pressed the minister for an urgent decision on the South Wales Metro project which CCS enthusiastically supports. We have pointed out that Cardiff’s future is wholly dependent on connectivity across its region and that only by adding value to the Valleys can it prosper in the long term.
    So if John Osmond is correct (never knowingly wrong I suspect!) then there is much to be glad about.

    In 48hrs or so CCS will be announcing its final CCS forum for the Cardiff LDP “Your Cardiff in 2026” on 8 October. This event chaired by IWA director Lee Waters featuring keynotes on transport (inc the metro), housing, economy. 6.30pm registration – book the date now!

  3. The problem we have in South-East Wales is not one of structure but of culture. Unless that is addressed, adding extra organisations, whether quangos or a whole new tier of local government, is at best missing the point and at worst introducing even more players into a field that some complain is already too crowded. The two-tier local authorities were abolished because the huge, unpopular county councils provided conflict rather than co-ordination. One of the arguments advanced in favour of devolution in the 90s was that an Assembly would provide sub-regional co-ordination. Indeed, it could be argued that a sub-regional Assembly would have made more sense in terms of economic geography than a Welsh Assembly. As things are, the Welsh Assembly could address some of the existing transport and housing problems by stronger direct leadership. A good place to start would be if the Assembly told Cardiff to junk its current draft LDP – which is based on economic growth forecasts that would look like too much fantasy even in Disneyland – and nudged new housing and business parks up the Valleys, funding the required transport infrastructure directly.

  4. Why have the Vale and Monmouth been excluded from the masterplan outlined in the opening paragraph? City regions only work when you sell the vision to people and not by dictat from on high I’m afraid. I thought that devolution was meant to enhance local democracy and accountability. In Manchester the Greater Manchester Combined Authority was created by the 10 local authorities in the region with no outside interference. Those behind the change also had the sense to establish a governance structure where all the authorities no matter what their size are equally represented on the new combined authority.

  5. “Edwina Hart poised to tackle Welsh parochialism.”

    Luck with that. To misquote – “Wales is a parochial nation” Especially in the valleys. I’m really not sure about those people in Newbridge. Comes from being brought up in Crumlin.

  6. @ Jeff Jones

    If the region extends from Bridgend to Merthyr, surely that includes the Vale of Glamorgan.

  7. Jeff and Rhobat, I’m sure both Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan will be included. Jeff, you’re right to say that governance is key.

  8. John I’m a supporter of city regions throughout the UK. The problem in Wales is that an Assembly which if you are not either a nationalist or a romantic really represents as much an artificial political creation as any city region and has little bearing with the real world. For City regions to work they have to have strong leadership and a democratic mandate to bring forward the real radical change in public service delivery required in the world we now face in the 21st century. That isn’t going to happen because we sadly lack politicians with the maturity to let power go. No one in the Assembly is going to want powerful Leadership in any South East wales region. What we will get is more gesture politics and more meetings for councillors to attend. The real danger for Wales is that as some dream of a federal UK based on Celtic nationalism, UK political parties will start to create real city regions in England such as a Greater Manchester and Newcastle in order to provide balance to the dominance of the’ fourth country’ in the UK which is London. Sorry to be cynical but last night I watched for the first time in years First Minister’s Question Time. Depressing would be the understatement of the year. It was like watching a pre 1996 district council meeting without the characters. Continually blaming other politicians for failure in areas which are your responsibility represents student union gesture politics at its worse

  9. Has the announcement actually been made? It has been trailed here and on Wales Online but I have not seen any sign of it on the Welsh media or on the Welsh Government website.

  10. I didn’t see anything on the BBC Wales website, just spotted this on Walesonline:


    By way of a transport related question – one of the big issues with the High Speed 2 debate taking place at the moment is weather wealth will be redistributed from London to the regions, or whether London will in fact start drawing wealth and talent from the regions to it.

    Do people see any parallels with that debate with the situation we have with this Cardiff city region announcement? In parallel with the announcement of a city region, a new electrified valleys metro will be implemented which should give rise to faster and more frequent travel through the region. Will this have the effect of drawing resources away from the regions outside of Cardiff, or assist in redistributing the wealth from Cardiff? I would like to think the latter situation, but the pessimist in me kicks in and says the formed – I think this is because of the disparity of wealth between Cardiff and the outliers of it’s proposed CIty region will make the urban centre too much of a magnet.

  11. “A further challenge is the delivery vehicle and its governance arrangements that will make a reality of a south-east Wales city region. In many ways this is the most important matter for Edwina Hart to get right.”

    The governance is vital and yes it needs to be democratically accountable. However, if all this will be is a talking shop pandering to the parochial concerns of the local authorities who have failed thus far to deliver on the vital strategic issues necessary to transform and create a new vision, it is doomed to failure and sadly so will the valleys and Cardiff.

    So are in SE Wales really going to compete with city regions like Leeds and Manchester without some real leadership and the necessary structure to deliver?

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