The Swansea Bay City Deal: A new economic narrative that everyone can get behind?

Steven Phillips says the early signs are promising for the Swansea Bay City Region

Geraint Talfan Davies recently said that a new economic narrative needed the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. It does – and Sir Terry Matthews and the City Region Board have now provided such a narrative. It is a first major step; but we want the region and Wales to join us in shaping it further.

The Tidal Lagoon is a game changer; but it doesn’t stop there and the City Region Board has set an agenda in the City Deal document which we think all levels of government – Cardiff Bay, Westminster and Brussels – need to grab hold of to prevent us stalling in the slow lane of economic growth.

The City Deal bid is about making the whole greater than the sum of the parts – and in three key sectors. This was the main job that Economy Minister Edwina Hart gave City Regions when she set them up. The “Internet Coast” (as we have called it) is about using that medium to drive economic growth through future energy, well-being and the wider economy. It also reflects a new confidence in Swansea Bay that we have much to offer Wales, the United Kingdom and the global economy. The City Deal is how we propose to deliver.

As ever, timing is important. Both the EU referendum and the National Assembly elections are on the immediate horizon and in terms of the latter, the City Region Board hopes that our bid will contribute to the thinking of all political parties and their approach to shaping the future of the Welsh economy.

Cardiff is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe (and vital to the Welsh economy). So, Swansea Bay is not in competition with the capital region for a City Deal. Scotland has more than one and why should Wales be left behind. We also see a clear read across from our proposals to the North Wales Economic Ambition Board.

Digital infrastructure provides the capacity for moving big data and for the innovative application of the internet to growth sectors which is what we are all about. Government at all levels needs to seize the opportunity as enablers for growth; but most of all we need to do it ourselves. Why?

It’s simple. This is where jobs and prosperity will be created and communities sustained in the 21st century. It is also how public services will increasingly be delivered – my own Council only this week launched of our new digital strategy with this objective. This demonstrates the depth and breadth of digital networks, how they touch all our lives and how they shape them. Digital exclusion is not an option. We need to get people who think that it is not for them to realise that it is – at home, at work and at leisure. In most developed countries it is estimated that some 10% of youngsters leave school not equipped with the digital skills they need and a similar proportion of the older population risk exclusion from the benefits that 21st century technology undoubtedly brings. This only promotes poverty, and social exclusion as well as undermining the sustainability of our communities.

The City Deal is about many things including re-shaping our regional capital, ‘traditional’ connectivity in the form of transport and making the regional economy more diverse and resilient so we are better placed to sustain manufacturing industry as well as moving into new sectors. But above else, it is about the digitalisation of our economy and our communities.

Sir Terry reminds us that this is a revolution that has barely started. It is estimated that some 80-90% of the content of the internet has been put there in the last 2-3 years. Accordingly the gradient of the growth curve is very steep. It is essential that we are equipped with the skills to innovate, compete and drive productivity whilst playing to the strengths of our region. This is a bottom up approach with the objective of ensuring that Swansea Bay has digital in its DNA for the 21st century.

To achieve our objectives we need to be outward facing and receptive to ideas and collaborative opportunities that can be drawn from well beyond the region and Wales. The City Deal team has started this process by visiting Brussels this week where the underpinning narrative contained in the bid document found strong echoes. The City Region Board, under Sir Terry’s leadership, believes that we have identified a way ahead that is both ambitious and deliverable. It will take time to deliver; but the early signs are promising.

Steven Phillips is the Secretary to the Swansea Bay City Region Board and the Chief Executive of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council.

9 thoughts on “The Swansea Bay City Deal: A new economic narrative that everyone can get behind?

  1. These bodies are not elected and are accountable to no one. Where is local democracy in all this?

  2. Time to forget this dream. It is too far from London. Let us concentrate on our capital city, and invest money in the Severnside project. Linking Cardiff-Newport and Bristol will prove the best option for all.

  3. The words ‘bullshit’ and ‘bingo’ spring to mind when reading this puff piece. Oh yes, I have digital in my DNA too! I’m sure there is great opportunity to be ‘outward facing’ in Brussels? Duh? Oh yes, it is so so true that the Internet is big and getting bigger- Sir Terry says so. It must be ‘bottom up’ – of course, why didn’t we think of that before. Genius.

  4. An interesting and innovative proposition for discussion in the National Development Framework. There are ideas in this article, Digital Infrastructure (DI) and its ecosystem in particular, that might appeal to other urban areas in Wales.

  5. Narratives improve if they are credible. This piece contains a couple of implausibilities. Cardiff one of the fastest growing cities in Europe? What, in population? Seems unlikely with a million immigrants entering Germany in one year. Certainly not in economic output – it’s growing slower than Gwynedd. . The Swansea lagoon was a promising-sounding project that has turned out to be a non-runner as the price kept rising. The electricity will either cost nearly twice as much as Hinkley C or if the price is set at the same level it will have to be guaranteed for 90 years For that kind of money you could insulate every home in Wales and save more electricity than the thing will generate. I wish the Swansea Bay City Deal every success but the boosters should keep hold of reality.

  6. Keith Parry’s comment on accountability is very interesting. Are we embarking on an uncharted route to quite major constitutional changes via the backdoor? London could very well now be regarded as a non-sovereign city state or if not yet, then it is certainly moving ever closer towards that scenario. The city regions and notional powerhouses are potentially satellites in a London centric model. The key to the model would be effectively ensuring connectivity of people and finance to London and that is very much now happening. The Swansea bay move is interesting, in that it is proposing connectivity with the US and potentially developing closer ties with super cities like New York perhaps. This in itself is interesting and different to the other purely London centric scenarios.

    There are potentially some interesting evolving models that we might like to consider here, so that we can try to understand how things might play out and avoid any potential pitfalls. It sounds like this whole thing does deserve greater political scrutiny, because there are valid questions to be raised concerning accountability and political governance. Are we moving away from an era which many have tried to persuade us was a cynical move towards a European superstate to a new era where potential governance of trade and politics is dictated by a wealthy elite residing in a few global supercities. Will power in the future equate even more than at present perhaps, to unelected power dictated solely by wealth and economic influence? There are some interesting questions regarding sovereignty and democracy to be considered perhaps. The current UK referendum on EU membership is possibly based on false pretexts and assumptions of what happens after a potential Brexit. The Brexit camp wants to create the illusion that this is all about a return to a romanticised age, when the UK exclusively controlled its own sovereign territory. An alternative scenario perhaps is that this will become a stepping stone to finally take the brakes off London and create a route to give the wealthy elite unfettered access to old fashioned power. Rather than a strong sovereign UK entity or perhaps a more federal UK in the future, we may in fact see a more Feudal one?

    This may be a little bit of paranoid thinking, but Europe has a history of being controlled more often than not undemocratically via a few wealthy power brokers, petty little kingdoms, small states and cities with super affluence – the EU is quite a refreshing novelty in historical terms.

  7. @aledf makes some interesting and thoughtful points. Maybe the closest analogy from history might be the powerful ‘city states’ of Italy (Sienna, Venice, Milan) during the Middle Ages – incidentally also the time of Machiavelli!

  8. Brexit would be very bad for London. The EU might well be happy to maintain free trade in goods with the UK but not in services where UK has a surplus. And barriers to service trade are all regulatory and non-tariff so outside WTO. EU regs would quickly mean clearing and banking business would move from London, perhaps to Dublin, perhaps to the Continent. That would not take the brakes off London; it would remove the motor.

  9. R tredwyn,

    I don’t disagree that iw will most likely be bad for London, but I doubt that Field Marshall Boris and his clan think that way. They boldly leading another gallant charge and maybe their epitaph, will be a play on this:

    When can their glory fade?
    O the wild charge they made!
    All the world wondered.
    Honor the charge they made,
    Honor the Light Brigade,
    Noble six hundred.

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