Aligning services with the Swansea City Region

As an enthusiastic supporter of the Swansea Bay City region, I believe it can be a lot more than an economic development entity. It is very important that the region gets a city deal and that we use it to regenerate our economy. The Swansea Bay City Region has already submitted a ground-breaking ‘Internet Coast’ City Deal bid, in excess of £500m over 20 years, to the UK and Welsh Governments. We currently are awaiting the approval of this bid, which will benefit the whole of our region.

The aim of the city deal is to address the integrated universal themes and challenges of energy, health and well-being and economic acceleration by harnessing the transformational power of digital networks and the asset base of Swansea Bay. It is estimated that the City Deal investment could lever in total around £3.3bn of output and £1.3bn of gross value added for Wales, while supporting around 39,000 jobs in the region.

Sir Terry Matthews, Chair of the Swansea Bay City Region Board, said: “Swansea Bay became world famous in ‘the first machine age’. We aim to re-energise a vibrant and pioneering role in Wales and the UK as the world now enters ‘a new digital machine age.’

In essence, the City Deal will see the Swansea Bay City region become a giant test bed that innovates, trials and globally commercialises smart internet based solutions that will transform the local, Wales and UK economy, energy and health sectors in much the same way as the internet has already transformed the telecommunications industry.

If we believe, as I do, that the Swansea Bay City region covering the Council areas of Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire is a coherent sub Wales region then the obvious next step is for all public services to be run within this footprint.

What we do know is, by either visiting local employers, or just looking at the early morning and evening traffic is that a large number of people move around the region for employment.

Whilst currently the Welsh Government has no control over the Police service and so cannot align policing with the area but all the or services under Welsh Government control can be aligned. Obviously this cannot be done immediately but as the structure each service is reviewed then the structural changes necessary to align services within the city region must be taken.

Firstly and most simply is Fire and Rescue that can be easily realigned to the City region boundary as it would only mean the transfer out of Powys and Ceredigion.

Secondly if it is going to be an economic sub region then what is needed is to have a development plan equivalent to the old county development plans to cover the whole area. This would ensure that housing and economic development planning can be aligned over the whole region and not only on a local authority area. The development of the bay campus which is in Neath Port Talbot but which will almost certainly have a greater affect on Swansea than on Neath Port Talbot is an example of the need for an area based approach.

The third whole Swansea bay city region policy co-ordination that is needed is a transport strategy, the Swansea bay equivalent of the Cardiff city region metro system. This needs to ensure that there is coherent rail and bus network that can move people from the residential areas to the main employment sites. Also the road network needs to be such that movement between major population centres is via at least a dual carriageway.

Within the city region a simple subdivision into two can be done (West Glamorgan and Dyfed) which equates to the former counties of Dyfed (minus Ceredigion) and West Glamorgan. Joint boards of Neath Port Talbot and Swansea could be set up for both Social Services and Education (the two main former County Council Services and the same can be done for Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire.

The health boards could then be realigned to these larger areas covered by the joint boards. That would align health boards and social services just like they were when health boards such as west Glamorgan health board existed to cover health. Also it would make it easier for the health board covering Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire to work with West Glamorgan.

Local services could continue to be run by the current local authorities. Local Authorities provide a very wide range of services most of which are best provided at a local level. Local people making local decisions on behalf of the area in which they live is the basis of local democracy.

This is about agreeing the City region as a basic footprint and then having services within the region organised on the most suitable area within that footprint

Mike Hedges is the Assembly Member for Swansea East.

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