A better city deal for future generations

Sophie Howe says that the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal must focus on a low carbon economy.

If we’ve learned anything from the events of 2016, it’s that the things that governments do at all levels need to be better informed by and connected to people.

We need to be asking ourselves what is the true impact of our big public investments? Has the money spent made a genuine, positive difference to the well-being of people and communities, or is it just another project with a set of shiny new buildings that soon lose their lustre, reflecting missed opportunities to improve the health and life chances of current and future generations. The reality is, in approaching these ventures we often have very little idea of the impact it will have or whether it will really improve people’s lives.

With this in mind, the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal, a 20-year programme that involves ten local authorities in the south Wales region to improve public transport and economic growth is a valuable opportunity to make a transformational change to some of Wales’ most deprived communities.

But there are a number of challenges in how we approach this. Whilst this deal provides a number of great opportunities for the area, care must be taken when slavishly following the overarching requirement as set by the UK Government; a five percent uplift in GVA (Gross Value Added).

Pursuing prosperity in terms of GVA alone does not result in inclusive growth – certain sections of the public or certain geographical areas could benefit but there could be little change for those in greatest need. The question to ask is what difference will this make to Donna the single mum from the Valleys, her children and her grandchildren? 

Whilst making this point recently at an open discussion recently I came across Helen Walbey, Managing Director of Recycle Scooters, an independent business located in Aberdare which employs five local people. She said “Donna works for me” – actually ‘Donna’ is Rebecca Hodges, a single mother of four, working at Recycle Scooters has been life changing for her and her family. Firstly, Helen and Recycle Scooters gave her a scarce opportunity not only to work somewhere not far from her doorstep but to train on the job and gain new skills in a fast and ever changing society.  she has gained digital skills and successfully completed an NVQ in Business and Administration. Being in work meant that she took up childcare for her fourth child and Rebecca says she’s amazed by how much more prepared for school she is. Working locally allows her not only to balance her work and family life but also to contribute and feel part of her local community.

Rebecca’s story is about a number of things coming together – a local job with a supportive employer, access to develop skills and to childcare. It’s not rocket science these form a number of key things that people need to have the best possible chance to be economically active. 

It is clear from the Growth and Competitiveness Commission report that the big challenge is integration, which is going to be critical to the success of the Cardiff Capital City Region City Deal. To a large extent the coming together of ten local authorities is a positive step towards integration and it will be important for them to demonstrate that they are working in a collaborative and integrated way on an ongoing basis – firstly by taking the necessary steps to commit to the deal.

They will also need to work with the Welsh Government to make sure policies and programmes beyond the funding package which is specific to the City Deal plays a key part in delivering much needed joined up policies on childcare, education and job skills, ensuring that this joined up approach will make a meaningful difference to people like Rebecca Hodges and Helen Walbey.

This isn’t just about making immediate change, this is about laying the foundations for a resilient, sustainable region for generations to come.  And that means not just looking to improve the way things are now, but preparing for the Wales to come. As global trends continue to forecast the decline of low-skilled and manufacturing work as the digital revolution pushes forward, this 20-year project must prepare future generations for what Wales might look like including ensuring our population has the right skills for the workforce of the future and that those skills match some of the challenges we know we will face such as tackling climate change. 

To develop a programme in 2016 that does not have low carbon as its central pillar would not just be environmentally irresponsible – it would also be economically irresponsible. A recent study by Demos estimated that a child born today will lose up to almost £300,000 in lifetime income due to the unforeseen economic burdens of climate change. It is vital that our public sector leaders do not shy away from these issues. They must be proactive in meeting the obligations of the Environment Act, the recently ratified Paris Agreement, as well as of course, the Well-being of Future Generations Act. The growth in the region must focus on a low carbon economy, embrace the opportunities that the renewables sector for example presents and ensure that our future workforce has the skills to meet environmental challenges ahead. 

As cities across the globe continue to make giant leaps forward in their journeys towards sustainability, this is the opportunity for the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal to lead the way and build a region here in south Wales, fit for future generations.

Sophie Howe is the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.

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