Cities as economic drivers

Mike Hedges AM examines how to develop and expand the economic opportunities in the Swansea Bay City Region.

We need to acknowledge the importance of Wales’ urban areas as engines of economic growth, learning and creativity.

Successful towns and cities have always been at the heart of economic development and the creation of prosperity. Initially as marketplaces for the exchange of goods, then as business centres, and more recently as centres of enterprise, knowledge, culture, learning and innovation.

More specifically, it is the larger cities and urban areas that generate large scale employment and wealth. In Britain we only need to look at London, or on a world scale New York and Tokyo, to see that is true. Then there are the less well known cities across Europe, such as Mannheim and Aarhus as I have mentioned in previous articles, that generate employment and wealth for the cities and surrounding areas.

All urban areas need to achieve their economic potential and enjoy sustainable growth and rising prosperity for the area. However a fairer sharing of prosperity is essential.  Wealth and opportunity often exist side by side with poverty and isolation. Sometimes only a few streets away from wealthy neighbourhoods are the left behind.

The diverse skills and backgrounds of all people needs to be used, thus enabling everyone to fulfil their potential and excluding no one. This is important for a caring and inclusive society. This also makes sound economic sense, as it will help to increase the long-term growth potential of the economy as more and more people contribute.

Successful places need to be able to attract, then retain, businesses and this has to be based on understanding their requirements.  An analysis of successful and less successful places suggests the following four factors are key to economic success:


A culture of enterprise and innovation – where places adapt quickly to new opportunities and everyone can share in the possibilities and rewards of business success. This includes embracing the opportunities presented by the revolution in life science, information and communications technology, and artificial intelligence.

Access to investment, including venture capital – essential for businesses to start up, grow, and to deliver jobs and opportunity for all.

People equipped with the skills employers need, as well as with motivation and opportunity to work – a culture of lifelong learning enabling people to fulfil their potential and maximising employment opportunities; enabling a flexible response to changing opportunities; and encouraging companies to come to and remain in towns and cities.

An efficient and reliable transport system – enabling efficient delivery of raw materials to industry and of goods to market; providing access to jobs; making towns and cities better places to live in; and helping tackle social exclusion.

Swansea Bay City Region

So what does this mean for the Swansea Bay City region?

Economic and transport planning needs to be based on the region. We need to build on the strengths of the universities and see them as economic drivers. Too many students, including many from the area, move away on graduating and often never return.

We need science parks attached to universities so that we can use them as innovation hubs and to specialise in key economic sectors such as life sciences, artificial intelligence and ICT. We also need an entrepreneurship and innovation centre that can provide a founder and incubator platform for students, young entrepreneurs and investors. 

We need access to capital, not just at the start up stage, but at the two important growth stages of small to medium sized enterprise, and then medium to large. Too often medium sized enterprises sell up to companies outside the area, and the economic benefits reduce, or disappear.

Working with the Universities and Further Education colleges we need to look to upskill our population: education should not end at 16, 18 or 21. Education and re-skilling needs to take place throughout life. Someone aged 65 retiring today, who left school at 15 in 1968, would have seen huge and unexpected changes including wholesale closure of coal mines, and closure and cutbacks in the steel industry and petrochemical industry.

They will have seen the ICT revolution that has led to wholesale job losses. A revolution that also led to ICT jobs being created and other technological change, such as renewable energy. There have also been lifestyle changes such as the opening of gyms, personal trainers, a huge fast food and restaurants expansion, along with a huge increase in students and staff in higher education. Why should the next 50 years not produce the same level of change?

On transport we need to give people have an alternative mode of transport to the car by:

  • reopening railway stations
  • creating bus rail interchanges
  • having bus services linking residential areas with work and leisure areas
  • providing safe cycle routes without gaps.

To grow our economy in south west Wales we need to develop and expand the economic opportunities in the Swansea Bay City Region, and it will involve both the public and private sector.

The Swansea Bay City Region is a relatively poor part of Europe and to improve the wealth of the area we need to develop a culture of enterprise and innovation, build on the strengths of the universities, improve the skills of the workforce and improve transport links. The city deal gives us a great start in improving the wealth of the area, but the key is building on it.



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Mike Hedges is Assembly Member for Swansea East

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