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Making the case for prosperous places

February 23rd 2021

In the latest of our Transforming Wales series, Helen Cunningham sets out the case for prosperous places

Housing in the Welsh valleys

Ahead of the 2021 elections, we set out actions for place-based economic development that crucially, responds to difference and creates a better spread of economic development. The vast diversity of places in Wales – costal, urban, rural and valleys –  demands it. It also matters if Wales is to become more equal. The inequalities between places, including places that face additional hurdles through their geography or current and previous economic shocks, calls for concerted action.

Economic action zones

Without intervention and additional support, inequalities between different parts of Wales are at risk of widening. Some, such as the valleys, face pre-existing and longstanding disadvantage, while others face uncertainty now and in the future. The impact of the closure of Ford Bridgend is a case in point as is the uncertainty facing the steel and airline industries – which have real implications for the places in which they are based. That’s why we advocate investment at scale that involves key local economic actors for areas designated as economic action zones. Criteria for economic action zones would include places experiencing the loss of a major employer, areas with long-standing low levels of employment and skills and areas at immediate risk of severe impact of climate change.

Prosperous towns

Towns constitute such a fundamental part of Wales, yet even before the covid 19 pandemic, were struggling. No Welsh town is in Britain’s top 40 most improving town. In fact, Wales had more deprivation in its towns than in any other part of England and Scotland. Creating more prosperity means making towns of all kinds much more central to economic development . The current Welsh Government’s plans for regional development offer a prime opportunity to develop a comprehensive towns policy which sets out a strategic framework for all towns. It should include a vision for the evolution of at least six Anchor Towns, to act as springboards for sub-regional economic development in different parts of Wales, to help better balance the spread of economic activity.

A job creation premium

The availability of good, secure and well paid jobs is fundamental to a place’s prospects. Many economically disadvantaged areas experience a lack of local jobs, and the knock on effects of this are all to evident where there is a dearth of local employment. We are advocating the creation of a job creation premium to address this. The premium would provide incentives employers to create decent jobs in places where there is a lack of them by supporting initial costs of recruitment and training of new staff through a public sector grant.  The grant would be for jobs based on fair work employment and subject to relevant checks to ensure that the employers meet all the expectations required of them. A job creation premium of this kind should could also have additional incentives to also create apprenticeships and good quality, paid placements to help develop a pipeline of opportunity for skills, training and work.

Economic anchors

The role of institutions in places is also central to developing more prosperity. Wales has a strong set of universities which we think could be supported to play greater roles as economic anchors. Universities are already major employers. Their powers of recruitment, procurement and community outreach put them in an excellent position to deliver local prosperity and stimulate some local employment and supply chains.  They have vast expertise, are innovators, and are located in a number of regions across Wales. Enhancing their role through locally-relevant research and better connections with local businesses could bring real dividends for the different areas of Wales in which they are located. Their contribution to the skills agenda can also be grown even further through a greater role as centres of learning, including workforce training that is linked to business needs.

Through a mix of incentives to stimulate jobs and training, support for economic anchors to play a greater role, and a real focus on the places that need targeted support and intervention, the next Welsh Government can deliver a better and fairer settlement across all parts of Wales.

Read more about our proposals for transforming Wales here 

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