Remote working could bring new opportunities to Wales

ViewsJuly 13th, 2020

More and more organisations are shifting to long-term remote working.

Victoria Winckler says it is time for a ‘Work from Wales’ campaign to create new opportunities.

During lockdown, many of those who could work from home have discovered that it can be surprisingly effective. With a proper work space and a fast broadband connection, organisations which were previously office-based have discovered that workers are productive and teams still hang together if they work remotely.  The talk amongst managers of everyone from small accountancy firms to large call centres is ‘We’ll keep some elements of home working’.

One organisation that has realised the benefits fast is the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It recently advertised several posts based at its HQ in Newport as open for “remote working”. This prompted concerns from then civil service union, PCS, about a possible reduction of job opportunities for Wales.

I have sympathy for workers who might see more competition for jobs if they’re opened up to candidates across the UK, especially as specialist and relatively well-paid roles are not that common in Newport and surrounding area.  An ONS worker interviewed by the Western Mail said:

“This is a worrying trend and if it carries on could greatly reduce job opportunities for people living in Wales”

But there’s another side to the coin.

But opening up jobs to remote working isn’t necessarily all bad.  The benefits of cutting the commute for parents juggling childcare, as well as for carbon emissions, are clear.

But there is another opportunity.  If jobs can be done from anywhere, then people no longer need to leave Wales to pursue a well-paid career.  With a decent broadband connection and a spare room, someone based in Llanidloes could work for a business in London, or someone in Bargoed could work for a company in Birmingham.

In the past the emphasis has always been on moving jobs to people. This has been the cornerstone of regional policy for decades. Indeed, it was the rationale for moving ONS as well as DVLA and Companies House to south Wales in the first place.  It has also underpinned the massive efforts to attract so-called footloose manufacturing jobs to Wales, many of which have now upped and gone elsewhere.

But with changing patterns of work, Wales could be the perfect place for remote working.

With low housing costs compared with the south east of England, beautiful countryside with clean air and easy social distancing, what’s not to like? Not only could remote working help to retain Wales’ population of working age, it could also attract new workers.  There are of course sensitivities to the impact of incomers on the Welsh language and culture, as well as on housing costs, but Wales urgently needs more people of working age if it is to avoid long-term decline.

It could be an especially strong offer for the south Wales valleys that mostly have fast broadband and will soon have rapid transport connections to London, as well as affordable housing and beautiful countryside.

Clearly this doesn’t remove the need to retain and grow Wales’ manufacturing industries – but with jobs in short supply and people of working age needed in our towns and villages, a ‘Work from Wales’ campaign is worth a serious try.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation

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