Leader, Monmouthshire County Council
and Vice Chair of Cardiff Capital Region Cabinet
Individuals, families, communities, and businesses have been turned upside down virtually overnight. The way we live, communicate and do business has had to change at such a pace it’s left us feeling we are living in a parallel universe; a surreal existence so alien to what our world was like only a few weeks ago.
The threats from Covid-19 demanded we act fast to save lives, and the British people responded and battened down the hatches, and demonstrated a coming together in a national effort not experienced since World War 2.
Our Government stepped up and gave the leadership we needed more than ever, despite what many armchair scientists declare. The Chancellor’s support packages have been huge, and have supported and will support thousands of businesses of all descriptions. Welsh Government has stepped up also and added additional support through its Economic Resilience Fund.
We have seen over £4bn flow into Wales to deal with the pandemic; £2.2bn through Barnett consequential funding and the rest through the various support packages. But despite this unprecedented level of support, many businesses sadly have fallen between the cracks, and our hearts go out to them. Even large global players are being rocked by events – events that have spanned the world leaving few communities unscathed.
A strong team
We are blessed in Monmouthshire with a fantastic team of public servants, who I am very proud of. Coronavirus came on the back of last winter’s flooding, which was a very challenging situation that the staff had to rise to, and then they had to deal with the coronavirus. We had to close many of our services, but we worked very hard to get money out to the businesses who needed it as quickly as possible.
It was a brilliant effort on the part of our teams who have been engaging with businesses throughout. We’ve also seen a tremendous community spirit throughout Monmouthshire, with businesses, charities, volunteers and public servants all working very hard to get help out to the vulnerable people who needed it.
Our priority, as we move from emergency to recovery, is clear, transparent communication. We’ve had a huge amount of positive feedback from businesses and individuals, but there’ll be further challenges in the following weeks for us and the wider public service. Here in Monmouthshire we’re on the border with England where many regulations in regard to the lockdown are now different. Unsurprisingly, people’s tolerance is starting to get frayed.
Opportunity in adversity
But now is a time for forward thinking and new ambition. It’s a time to take stock, to put our heads up and learn quickly from the situation.
As we move through the pandemic and restrictions are eased, we will see the seeds of recovery. Whilst we may be in one of the deepest recessions experienced in the last 100 years or more, I truly believe we will recover, in time, stronger than ever before.
Out of adversity opportunities will always manifest themselves, and that new future will emerge. There will be new needs, expectations and aspirations. The Capital Region and its investment funds will be fundamental to supporting, influencing and helping to power the Welsh economy.
It is highly unlikely that we will see the UK economy simply ‘snap back’. But equally, we must try and strike a balance in the region; avoiding knee-jerk reactions, focussing on our 20-year outlook and working in real-time, adapting to the shifting position. Our Industrial and Economic Growth Plan is sound, with its focus on sectors and building clusters around medtech, compound semi-conductors, data/AI, infrastructure, fin-tech and energy – which if anything must now be accelerated.
Our 10 priorities
Cardiff Capital Region is an exciting place to be in as we emerge from the UK’s currently strangled economy. The CCR Cabinet has set 10 priorities to set our focus on. These priorities spread across the 5 horizons companies will need to think and act across as they rebound from the pandemic; Resolve, Resilience, Return, Reimagine and Reform.
Our priorities include things like building an intelligence base for businesses and helping them navigate their options and opportunities; preparing for what comes next; and looking at our existing programmes to see whether they need to be altered to fit the new conditions.
They will include developing new, targeted funding interventions and new investment application support mechanisms including an SME Co-investment Fund, and Investment Readiness programmes.
Also a priority will be the creation of a new Challenge Fund Programme to rebuild local wealth; alongside an open call for innovation in medtech.
Finally, to increase our overall competitiveness and wealth creation as a region, we must move forward with support programmes for industrial scale priority clusters, and provide support mechanisms to enhance the performance of our medium-sized businesses.
Many cups waiting to be filled
We will be here, ready to help businesses get back up and embrace innovation, technologies and new ways of working.
In these extraordinary times, we will be setting the scene to start thinking about things in a different way, like how we travel, and how do we do things on a more local level. How do we alter the layout of our town centres to allow businesses to expand into the streets at night to cope with social distancing?
At a time when many will see their cups looking at best half full or even near empty, I see Cardiff Capital Region as a place with many cups just waiting to be filled with a whole variety of new flavours, together with all the well-known favourites.