Ahead of the Senedd elections in May, FSB Wales has urged the next Welsh Government to take urgent action on the future of Welsh towns.
The future success of Welsh towns is crucial for Wales’ overall economic health. 40% of Wales’ population live in towns of 20,000 people or less, with most situated around the M4 and A55 corridors.
Demographic changes, urbanisation and clustering and the impact of technology and changes to consumption habits have hall had a serious impact on the health of Wales’ towns and high streets in recent years. In addition to this, Coronavirus has doubled down on some pre-existing problems and created an incredibly difficult and complex landscape for many businesses to operate within.
In their manifesto Our Business is Wales – FSB’s Vision for 2021 – 2026 FSB sets out the very real danger facing Welsh towns in the coming years, as well as the opportunities that businesses in these areas should be supported to take.
Ben Francis, FSB Wales Policy Chair, said:
“Our towns and high streets have suffered huge economic consequences from Coronavirus and let’s not forget that the future of the high street was already an issue before the pandemic. Most analysis suggests that we may not even have seen the worst of the impacts on our towns. So, a worrying situation has now been made into a critical one.
“FSB Wales is calling for the next Welsh Government to make it a priority to take bold action to help our towns plan for their future.
“It is our view that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the myriad issues facing towns across the country. Businesses and communities should be able to come together to find solutions that work for them and pitch in for funding from Welsh Government to support that through a Future of Welsh Towns Fund.
“What is clear is that we will need new and innovative thinking to ensure the economic viability of our regional towns and substantial effort, as well as to bring together a range of different communities of stakeholders around that effort.
“Furthermore, we’ve called for tailored digital support for SMEs – both in the form of Digital Town Centre Managers that would help high street businesses respond to the increasingly digital world that we live in as well as exploiting it, but also to help those firms for whom remote working will be a much bigger feature in the future. This could involve training and support on digital infrastructure needs.
“FSB Wales also strongly believes that no area of Wales should be excluded from the ambition of economic development. Being located in a rural area should not be a barrier to starting a business or a brake on growth, nor should it mean you have to leave a rural area to run a successful business. We would call for a taskforce for rural Wales to be brought together to examine the issues rural firms and deliver a firm set of policies.
“Swift, decisive action will be needed by the next Welsh Government in order to ensure that towns across the country can collectively recover from the pandemic or risk losing businesses that are at the heart of our communities.”