By Robert Lloyd Griffiths OBE, Director for Wales for ICAEW
Levelling up means different things for different people and different regions of Wales. In theory, it’s about making sure that Government investment is spread more widely (and fairly) around the UK with the aim of improving prosperity for all. Hear, hear, you say.
From £6.9 million for infrastructure projects in Llandrindod Wells and Brecon to £17.7 million to support the regeneration of Haverfordwest, our local authorities in Wales have been bidding for money from the £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund.
Here at ICAEW, we have been holding regional seminars and discussions to determine what local members and businesses feel the key issues are in relation to the levelling up agenda, what needs to be actioned for it to be achieved and what is missing. From these conversations, we know that there are some key themes that need addressing with skills, wages, transport and digital connectivity at the top of the agenda.
Economic and social inequalities across the country are complex, deep-rooted and multi-faceted. For lasting change in deprived areas, it’s critical the Welsh and UK Governments engage effectively and work collaboratively with local authorities and the private sector to drive change and maximise the opportunity to level up.
As chartered accountants, our members can be part of this solution. They are strong business leaders and trusted business advisers who drive productivity improvements, competitiveness and innovation in their communities, as well as providing good jobs and enabling social mobility, but their contribution has often been overlooked. The accountancy profession, as part of a wider professional and business services sector, can be the bedrock of a modern local economy, and can add value by measuring and monitoring the progress and success of levelling up.
Joined-up thinking is needed because this can’t be about politics or individual aspirations, it’s about working together to find a way to maximise the opportunity to level up. At a recent meeting with Minister O’Brien as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Sue Gray, Cabinet Office Second Permanent Secretary of the UK, I spoke of the importance of good governance and financial proprietary; key principles for our members who are rightly keen to make sure that public funds are spent in the most appropriate way.
We must work together to determine the best use of funds on a pan-Wales basis in a way that avoids duplication and creates long-term shared prosperity. The financial crisis of 2008 saw the UK and Welsh Governments working together with the public and private sectors to encourage and embrace a holistic approach. That’s what is needed again now.
Stakeholders with a vested interest on a pan-Wales basis should be getting together to determine the best use of funds. Bidding against each other at a regional level won’t benefit the local communities that need investment in infrastructure to improve everyday life with regenerated town centres, better transport and the creation of much needed jobs.
This isn’t about politics. It’s about doing the right thing for Wales so let’s work together to join up and really level the playing field for all.