With the recent announcement that Swansea Bay has secured the City Deal – a deal which is touted as being worth £1.3bn to the regional economy – you might be wondering what it means and what the proposals are.
The Swansea Bay City Region City Deal (to call it by its full title), is a package of funding from the government in Westminster, and the Welsh Government in Cardiff, which is matched and exceeded by investment from the private sector. The total investment package is made up of £241 million of UK and Welsh Government funding, £396 million of other public sector money and £637 million from the private sector. In effect, public money has been used to leverage in a huge amount of private investment.
There are 11 projects in the deal, which have all been allocated different amounts of funding. The 11 projects are spread across the region, with a different local authority leading on each of them.
The core idea is to transform our regional economy for the 21st century by focussing resources on key sectors which have been identified as offering the best potential for growth and opportunity. These are Energy, Health & Life Science, Next Generation Digital Services and Smart Manufacturing – things that we can all recognise are going to be central to the economy of the future.
The vision is for Swansea Bay to become known as a hotbed of innovation and R&D, the kind of place that large organisations and corporations spend their research budgets and come to trial new technologies and digital services. And the kind of place that seeds and incubates innovation and clever new businesses, in part through the R&D carried out in our universities – Swansea University is already developing a very strong international reputation for Research in a number of sectors.
A Connected Region
Key to this vision is that we will become a ‘connected region’ – which is referring to the long hoped-for roll out of improved broadband access and 4G signals across the region. Pembrokeshire is leading on a project to “improve broadband and mobile continuity”. It’s a problem crying out for a solution, one faced by rural communities across the UK and around the world.
Alongside the digital inclusion agenda, there is the huge commercial opportunity associated with becoming a truly connected region. The idea is that once the region is ‘connected’, companies will be able to trial new technologies here, for example in healthcare and access to social care services. Perhaps we’ll be one of the first regions to trial ideas that could enable elderly people to stay at home longer, allow patients to carry out check-ups at home without having to travel, or offer people in remote areas access to specialist medical services. Perhaps smart bus services could respond to demand in real time and plan routes dynamically depending on where the passengers are. Perhaps smart meters and innovative forms of energy generation, storage or distribution could save energy and money. The nature of Next Generation technologies is that we can’t easilly predict what they might be. The point is to create an environment that makes it possible to develop and trial ideas like these – because the economic impact of this will be to create jobs and opportunities in the region.
Creating better opportunities for everyone
One of the best outcomes of all this will be if we can provide young people across Swansea Bay with access to exciting, rewarding and well-paid careers within the region. We all know that our young people have been short changed by the decline of industry and the rise of call centres, distribution centres and zero hours contracts. As more jobs get taken over by machines, the problem will only get worse.
Let’s give young people across Swansea Bay something better to aspire to, more opportunities in thriving 21st century sectors like health & life science, digital innovation, creative industries, green energy, smart manufacturing. It’s about time.
To achieve this, a Skills and Talent agenda is built in to the business plan, which will ensure that the training and educational pathways available to young people are aligned with the needs of the new industries we are developing. This means local communities will actually benefit from having high tech, high skilled industries in the region, and that we are growing the talent needed to deliver the region’s economic ambitions. Talent Bank is one such initiative, focused on equipping 16-19 year olds for careers in the Health & Life Science sector.