New report calls for a shift in economic policy for the Neath region

A new policy for economic prosperity is needed if Wales is to thrive in a post-Brexit world, according to the Neath Area Economic Forum, an initiative by Assembly Member Jeremy Miles.

The report, Creating tomorrow’s economy, today is a culmination of work over recent months with businesses, trade unions, local government, health and care sectors, the voluntary sector, colleges and universities to look at the opportunities for the economy of Neath and the south West Wales region.

Last December, the Forum held an event with forty five organisations and the Welsh Government Minister for Science and Skills, Julie James AM. Local businesses identified critical issues for the economy including limitations on the regional transport and digital communications network, skills shortages, more community childcare provision, addressing technological change, actions required to shore up local supply chains and local business and how to support regional businesses to export overseas after we leave the European Union.

In order to meet these challenges a number of bold and innovative ideas have been put forward. These include:

  • Create Swansea Bay Region Integrated Transport (SBRITE) – an integrated public transport service made up of bus, rail and light rail, offering sustainable, flexible and affordable transport, with through-ticketing and a multi-hub structure, that will be central to ensuring that all parts of the region are able to take full advantage of the opportunities of a City Deal.
  • A New Deal for Bus Users – with a government commitment to road infrastructure upgrades (for example bus prioritisation technology at junctions and traffic lights, stronger planning regime for park and ride and mandatory bus access specifications for new housing developments), in return for more sustainable fleet by the bus operators.
  • An integrated post-compulsory education strategy – give further education a distinctive mission in Wales, as part of a joined-up strategy covering skills training, workplace learning, adult learning and higher education so learning is modular, flexible and accessible.
  • Require schools to build better connections with local economy and revolutionise technology support for careers – including “TED for teens” app – to fill the gap in careers support, featuring video content from role models available roles, likely earnings, progression opportunities and course options.
  • Trade Wales – an industry-led body to sell Welsh goods to the world. This would be a major upgrade of the Welsh Government’s business export support, as well as an overhaul of Business Wales.
  • New role for public bodies in stimulating the local economies – working together to commission and procure locally and develop local suppliers

The report has been submitted to the Welsh Government as part of the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates AM’s consultation on a new economic strategy and to the Valleys Task Force, chaired by Minister Alun Davies AM.

The Neath Area Economic Forum will meet later this year to consider further action from the report which will also include fostering confidence and aspiration through the education system and doing more to support the ‘foundational economy’- sectors like care, retail, food, housing that our communities are built on.

Launching the report, Jeremy Miles AM said:

“Clear-sighted ambition for Wales has never been more important than it is now. We have an opportunity to shape the Welsh Government’s approach to the economy, at a time when we need all hands on deck to make sure that Wales can rise to the challenge of new economic realities following Brexit, a changing workforce and the impact of technology. Alongside local businesses and other key players in the local economy, we have generated some exciting ideas for a new economic policy. I’m confident that there are hundreds more ideas out there that need to be heard and considered.

The aims of the new economic policy should be clearly focused –to nurture indigenous businesses, to shore up the foundational economy, to support sectors making a major contribution at present to the economy such as steel, aerospace and automotive and develop those sectors of potential high growth and high value where Wales has or can have a particular competitive advantage. Working towards a fair and prosperous Wales after Brexit will require imagination and a drive to use all the levers of government creatively.

The Neath region and Wales generally has many enviable assets, not least its immensely resourceful people. Now is the time for the Welsh Government to be the most creative and visionary it has ever been – and for all of us living and working in the region to step up to the plate. Economic renewal is not just a task for Government, it’s a responsibility of us all. “