Published: 2nd Jul 2016

small millenniumWith a City Deal proposal in the pipeline, can south Wales forge a vision of a community-centric local economy?

‘This is our chance to do something different and we may not get it again.’

Those were the words of a delegate at the New Start, CLES and New Economics Foundation’s ‘Activating Local Alternative Economies’ event held in Cardiff in mid-September.

This view was echoed by others at the event, hosted by the Wales Co-operative Centre, as they discussed how the area’s emerging City Deal could be used to build a ‘good’ local economy in the Cardiff region.

Delegates – drawn from councils, community organisations, universities, and social businesses across the Cardiff region – spoke of an urgent need for a different approach to the local economy.

South Wales was designated an assisted area in 1934,

and is the only place in the UK to retain that status today

Decades of pursuing economic growth and millions of pounds being poured into the area’s marginalised communities – some of the poorest in the UK – have made little impact on the region’s social outcomes.

South Wales was designated an assisted area in 1934, and is the only place in the UK to retain that status today. Youth unemployment in Blaenau Gwent in the south Wales Valleys stands at 26% and the gap between Wales and other regions in the UK is widening.

Off-the-shelf approaches

The City Deal and the creation of the Cardiff Capital Region are badged as opportunities to turn south Wales into a globally competitive region which will drive economic growth through sectors such as advanced manufacturing and life sciences, and the creation of a new Metro network.

An initial submission for a City Deal for the region has been put forward to the Treasury, with plans for an infrastructure fund for transport, and support for the business and social economies in the area.

The Cardiff Capital Region brings together 10 local authority areas, extending to Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil in the valleys, Monmouthshire to the east and the coastal regions of Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan.

This is the first time a city region approach has been taken in Wales, and it is hoped it will forge a new economic identity for south Wales and close some of its significant disparities compared to other UK regions.

A PWC report setting out the new region’s vision claims that ‘the changing global environment places an onus upon us to become ever more strategic in harnessing the forces of agglomeration to build critical mass, economies of scale and attract further investment’.  But to many delegates this vision – another off-the-shelf proposal for global competitiveness – would, on its own, fail to change the socioeconomic picture in the region.