Monday, March 18, 2013
AN ECONOMIC STRATEGY FOR CARDIFF
There, I’ve finally said it despite not always seeing eye to eye with the Labour councillor for Ely and, of course, having very different political views to his.
Indeed, as I have myself sometimes been described by some as the human equivalent of marmite, I can probably empathise with the perception that some people have of Cardiff Council’s cabinet member for finance, business and local government.
And whilst I am not always in agreement with what he has done in the past, there wasn’t much to argue with what he said as he stood in front of the capital city’s business community last Friday morning to launch a consultation to help develop a long-term economic development strategy for Cardiff.
Although businesspeople I have spoken to since suggested that more detail on the day would have been useful, Mr Goodway did finally admit that the Council couldn’t do this all on their own and that they need the private sector to step up to the plate with their ideas and support. One can only hope that such sentiment is realised and that businesses become far more involved in the future development of the city.
For anyone interested in the future of Cardiff, the Green Paper “Rebuilding Momentum” forms the core of the consultation process and is a good starting point. It identifies some of the real opportunities facing the capital city in the immediate future.
Cardiff is already the closest European capital city to London and the electrification of the Great Western mainline will bring the ‘big smoke’ even closer.
It is also estimated that the city’s growth will be higher than any other UK ‘core city’ over the next twenty years and as one of ‘Europe’s best places to live and work’ with superb cultural and sporting facilities, will be attractive to potential investors and their employees in the future.
However, there are also significant weaknesses.
For example, the city has been starved of regeneration funds since devolution, with the focus being on weaker areas in West Wales and the Valleys. And despite having an international airport on its doorstep, the connectivity to this vital travel hub is relatively poor compared to other similar cities such as Newcastle, with very few flights to business destinations.
Given this, it is proposed that in order to exploit existing opportunities and address current and future challenges, Cardiff will require a new and sophisticated approach that combines continued development of infrastructure and physical regeneration with strategies and initiatives to create more and better quality jobs.
Not many could argue with that conclusion but there is one criticism, hopefully a constructive one, which I would make regarding the consultation document.
I appreciate and understand the focus on bringing greater inward investment into the city, especially given the attractions of the new enterprise zone and the excellent work already being done by the financial and professional services sector panel in ensuring that companies consider the city as a base for their operations.
However, it is a major disappointment the word ‘entrepreneurship’ was missing from the document, especially as the analysis admits that Cardiff has lower rates of business start-up rates than competitor cities. It also points out that the number of businesses in the city is also comparatively low despite the level of employment growth over the last ten years.
Whilst inward investment is important to any economy, the development of new businesses within fast growing sectors is also critical to future growth. As we have seen from cities across the World such as New York, Hong Kong and San Francisco, their dynamism is a direct result of the entrepreneurial efforts of innovative businesses.
I believe, given the fact that it has a high skilled workforce, three universities and a focus on sectors such as the creative industries, that there is a real opportunity for Cardiff to become a magnet for not only attracting knowledge-based start-ups but in developing its own indigenous entrepreneurs if there is clear strategic approach.
Perhaps there is scope for a mini Entrepreneurship Action Plan for Cardiff that identifies the resources required by entrepreneurs to build a successful local economy and the role that can be played by the Council and other bodies in facilitating this. I hope those putting together the final document will consider this carefully when putting together the strategy for the city’s economy.
There is therefore much to be done to ensure that Cardiff achieves its full economic potential and this consultation is a good starting point.
For Councillor Goodway and his officials, only time will tell whether they will get real buy-in to these plans from other stakeholders such as the Welsh Government and the private sector and, more importantly, whether this rhetoric can be turned into reality over the next few years.