The potential for a new economic powerhouse for the UK was unveiled last week, with a new report setting out recommendations to supercharge the economy in the west of Britain.
The Powerhouse for the West report, commissioned by the Great Western Cities partnership of Labour-run Bristol City Council, Cardiff Council and Newport City Council, was presented to senior politicians, business and education leaders last week at the House of Lords.
The report provides a strong evidence base for a cross-border partnership, presenting recommendations that would drive improved infrastructure, investment, internationalisation and inclusive growth across a region of seven cities, 4.4m people, with 10 universities, 156,000 businesses and a £107bn economy.
Five key areas of collaboration are highlighted:
- an industrial strategy linking sector strengths;
- integrating road and rail improvements to enable faster connectivity;
- an internationalisation strategy which promotes the region’s industrial strengths;
- establishing a productivity and innovation observatory which makes better use of our data;
- piloting and measuring tailored approaches to connecting the most deprived communities with the region’s highest growth sectors.
Cllr Debbie Wilcox, Leader of Newport City Council, said: “The opportunities that a powerhouse could capitalise and enrich are vast. The region already has an economy worth £107bn, which is 10% higher than the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine, yet our growth is slower than average. If we only grow to meet the UK average, we will become a £1.21bn economy – just think of the potential if this powerhouse was created.”
The potential powerhouse – which is yet to adopt a formal name – would stretch along the M4 corridor from Swindon and across the Welsh border to Cardiff and Swansea, and in the north from Gloucester and Cheltenham to Bath and Bristol. To support this venture the Great Western City partners have already been joined by Bath and North East Somerset Council, Gloucestershire County Council, Swansea Council and Swindon Borough Council.
The report sets out a plan to turbo-charge growth in the region, not economic rebalancing, and puts a focus on developing key strengths to stimulate that growth.
With already strong transport links that include two major arteries running across the entirety of the region (the M4 and Great Western Rail Line) intersected by the M5, the proposed powerhouse is uniquely positioned to develop and support trade growth in a way which could be complementary to existing local and regional strategies.
Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “Our ultimate vision is to create a serious, long-term, cross-border partnership. We already export £18.4bn of goods and £11bn of services every year – we want to further promote our excellent trade and investment opportunities by developing an internationalisation strategy. In a post-Brexit world export based growth will be of huge importance to economic development and this collaboration has the potential to ensure this region competes with high growth regions around the world.
“Achieving this will mean unblocking the bottlenecks across the M4 and M5; connecting people and communities in our most deprived areas with skills and employment opportunities.”
The area already has unique strengths in advanced engineering, creative and digital media, finance and professional services. The report also highlights how growth areas around clean energy and health and life sciences would benefit it further.
Huw Thomas, Leader of Cardiff Council said: “This is just the start of the conversation and our next step will be to set up a leadership vehicle to shape this initiative and drive it forward.
“This report talks about complementing rather than competing with existing strategies and partnerships. We would be developing a partnership between public and private sectors across this seven cities region, with representatives from local enterprise partnerships, businesses and universities and with the backing of national government.”
People can read the report at www.apowerhouseforthewest.org.uk