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  • Whiterock Wales

Business networks hold us together

There’s nothing like a sense of impending crisis to focus the mind.

Indeed, given all the global uncertainty going around, maybe it’s a sensible option to be looking after the pennies while the pound is obliged to look after itself on the money markets.

There’s also probably not been a more appropriate time to make sure we fight our corner for resources. At least, that was the message from Swansea council leader Rob Stewart speaking to the Federation of Small Businesses last week.

Our part of south west Wales faces many challenges. Yet the region currently looks well positioned to play to a few strengths.

I know that FSB chairman Julie Williamson holds the opinion that it is regional business networks which hold the key to stepping up business momentum in Swansea Bay.

It’s a view shared by Helen Bowden, newly appointed chief executive of Swansea Bay Futures marketing partnership and who held a very successful relaunch breakfast event last week.

A full house at the Marriott were left under no illusion as to how we need to look at the way we do business with ourselves and others.

Listening to firms has also been the theme espoused by Swansea Bay Business Club president Hayley Davies. The club has been asking members to participate in a business rates survey.

It’s likely their findings will echo the views of AMs who think small firms face a "fog of uncertainty" over temporary rebates which sometimes go on for years.

Ensuring a level playing field for commerce is at the forefront of SA1 Waterfront Business Club discussions too.

The group recently heard Alwen Williams, Director of BT Cymru Wales, give an upbeat account of how the telecoms giant spends nearly £200m every year with local suppliers.

That didn’t stop SA1 members highlighting some very large gaps in provision and the need for more investment.

It’s no accident that all the groups I’ve mentioned place a big emphasis on networking and information sharing. The task of building up a better appreciation of how trade contributes to the local and regional economy is not something to be left to the Swansea Bay City Region alone.

It’s tempting to think that the City Deal, tidal lagoon and rail electrification are the key prizes that will solely make a difference.

I don’t dispute their importance but unless the foundations and the fabric of the local business community are effectively geared up to capitalise on an injection of new investment then we risk seeing the actual benefit go elsewhere.

With the distinct possibility that tomorrow’s Autumn statement by Phillip Hammond is likely to hold as many bad tidings for Wales as good news, it’s probably wiser to focus on bread and butter projects as well as jam tomorrow.

In my opinion, indigenous small and medium businesses continue to be the key to future economic prosperity in Wales.

On that note, watch out for the Small Business Saturday bus that will be visiting the city tomorrow – in advance of the big event on 3rd December.

Oceana: We need to move on

Anyone with an involvement in renovation work, especially in older commercial buildings, will know that asbestos was used far more widely than many in the construction industry care to admit. The Oceana episode is clearly a case in point

Despite the larger than expected demolition bill, I believe the Kingsway Business District project still represents the right move. I also feel that those demanding an inquiry are seeking something other than value for money.

It’s not too long ago that the Castle Quays retail scheme was sufficiently talked down by press and political opposition to cause potential investors to walk away.

Monday’s pre-application consultation event on ‘Swansea Central’ – the redevelopment name for the St David’s and Oystermouth Road sites – shows a clear intent matched by commercial vigour.

Critics of the associated Oceana deal claim they only want the best for Swansea. Maybe so, the problem with good intentions though is that they tend to pave the way elsewhere.

Lessons for our futures

It’s not often that you can spend an enjoyable couple of hours listening to renditions of the Chinese and Welsh national anthems plus a song about a Swansea missionary.

As it happens, that’s what greeted me at the opening of a new community school set up for Chinese children whose parents live and work in the locality.

Around 80 children aged between four and 13 are signed up to the classes offered at UWTSD'S Townhill campus. The new school aims to enable youngsters to keep in touch with their Chinese heritage and foster the language skills needed in an increasingly globalised world of work.

The school is a partnership between UWTSD, Confucius Institute and the Chinese Community Co-op Centre. It’s also no surprise for me to learn that the ubiquitous Chris Foxall is involved as chair of governors.

I have a feeling that his work to forge better trade and cultural links with China will pay future dividends.

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