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A message about opportunity

UWTSD Campus under construction at SA1 Waterfront

Wherever I’ve gone during the last few days, I’ve picked up on the same message about opportunity.

Things started when UWTSD stalwarts Medwin Hughes and Randolph Thomas treated guests at the Honorary Fellows Dinner in Dylan Thomas Centre to a powerful account of the talents and potential that young people can offer Wales – provided we get the right investment approach.

I could see their words striking a chord with those who had attended an earlier private briefing elsewhere on how public money is ‘leaking’ out of the region. Indeed, a soon to be published study estimates that up to £2bn a year of capital project funding notionally spent in Wales actually flows back across Offa’s Dyke, thanks to arcane procurement rules.

There was a more upbeat feeling at the SA1 Waterfront Business Club in the Village Hotel. An update on the Swansea Bay City Deal linked very nicely with some impressive insights from electronic futures trading outfit OSTC. The key message they had to offer is that opportunity comes in different guises and that your workforce are your best advocates. No arguments from me.

Meanwhile, Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns had much to say about economic opportunities when he spoke to Swansea Bay Business Club at Margam Orangery. He gave an upfront account of the challenges too, although he was noticeably less forthcoming in responding to my question about the tidal lagoon.

There’s no doubting that it’s a highly competitive world out there. No-one owes the Swansea Bay region a living and what we get, we earn.

The one trick that eludes us though is to stop looking down the wrong end of the telescope. By that I mean abandoning the idea that big solutions are always better.

If we want to make sure money stays in Wales then it’s time to challenge procurement arrangements, extend business rate relief and widen grant & loan opportunities for smaller outfits.

That involves creating the right conditions for like-minded small and medium businesses to cluster together, capitalising on investment and creating further prospects for themselves and each other.

Time for some culture outside the capital

I’d like to congratulate all involved in securing Swansea’s thoroughly deserved place on the City of Culture 2021 shortlist.

The announcement was probably one the worst kept secrets for some time but it’s a satisfying outcome nonetheless. The serious business of putting oomph into the bid now continues along with garnering necessary support.

Many observers (and judges) agreed that there was very was little wrong with the substance of our bid last time around. Nor was there any lack of ambition.

What was undeniably missing however was anything like the necessary level of establishment backing - and that includes the Welsh government

It may be that some folks felt uncomfortable providing fulsome support for a national bid that didn’t include Cardiff.

Let us hope that attitudes have now changed and that decision-makers can recognise an opportunity for Wales when they see one.

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