Region needs to sort out differences
So we’ve reached the juncture when we’re supposed to perform the contortion of looking back over the year while also gazing wistfully into the future.
It’s never a hugely productive exercise in my experience; although it can’t hurt in business to keep an eye of the horizon.
That same philosophy was apparent at a recent event hosted by Neath Port Talbot council. Despite the challenges of the past year, it was encouraging to hear a threesome of local business people all sharing largely positive experiences of working with a local authority.
The trio weren’t there to sing the council’s praises in exchange for a free bacon roll either. What they offered were practical examples of how planners and highways officials were enabling investment and business expansion.
Sadly you don’t always find that same kind of proactive thinking throughout the Swansea Bay region. Indeed, according to some, you don’t need to travel too far west down Fabian Way before you’re confronted by process-driven barriers and a bureaucratic mindset.
Matters aren’t helped by a perception among smaller local firms that a one-size-fits-all approach to development unfairly favours the big-spending national outfits.
As a regional focus evolves, so it becomes more apparent that the differences towards regeneration across Swansea Bay are cultural rather than simply geographical.
In policy terms, you get innovative thinking in some places while next-door councils just seem to be making it up as they go along. Some apply the principles of collaboration and transparency expected by Welsh government. Others beset developers with pedantry and hidden fees.
Growing a regional economy relies as much upon hands-on support for local business as attracting inward investment. Smaller firms rely far more on cash-flow for survival and needless red-tape can have disastrous results.
It’s true that councils are increasingly able to cite a lack of resources as a reason for delay, but that doesn’t address their tendency to treat anything “not invented here” with suspicion.
In one instance, this negativity is in danger of actually making affordable housing unaffordable to first-time buyers.
2020 is going to be hard enough for small business. It shouldn’t be anyone’s role to make things any harder.
Time to re-think small business role
One of the growth industries in Wales has been the number of public-private sector bodies advising on how to make best use of EU funding. It always seemed that the bigger the scheme, the better.
As Brexit legislation makes its way through parliament, I’ve been looking at plans to readjust to the loss of net income. My research didn’t take long – mostly because nothing meaningful has been published to date.
Of course, it would be nice to think that the days of a Welsh dependency culture are as equally numbered as our financial reliance on Brussels. Realistically however, there’s little sign of economic self-sufficiency in anyone’s future.
City Deal and regional co-operation are vital components but our prosperity is going to need something more sustainable than a string of big-hit projects.
Of the 1,058,500 working population in Wales, 654,200 (62%) are employed by small and medium enterprises.
Surely then, this is exactly the time to explore how we can boost prosperity through investment in home-grown businesses.