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Exploring the connections

In February 2015, the Cardiff Capital Region Board published Powering the Welsh Economy.

On the first anniversary of this, Cardiff University’s City Region Exchange and the Institute of Welsh Affairs jointly hosted a round table discussion to consider the progress made and the priorities for the immediate future. We are grateful to our invited audience of leading representatives of business, governance and academia for giving so willingly of their time and most especially to our speakers for freely sharing their ideas.

The discussion was held as a ‘Chatham House’ style event, where content is not attributed to individual speakers.

Key points

A strong message from the speakers and the audience is that we must move on from discussing what could be and actually start to deliver action on the ground, focusing on creating jobs, stimulating economic growth and building prosperity.

The Transition Board must work to include groups who felt marginalised under the first CCR Board and also build in effective business engagement. Whilst the Board is accountable to the Welsh Government, it also needs to operate at arm’s length so that it can respond quickly to need and opportunity.

There has been a real vacuum of leadership and now is the opportunity to overturn this. There is also a real need to develop more joined up approaches within the CCR, connecting the myriad different bodies with an interest in economic development, and within Welsh Government, where cross-Ministerial working is essential.

Whilst much of the debate comes back to governance structures, power and control, political agendas are not the only drivers of the city region.

The city region exists already as a functioning area, and the question is therefore what can we all do (as businesses, universities, public authorities and others) to make it function better and to deliver jobs, growth and prosperity?

Despite the publication of Powering the Welsh Economy, there remains no shared (or collective) vision for the development of the Cardiff Capital Region. This is a real challenge going forward as it means overcoming barriers of history, geography and parochialism.

One reason for the lack of a collective vision is the poor state of communication and lack of public debate around the concept. There has been a frustrating lack of communication with communities and with many organisations and individuals who are active in the city region.

There has been a sense of being unable to contribute to the development of the ideas being put forward. Good things are going on. We need to talk about them, but talk about them in a language that makes sense to the stakeholders involved.

What is the CCR’s unique selling point? The answer provided was lifestyle and heritage. Wales is also the first nation to introduce well-being goals. This could be an important complement.

The CCR is also about the long-term growth of the city region. The economy sees no boundaries and growth bears no relation to local authority borders.

For the Cardiff Capital Region to operate effectively there is a need for a strategic development approach, which identifies what might happen where and is linked to the planned metro developments. This could take the form of a strategic development plan identifying sites and premises as well as strategic vision.

How this connects to Local Development Plans (LDPs), and how LDPs reflect the vision for the Cardiff Capital Region are key questions.

Without adequate skills, residents will not be able to access the employment opportunities being created. This will involve both FE and HE providers.

It is crucial that residents can see the opportunity to build meaningful careers in the CCR and do not feel that they have to leave Wales, or are forced into marginal employment.

Despite the impression given in Powering the Welsh Economy that the CCR is focused on the urban economy of Cardiff, there is a strong view that economic growth has to been couraged across the CCR. It is a polycentric economy. This also assists in distributing economic opportunities more widely.

There are pockets of value and opportunity distributed across the city region that can be accessed and supported with the right approach.

There is a strong opportunity to develop clusters of activities linking universities and firms in the city region. There is already evidence of this occurring and it should be supported and strengthened.

The CCR contains firms with qualities and capacities which are not always well-known, as IQE discovered when it launched an open-innovation approach to its activities.

The City Deal is not the same as the CCR, but it proves that joint working is possible. It also provides an important resource to the CCR (alongside Welsh Government funds, EU funding programmes and other domestic finance).

Ensuring that all these activities work towards common objectives, complement (rather than duplicate) each other, and deliver real benefits to residents and businesses in the CCR is the challenge for the future.

Data and evidence is needed at the CCR scale to inform decision-making.

Good strong working relationships are more crucial than new governance arrangements. We cannot build a region if we’re stumbling over each other, being more competitive than collaborative.

This does not mean accepting mediocrity though. We should robustly and positively challenge each other to make improvements.


  • Mark Barry, M&G Barry Consulting
  • Ann Beynon, CCR Transition Board
  • Jess Blair, IWA
  • Rachel Bowen, FSB Wales
  • Donna Coyle, Wales Co-operative Centre
  • Sheila Davies, Newport City Council
  • Cllr Peter Fox, Monmouthshire County Council
  • Adrian Healy, City Region Exchange
  • Justin John, Life Sciences Hub Wales
  • Calvin Jones, Cardiff Business School
  • Gareth Jones, Welsh ICE
  • Paul Matthews, Monmouthshire County Council
  • Chris Meadows, IQE
  • Kevin Morgan, Cardiff University
  • Rob Rolley, General Dynamics
  • Chris Sutton, JLL / CBI Wales
  • Stevie Upton, City Region Exchange
  • Derek Walker, Wales Co-operative Centre
  • Lee Waters, IWA