Swansea Bay: ‘Education needs to take place throughout life’
Mike Hedges – MS for Swansea East
When the Assembly opened in 1999 online retail was in its infancy. It was another eight years before the first iPhone, and five years before YouTube came online.
Computer games generated a fraction of the income of today and the Sega Dreamcast, the world’s first Internet-ready console, was a year away from being launched.
Jobs such as influencer, professional computer games player and Uber driver did not exist. Since then, employment has changed becoming less secure and reliable. Millions of people are now stuck in precarious forms of employment such as zero-hours contracts, low guaranteed hours, gig economy including low-paid self-employment or agency work.
Over ten years ago the Welsh Government created a Swansea bay city region to engage partners in improving the regional economy. The councils of Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire worked together on a Swansea bay city region board. The board has adopted a city region economic strategy to identify key actions for increasing the city region’s economic performance.
The foundational economy is built on the activities which provide the essential goods and services for everyday life, regardless of the social status of consumers. These include infrastructures; utilities; food processing; retailing and distribution; health, education, and welfare.
They are provided by a mixture of the state (directly or indirectly funded); small and medium enterprise firms; and much larger companies such as privatised utilities or branches of companies such as the major supermarkets, who have their headquarters outside Wales.
The foundational economy is distributed in proportion to population. What we have alongside the foundation economy is the local economic drivers that build population and wealth in an area which sets the size of the foundation economy.
Historically the local economy was built on coal, metal processing, oil, and agriculture. Whilst Steel, tinplate, energy, and agriculture are still important employers in the area the economy has diversified. Swansea has large public sector employers include the City and County of Swansea council, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, HM Land Registry, Welsh Government, Department for Work and Pensions, Swansea University, Swansea Metropolitan University, and Swansea Bay University health board.
We have seen a growth in tourism which is often seasonal and low paid and a huge growth in both students and employment at the local universities. If the Swansea Bay region is to have a successful, vibrant, and thriving economy we need to concentrate on key growth areas such as professional and financial services, life sciences and ICT.
We already have successful financial service companies such as Admiral in the area. Successful places need to be able to attract, then retain, businesses and this must be based on understanding their requirements. An analysis of successful and less successful places suggests the following four factors are key to economic success: A culture of enterprise and innovation, where places adapt quickly to new opportunities, and everyone can share in the possibilities and rewards of business success.
This includes embracing the opportunities presented by the revolution in life science, information and communications technology, and artificial intelligence. Access to investment, including venture capital which is essential for businesses to start up, grow, and to deliver jobs and opportunity for all.
People equipped with the skills employers need, as well as with motivation and opportunity to work including a culture of lifelong learning enabling people to fulfil their potential and maximising employment opportunities; enabling a flexible response to changing opportunities; and encouraging companies to come to and remain in towns and cities.
An efficient and reliable transport system including internet transport enabling efficient delivery of raw materials to industry and of goods to market; providing access to jobs; making towns and cities better places to live in; and helping tackle social exclusion.
There is a need for the universities, Welsh Government, and local councils to work together to grow these key economic sectors. What has worked in other areas has been science parks and schools of entrepreneurship attached to the universities. We need to do the same to increase local wages and expand our economy.
We need science parks attached to universities so that we can use them as innovation hubs and to specialise in key economic sectors such as life sciences, artificial intelligence, and ICT. We also need an entrepreneurship and innovation centre that can provide a founder and incubator platform for students, young entrepreneurs, and investors.
We need access to capital, not just at the start up stage, but at the two important growth stages of small to medium sized enterprise, and then medium to large. Too often medium sized enterprises sell up to companies outside the area, and the economic benefits reduce, or disappear. Working with the universities and further education colleges we need to look to up-skill our population: education should not end at 16, 18 or 21. Education and re-skilling needs to take place throughout life.
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