With Askar Sheibani

CEO, Comtek Network Systems UK Ltd and chair, Deeside Business Forum

Welsh Labour Leadership Contest and a vision for North Wales...

North Wales holds immense untapped potential for rapid economic growth and could position itself as a formidable competitor to South East England.

However, realising this potential requires overcoming challenges and fostering dynamic leadership. My proposal centres on elevating leadership and governance in North Wales, restructuring existing frameworks for heightened dynamism, efficiency, and productivity. Importantly, this transformative approach pledges substantial economic growth without the need for additional funding.

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The region's economic landscape is unique, closely linked to major UK cities and offering global market access through international airports and the Holyhead Freeport to the European Union. Moreover, north Wales' distinctive geography makes it an ideal hub for developing tidal and wind energy. Despite these advantages, a leadership void persists, exacerbated by excessive regulation in the public sector, causing delays and missed opportunities for potential investors.

Areas of excellence: North East Wales has emerged as a hub for leading manufacturers, creating the largest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the UK. Notably, recent investments in Deeside and Wrexham have earned investment zone status, attracting a substantial £80 million investment.

However, challenges hinder progress. Infrastructure projects with promising potential have been abandoned due to difficulties investors face in engaging with authorities, leading to missed opportunities. This has proven difficult for investors, discouraging overseas infrastructure companies from establishing roots in north Wales.

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Proposal: To address these issues, I propose an evolution of the existing North Wales Economic Ambition Board (NWEAB) structure. Transforming the Corporate Joint Committee for North Wales (CJC) into a balanced public-private entity with a 50/50 voting membership being essential. The current public sector-led and risk-averse nature of the CJC impedes progress. Empowering the Minister for North Wales with full authority over the CJC will ensure a focus on transformative governance and leadership changes.

Furthermore, the CJC should be allocated a budget for infrastructure and economic development, with private sector members appointed by the Minister for North Wales. Prioritising joint ventures over grants will safeguard public funds and ensure local influence over projects.

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It is crucial to emphasise that North Wales' economic success hinges on leadership from within the region. Policies imposed from South Wales have disillusioned our business community, particularly small enterprises. Commitments to invest in road infrastructure, followed by subsequent cancellations, damage our credibility as an attractive region for investment and growth. Ill-conceived measures, such as the 20-mile-an-hour speed limit, have inflicted financial harm on small businesses, such as self-employed traders, delivery and taxi drivers.

Addressing these issues is paramount to fostering a thriving economic environment in North Wales.

I have now read the manifestos from both the leadership candidates. Vaughan Gething MS has committed to the following concrete pledges which align very closely with my above recommendations. Below is an extract from Vaughan Gething MS's manifesto:

"Our future Welsh Labour Government would develop a package of powers for local government in Welsh regions through Corporate Joint Committees. For North Wales, this package of powers would be developed by the Minister for North Wales, reporting to the First Minister.

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"These measures are aimed at devolving powers from Welsh Government to Corporate Joint Committees, not moving powers currently held by local councillors into Welsh Government. We would also develop a stronger role for all local councillors within Corporate Joint Committees meaning that democratically elected local councillors will have more powers as a result of these changes, not fewer.

"Our support for devolution would also extend beyond more powers to the Senedd. Alongside our regional devolution proposals outlined earlier, our government would give more power to the Minister for North Wales, including an office in North Wales and a team of officials based in North Wales from across key Welsh Government departments".

North Wales needs visionary leadership from the new First Minister, leveraging the existing NWEAB structure and transforming the CJC for effective governance. This approach, in alignment with Vaughan Gething MS's manifesto, promises to devolve substantial decision-making power to North Wales, fostering transformative economic growth.