THE leaders of Wales’ three major cities have written to the First Minister calling on Welsh Government to do everything in its powers to boost the economy and protect jobs and livelihoods in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport.
The letter is written and signed by the leader of Cardiff Council, Cllr Huw Thomas; leader of Newport City Council, Cllr Jane Mudd; leader of Swansea Council, Cllr Rob Stewart, and Cllr Anthony Hunt, Chair of the Cardiff Capital Region.
In the letter, the point is made that the three cities employ 400,000 people, generate £325m in business rates and account for a third of Wales’ GVA, its businesses, and its jobs. But fears are now growing that the effects of Covid-19 and rising unemployment could significantly impact Wales for a generation unless action is taken immediately to help safeguard the role cities play in the Welsh economy.
The pandemic has placed a number of jobs under threat mainly in the retail, hospitality, culture, and events sectors, which have all been seriously impacted by the lockdowns and restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the virus.
The letter to the First Minister sets out the worrying financial impact on all three cities across these sectors, with unemployment claimants rising from 7,910 to 15,975, which is just under 100% in Cardiff and younger workers being disproportionately affected due to the impact on the hospitality and events sector.
In Newport, where almost 20,000 people are employed in the retail and hospitality sectors, the number of unemployment claims has risen by almost 3,500.
In Swansea, almost 1,000 more people aged under 24 are claiming unemployment benefits, since the pandemic began.
The letter to the First Minister says, that while the sectors involved need immediate assistance, there is also an opportunity for Wales’ cities to benefit from the recovery. It quotes economic analysts who say many major employers could look to move away from bigger cities with high overheads as they look to adapt to post-pandemic conditions.
In the letter, the three councils have set out a number of suggested ways forward to the Welsh Government to assist the recovery, including:
Supporting the major regeneration schemes in all three cities, including Central Square in Cardiff city centre and the masterplan for Cardiff Bay; Copr Bay in Swansea, and the Leisure & NKQ projects in Newport;
the need to repurpose key empty properties in each of the city centres to provide confidence for investors and provide sustainable long-term uses for businesses, workers, residents, and visitors;
provide urgent additional fiscal support for the hospitality sector to save jobs, which employs over 30,000 people in this sector in all three cities and competes with other UK cities for domestic tourism; and
the introduction of strengthened Enterprise Zones, with real and substantiated fiscal powers focussing on growth-related business rate retention to support investment for renewal and recovery.
The full range of fiscal mechanisms needs to be explored, including Tax Increment Finance schemes, which could increase future business rates income to share across Wales.
The Leaders of all three councils have called for discussions on how the recovery takes place in Wales to happen quickly so work can begin ahead of the Senedd pre-election period.