‘Greater Cardiff’ – WM Still Banging the Drum

Siôn Barry, the Wasting Mule’s Business Editor has sought to remind us yet again of the benefit of city regions with his piece in today’s issue. I covered this topic in an earlier post, but today’s article is a little more open in stating the Cardiff case, and is therefore deserving of further comment. To briefly recap what I said in that earlier post . . .

To all intents and purposes the proposed Swansea City region already exists. It follows the M4, and the major roads connecting with that motorway, from the eastern outskirts of Port Talbot through Neath and Swansea to the western outskirts of Llanelli, running also into the valleys that go north from these major centres. It is a contiguous urban-industrial area with a great sense of unity and homogeneity from Baglan in the east to Burry Port in the west.

The proposed Cardiff City region on the other hand takes in the rest of south Wales, from the city of Cardiff itself up to the Heads of the Valleys region; with the city of Newport and wealthy Monmouthshire thrown into the mix. Here, the homogeneity found further west is missing. What has Lisvane got in common with Merthyr? And how do people in Newport feel about being swallowed up by Cardiff? This Cardiff City Region is a hotchpotch of communities being forced together to suggest that Cardiff is now a major city with a ‘metropolitan area’ population of 1.4 million. This will result in investment and jobs being focused in Cardiff itself and those living outside the city expected to commute. That is the long term plan.
In the shorter term, the reason why the city region debate is so important now lies in the prospect of another round of EU structural funding from 2015, with the assessment being done next year. The threshold is 75% of of the EU average per capita GDP. Below that and you qualify, above it you don’t. Here again, we see the homogeneity of the Swansea City Region, where all parts qualify for structural funds, but in the so-called Cardiff City region we again see vast disparities. For if the Cardiff City Region were a single local government unit, then the wealth of Cardiff and other areas would mean the region not qualifying for structural funds. This explains why, as Barry concedes, ” . . . the word on the street is that some local authorities in the proposed city regions are less than enthusiastic . . . “. (If he’d been honest he would have said that the opposition is restricted to authorities in the Cardiff City Region.)For while there are people in Cardiff who’d like to see the Cardiff City Region embedded in a single local government area, people in the Valleys can see the dangers of such a development; resulting in investment focused on the city, with the Valleys – by being part of ‘Cardiff’ – denied even the compensation of EU funding. For within the existing local government boundaries the Valleys will qualify for a further round of structural funding, as Barry makes clear, and puts into a wider perspective:“At is stands, with a GDP per capita of around 70% of the EU average, West Wales and the Valleys could receive as much as £2.8bn – while the whole of Slovakia could find itself excluded as its GDP is currently at around 78%.”

So Bratislava is now wealthier than Swansea! What an indictment of the union with England, the Labour Party’s ‘free prescriptions and minimum wage’ economic strategy, and 13 years of Cardiff-centric devolution!

With resistance growing in the Valleys to ‘Greater Cardiff’ the focus must shift to diverting more structural funding from the Valleys into Cardiff. As things stand, only 10% of structural funds may be spent in adjoining, non-qualifying areas. Siôn Barry is quite open in stating this objective (even if he can’t be honest about the reason for it):

“Perhaps Wales has not capitalised enough in seeking to move funding around South East Wales into non convergence areas. It needs to lobby the EU for the adjoining area threshold limit to be increased to say 20%.”.

This is breathtaking. He talks of “Wales”, ‘capitalising’ . . . but how would ‘Wales’ – e.g. Amlwch, Bangor, Denbigh, Welshpool, Brecon, Pembroke, Llanelli, Swansea – benefit from diverting EU funding from the Valleys into Cardiff? Come to that, how would the Valleys benefit?

The Swansea City Region is obvious and natural, not a wholly artificial unit designed to benefit one small part at the expense of the rest. It already exists and merely needs to be formalised. The Cardiff City Region, as currently planned, is a non-starter. It might work if the Heads of the Valleys, Monmouthshire, Newport(?), were detached. But as it stands, the plan is doomed; partly because the region is simply too diverse and unwieldy, and partly because the true motives of the project’s promoters are becoming ever clearer.

All this talk of the south should not allow us to forget that according to too many in Wales, including Dr. Elizabeth Haywood – aka Mrs Peter Hain – the only future for the north is for the eastern side to be subsumed into north west England and the western side to be totally anglicised through tourism and immigration. These are the people I constantly refer to as the ones who really run Wales. They, along with the civil servants and countless other groups in the third sector, academe and elsewhere, prepare the surveys, reports and studies that our stupid, lazy AMs adopt and implement. They are the enemy. And they must be confronted.

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