Ken Skates MS, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales
Today I am pleased to provide an update on the development of Regional Economic Frameworks (REFs) across Wales.
The Welsh Government’s Economic Action Plan (EAP) outlines the basis for a regional approach to economic development across Wales. In our approach we recognise the distinctive opportunities of particular regions and seek to build upon them to deliver enhanced prosperity for all, whilst addressing the barriers that prevent this.
Since the appointment of the Chief Regional Officers and their teams we have sought to foster closer and more effective collaboration with our regional partners and stakeholders. This is bearing real dividend and through collaborative effort with our key partners across the regions we are delivering tangible differences to businesses and communities across all regions of Wales. As the voice of government in the region and the voice of the region in Government, the Chief Regional Officers and their teams are influencing and informing national policy and programmes, as well as delivering targeted support in the various regions through the regional capital stimulus funds.
The development of REFs is an essential part of our commitment to a more regionally focussed model of economic development - developing the distinctive strengths of our regions, supporting inclusive and sustainable economic growth and maximising opportunities to address regional and local inequalities, contributing to the Well-being Goals for Wales. REFs are intended as a vehicle to help promote collaborative regional planning and delivery amongst public, private and third sector partners, working to a shared vision and a set of common economic development objectives. In taking forward the development of the REFs we have been acutely aware of the immediate reset and recovery required in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, but also the need to set out the longer term aspirations for the regions, aligned to the the Welsh Government’s Economic Recovery and Resilience Mission.
In helping shape the emerging REFs, officials have undertaken a period of targeted engagement with a range of key stakeholders at national and regional levels in each of the regions of Wales, with closer working relationships fostered with Local Authorities to co-design a placed-based approach to economic development. Delivery will be focussed around a single shared vision for each region and supported by a suite of shared regional priorities. Underpinning this will be the principle that regions are not subordinate to the national level in respect of their own priorities agreed under shared principles, and we must make paramount the importance to respect subsidiarity and democratic accountability at different national, regional and local levels.
REFs can enable greater alignment and integration across government, bringing benefits including joined up economic development and strategic planning on a range of issues from land use to skills as well as supporting cross border collaboration - working with the new and existing governance structures across local authority boundaries on issues such as regeneration, strategic transport and infrastructure for example.
REFs will be founded on the principle that places matter and will seek to make real our ambition of delivering better jobs closer to home and raising prosperity for all. They will tackle our inherent structural challenges but be responsive by turning them into opportunities for dynamic and distinct regions which demonstrate inclusive, fair and sustainable economic growth by designing solutions for the future – together, mindful of the need for them to be living documents which are responsive to changing circumstances. REFs will not duplicate the plethora of plans that already exist, but draw together the key elements to address regional inequalities and will aim to directly influence how Welsh Government delivers in regions and places. These frameworks will be agile to ensure they remain relevant and responsive to changing economic circumstances and new opportunities and play a key role in delivering against our Economic Recovery & Resilience Mission.
The development of REFs across the 4 regions of Wales can have an important role in facilitating collaborative regional economic development and be key in informing and influencing the delivery of Welsh Government funding priorities and to help maximise other funding opportunities available to Wales, set in the context of emerging Corporate Joint Committees as well as taking into account the recommendations of the OECD work. Continued stakeholder engagement and co-production with key regional partners will continue towards the development of the REFs to underpin a place based approach to regional economic development aligned to EAP and the Welsh Government’s aspirations for a well-being economy which drives prosperity, is environmentally sound, and helps everyone realise their potential.
The UK Government’s recent decisions on the delivery of the UK-wide Levelling Up and the Community Renewal Fund (the pilot to the Shared Prosperity Fund), which bypass the Welsh Government, fail to give Wales its fairs share of investment, and will undermine our strategic and regional approach to economic development in Wales, raises many questions for our Regional Stakeholders, not just in Local Authorities, but also to those in the academic, private and third sectors who have benefited from hundreds of millions of pounds of European Structural and Investment Funds. It is vital we continue to work with our Regional partners to maintain strong collaborative delivery and not let the UK Government and the threat that the UK Internal Market Bill poses on our devolution settlement in Wales undermine our devolved delivery of economic development across the Regions of Wales.
Whilst the pandemic has inevitably impacted on the progress of developing the REFs, we are continuing the detailed development work through the spring and summer for consideration by the next devolved government in Wales, and well ahead of the establishment of the CJCs between February and June next year.