My View: Can North Wales ride the COVID-19 crisis and thrive again?

Article via The Leader:


Chair of DBF & CEO of Comtek Network Systems

The business community in North Wales is going through the most challenging period since the Second World War.

History, however, has shown us that those nations who plan their economy well will not only survive the challenging times, but will go on to thrive. Germany, for example, is a unique case of a nation which managed its economy so well it became one of the most successful in the world.

Over the past few months, we have witnessed something remarkable in our own local business community that has surprised many. Our collective determination to fight and the amazing generosity that has been demonstrated in helping each other through these difficult times is highly commendable.

As the chair of DBF, a business campaigning organisation, I am proud to say we have one of the UK’s most amazing business communities right here in North Wales. Over 40 members and supporters of the DBF, all with impressive expertise and track records in all aspects of business and entrepreneurialism; from finance and accountancy through to legal and business restructuring; came together to offer free support to their fellow businesses based in the region.

Further, we have watched on as the key values of the devolved Welsh Government, the Development Bank of Wales, and our local authorities have been highlighted and proven through action. Where the big banks refused to help, the Development Bank of Wales moved in to support companies and fill the gap. When UK Government support didn’t reach our smaller, forgotten businesses, the Welsh Government stepped in to assist them instead. Our local authorities also worked non-stop, day and night, to help save as many of our businesses as possible.

The question is: Can North Wales ride through this crisis, save our economy and thrive again within the next few years?

I firmly believe North Wales, with a credible economic plan and with determined, well-resourced local leadership, has a great opportunity and potential to establish itself as one of the most successful economies in Europe.

Our region is fortunate to be situated in close proximity to two major cities; Liverpool and Manchester; home to two international airports connecting us to the global market, whilst London is just a couple of hours away from by train. The Port of Holyhead facilitates our trade via sea freight, and opens up the path to international tourism and Ireland. Every inch of North Wales has great history, rich culture, fantastic castles and beaches, unique tourist attractions, amazing wildlife and, irrefutably, the most breathtaking natural landscapes on planet Earth.

North Wales has the right ingredients and potential to become one of the best economies and most prosperous regions in Europe within the next 10 years. How can this aspiration become a reality?

To start, we need to have the self-belief and determination to become an economically self-sufficient and self-reliant region and one that is no longer in need of handouts from the UK Government. To reinforce this, the establishment of dynamic, visionary leadership armed with a credible track record is an absolute necessity. This leadership must also be bolstered by strong participation from the private sector.

We should concentrate on areas of the economy in which we have long-established experience and strong expertise; such as advanced manufacturing, renewable energy and tourism. The UK tends to follow European procurement rules to the letter, whereas other nations find a way to avoid them. Our public sector procurement services must support our homegrown local businesses and use their purchasing power to procure products and services locally – just as other nations do.

Recently, our local authorities have been awarded £240 million by the UK and Welsh governments as part of the North Wales Growth Deal – to be used to upgrade our infrastructure, attract substantial private sector investment and help to grow our economy. We must make sure that this money is spent wisely with a clear demonstration of the Return on Investment. It would be a crying shame if we mismanage this fund and overlook this historic opportunity.

No advanced economy can succeed without its well-educated and skilled population. Real investment in our education system; schools, colleges and universities is a priority. Finally, to underpin this economic growth, we must also modernise our digital infrastructure and make sure that affordable full-fibre broadband and 5G capability is available to all, throughout the whole of North Wales, as an essential and standard right.

This unfortunate pandemic has shaken the world. It has proved that we can and need to rely on and support each other. It is the resounding wake-up call for all of us to unite. But rest assured, just as Germany did after the Second World War – we absolutely have all it takes to survive and thrive.