There is not a single sector of the UK or North Wales economy that has escaped the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. For North Wales the numbers are stark, over 100,000 workers on furlough or receiving self employed support.
Certain sectors have been impacted more than others with Tourism and Manufacturing already shedding jobs before the furlough scheme is closed. The recent Lockdown Impact survey from North Wales Tourism forecasts around 11,000 job losses in its sector this year and today brought news from Airbus of 1,435 redundancies at its Broughton site.
Within the midst of these negative impacts though, if we are to get back on our feet, we have to where possible begin to restart the economy. As a Private Sector putting our backs into this challenge is what we do, but what are the likely sources of extra Public Sector support for us over and above what we can do for ourselves?
A popular phrase of late “Build Back Better” although slightly over-used does encapsulate well a way forward for reset, by supporting business through the provision of opportunities and incentives for growth but with a far greater emphasis on those opportunities being tied to decarbonisation of the economy and increased social justice and equality.
On a regional level the Business Council for North Wales working with its members and supported by 50+ organisations has proposed a pilot scheme to help restart the North Wales economy. The proposed ‘Ignition’ fund has been put to both Welsh and UK Governments for support and discussions are still in process.
On a UK level it’s early days yet, but the Prime Minister’s ‘Build Build Build’ slogan shows the infrastructure emphasis that UK Government is likely to follow. £5bn Spending has just been announced which may mean projects happening in Wales or extra cash for Welsh Government (if the £5bn is just for England) or nothing at all, if you read some of the latest coverage.
Whatever the news or announcements in the coming days though on infrastructure, new money and spending on major infrastructure projects for North Wales regardless of which Government is the budget holder, will not necessarily mean opportunities for our businesses right now. Infrastructure projects by the very nature of the development process do not move fast. Plans, Business Cases and Public Consultations take time. Major existing projects already in process, could possibly be expedited more quickly with more resource, but spades in the ground for new projects is not happening for a good while yet.
So, if infrastructure is not the immediate answer on extra Government support to help provide further impetus for growth, then what is?
This week has seen the beginnings of the likely direction of travel on this, with Innovate UK’s £200 million Sustainable Innovation Fund. A package to help innovative businesses bounce back from the impacts of the lockdown and drive forward cutting-edge new tech. Expect more of this to come from UK Government / Innovate UK and Welsh Government will no doubt also be looking to support growth through its own future programmes. The focus of Welsh Government is more likely to be weighted though towards supports that tie in with the aims of the Future Generations Act and the Economic Action Plan principles.
Based on the above then the immediate advice for businesses in North Wales on extra public sector supports, is to look at areas where they might want to invest e.g. developing new technology, improving productivity but with the filter of wider benefits to society e.g. decarbonisation, and have those ideas ready for the extra funding opportunities when they present themselves in the coming weeks and months. Keep your eyes peeled on Innovate UK and Business Wales websites as a minimum.