Alun Cairns gives a speech at CBI dinner in North Wales
Thank you for inviting me to speak here tonight.
It is great to be here in North Wales again and I am a huge supporter of the CBI in championing the cause of business here in Wales.
North Wales is a great place to invest as I have seen from a number of visits since I took on my role in the Wales Office in July last year. It is one of the most dynamic parts of the UK inextricably linked to the North West of England – something I want to return to.
Since 2010, the economy in North Wales has grown by 13.2 per cent, faster than Wales and the UK. Latest figures show, it grew by 3.1 per cent, against a UK level of 2.5 per cent.
So economy in North Wales continues to grow, and the labour market is supported by businesses which continue to create jobs. We need to build on this momentum. UK is the fastest growing in the G7. Wales is the fastest growing part of the UK and North Wales is growing faster that Wales average.
And the evidence is clear.
On my visit to North Wales last month I was thrilled to show the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, James Wharton the hunger from business to be part of rebalancing the UK economy agenda. We met with council and business leaders from North Wales and Mersey Dee Alliance to discuss how to help the Northern Powerhouse grow.
It was also a privilege to visit and taste the award-winning Korean dishes at KK Foods – who are here tonight. And the constant evolution of processes at Toyota. It is hard to believe that after the restructuring of the industry from the the 70s and 80s we now export more cars than ever before.
Since the election the Chancellor and Secretary of State has also visited Airbus and the Prime Minister visited the Oaklands Outdoor Education Centre with Bear Grylls. All the evidence shows that North Wales is perfectly positioned to play an integral role in the Northern Powerhouse.
The Northern Powerhouse
The Northern Powerhouse presents an opportunity to redress the North-South economic imbalance – it should be grabbed with both hands.
As a Government, we are very much aware of the economic significance of Northern Regions and we have started to build the Northern Powerhouse.
The Chancellor has set out his vision for a more integrated, more powerful region with faster and smoother transport connections able to provide a real boost to economic growth in the region.
The Chancellor’s plan for the Northern Powerhouse is about balancing our growth, building a strong economy and maintaining a strong United Kingdom.
The challenge now is to ensure that North Wales is part of the economic revival that is taking place across Northern parts of the UK.
On his recent visit to North Wales, the Minister, James Wharton was clear that there are no boundaries for the Northern Powerhouse – and this is by design.
The Northern Powerhouse, like businesses in the area, does not recognise the administrative boundaries.
The links between North Wales and England’s northern cities are very important and we recognise that the border is fluid. Many people live and work on opposite sides of the border and travel across it each day.
It is widely acknowledged that north east Wales and north west England form one single economic entity. An integrated transport network and attractive inward investment area are aspirations of local government and business leaders on both sides of the border – and we want to respond to this demand.
I was a little disappointed when a Welsh Government Minister suggested that the Northern Power House only offered ‘trickle down benefits’ to North Wales. Everyone must pull together, to deliver for Wales. There is little point standing on the sidelines. I want North wales to be key to the main action. North Wales has a lot to benefit from the Northern Powerhouse. But North Wales also has a lot to offer the Northern Powerhouse.
We have a wealth of industry that puts North Wales on the map as a global hub of manufacturing excellence. North Wales’ export base and reputation for big energy projects makes it a perfect partner for closer collaboration to expand the economy of the north as well as a dynamic small business sector across to Anglesey and Gwynedd.
Not only do we need to rebalance our economy on a geographical basis, we need to ensure that our skill resources meet the needs of business and demands of young people.
Apprenticeships are at the heart of our mission to rebuild and rebalance, giving young people a chance to learn a trade and build their careers.
The UK Government has set a target of 3 million new apprenticeship starts this parliament. This is a huge ambition and will take significant effort to achieve, which we will. We are offering support for businesses in England to help meet this and I want to ensure Wales is not left behind.
I want the Welsh Government to follow our lead and invest in the young people of Wales, or there will be particular issues in eastern parts of north Wales in view of the priority this ambition will have on the England side of the border.
Competition for labour is a risk. I want it to be between companies not between nations.
Linked to skills is innovation – another element of the Northern Powerhouse.
We have some world class innovation in North Wales and I visited some examples recently. One was within a converted Church in Llandudno, which is now a hub for high-tech companies. Among those I saw was Stockomendation - a website that draws together top tipsters on the stock exchange – already making a significant mark in the financial press. But innovation does not come from businesses alone. We have some world class higher education providers locally.
Bangor University has already tapped into UK Government funding from Innovate UK of £2.3 million for their groundbreaking work in bio-sciences.
Glyndwr University has also developed a robotic arm which received funding from the Innovate UK pot.
But innovation does not know boundaries, and therefore I am looking to North Wales’ universities and businesses to participate in specialist clusters developing in the North of the UK.
Such innovation also spreads to Energy policy.
In recent years we have seen a number of investment projects come forward in - the Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station; Lateral Power’s biomass plant and eco-park; and Gwynt y Mor offshore wind farm which is now operational.
The Anglesey Energy Island brings together public and private sector stakeholders. Such collaboration is vital if we are to attract investment and develop the skills of the local communities.
Coleg Menai’s collaboration with Horizon Nuclear Power should also be applauded. It is this direct action, providing our young people with the exact skills that the nuclear and wider energy sector is looking for, that will ensure we reap as many of the benefits on offer as we can.
These investments have the potential to bring thousands of much needed jobs to the region, as well as wider economic opportunities. Hitachi has indicated that up to 60% of the content for the first plant could be sourced locally.
I want to ensure that businesses are ready to take advantage of the supply chain opportunities offered and that our workforce has the skills to apply for the jobs being created.
North Wales prison
And I’d like to think that the £212M prison in Wrexham is not only a good example of a much needed capital investment, with on-going employment and revenue turnover – but also a good example of effective procurement and sourcing.
¾ of the workers constructing the project are local, £13.3M of expenditure so far has been assigned to local firms, 100 apprentices recruited and 500 work day placements are being made available. There will be more than 1000 staff running the prison.
The model for procurement used for the prison has been recognised as a great way of ensuring local businesses benefit. There have been calls for similar models to be used for future projects, but I would like to hear your feedback on how this could be developed further, with so many other schemes down the line, particularly Wylfa 2.
I know that there remain some areas of this part of Wales that struggle with broadband connection and we recognise the importance of good reliable broadband, and mobile phone coverage, in both city and rural locations.
I know that you have championed the need for better broadband infrastructure that is key to your businesses.
Well, since the election, the UK Government signed a further contract as part of superfast broadband rollout – here in Wales - and we are seeing real results. There are now over one million homes and businesses in Wales with access to some of the fastest broadband in the world. We plan for 96% of Wales to be connected by next Spring and 95% of the UK the following year. A good example where Wales is at the forefront.
On mobile, a ground-breaking deal has been reached with mobile operators to share masts to enhance coverage, and the 4G roll out will reach 98% of the UK, with a minimum of 95% here in Wales.
All in all, this is an upbeat picture for the future of digital infrastructure across Wales.
Transport infrastructure is equally important to meet our productivity expectations; to encourage new investment; and to help people access the job opportunities that this brings.
Rrecent improvements to the Halton Curve - re-instating a direct rail link between North Wales and Liverpool, is a good start.
HS2 also has huge potential, with Crewe being the regional hub.
But we recognise that further investment in rail in North Wales is needed. The Chancellor on his recent visit recognised the importance of improvements to rail in North Wales and to North West England.
Next week I am meeting Edwina Hart to see how we can best take this forward – recognising the economic potential as well as the traditional measures which have focussed on passenger numbers and environmental considerations. Cross border co-operation is key to our bid.
We need an effective consortium of everybody with an interest – MPs, AMs, business leaders, councils – making the case for transport infrastructure with a clear set of priorities, a clear plan of action and clear funding commitments.
Voice for North Wales
This evening I have briefly touched much of the activity that is going on here in North Wales - both your innovation and exciting investments, as well as government policy aimed at supporting you and North Wales to develop further. Much has been achieved and there are more opportunities ahead of us.
The Northern Powerhouse is happening and with such political priority it will rebalance our economy.
But let me leave you with one final thought.
Similar opportunities and investments are being taking place elsewhere across the Northern Parts of the UK. Other regions are not standing still.
The Northern Powerhouse agenda is gathering momentum. Manchester is leading the way and was the first with its Metro Mayor. Significant powers are being devolved to other areas across the country – Manchester has received control over £1bn of spending and powers over transport, education, welfare and health & social care. There are a number of applications to follow in their footsteps. City Deals are being created right across the UK - from Aberdeen to Bristol to Cornwall. Behind these changes is a simple idea; money spent closer is often money spent wiser.
The Northern Powerhouse agenda is happening. It is an agenda that we must capitalise on. We cannot be left in the slow lane.
For North Wales to really achieve its potential, we need the voice for north Wales to be stronger than ever before.
You need to make your voice heard loud and clear to silence any political tension.
The CBI has a great track record of making its voice heard.