Calls for new fund to help restart £14.2bn North Wales economy

Image by Anthony Woodhouse Photography

Business leaders in North Wales are urging the Welsh and UK governments to set up a £700,000 fund to help reignite the region’s economy and overcome the huge slump caused by the coronavirus crisis.

More than 50 companies and organisations have put their names to a letter sent by the Business Council of North Wales to Economy Minister Ken Skates MS and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart MP calling on them to establish a pilot project which could be replicated in other parts of the UK.

Among the big name firms backing the plea for the North Wales Ignition Fund are Zip World, Pendine Park, Moneypenny and Rondo Media, along with Dr Roy Bichan, a former chair of CBI Wales and deputy chair of the Welsh Development Agency.

According to the Business Council, the umbrella body for the private sector in North Wales, many businesses have ground to a halt as a result of the pandemic.

They say the fund is necessary to help fire up the region’s £14.2 billion economy again.

The fund would provide financial support for freelancers, the self-employed and micro-businesses to work together to develop and offer new products and services, as well as helping to accelerate new major capital investments in North Wales.

The Ignition Fund proposal developed by the Business Council has the support of organisations from 11 different sectors, including manufacturing, tourism and hospitality, creative and digital, social care, energy and construction.

Ashley Rogers, the commercial director of the Business Council, says the stakes are high.

The region’s world class manufacturing sector generated 20 per cent of the North Wales economy which was double the UK average.

In normal times the booming tourism and hospitality sector brought in more than £3.2 billion a year and employed more than 40,000 people.

Meanwhile, there were 14,000 working in the creative and digital sector in North Wales which collectively had a turnover of £707 million.

Mr Rogers said: “This is a grass roots developed scheme for North Wales by the private sector and wider partners, with what we need to immediately help spark our economic growth after the main elements of the lockdown are lifted.

“We are committed to rolling up our sleeves and working with officials in the public sector at both national and regional level to see this fund developed and delivered.

“We are asking Welsh Government to fund half of the scheme and UK Government to match that.

“At a total of £700,000 this is excellent value for money, given the scheme could result in helping to deliver 20 new investment projects in North Wales and the development of more than 20 new consortia of local businesses across the region.

Jim Jones, chief executive of North Wales Tourism and chair of the Business Council, said: “The delivery of the Ignition Fund is vital for the North Wales economy moving forward, whether it’s supporting our tourism, manufacturing or creative and digital businesses to invest and grow or reinforcing the local supply chain for our social housing and social care sectors.

“What we need is a flexible fund that hits the right spot and delivers within the next few months.”

Debbie Bryce, chief executive of the West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce, said: “Speaking to our members across North Wales it has been heartbreaking to hear the devastating impact that Covid-19 has had on their business since the lockdown was announced.

“Whilst the current financial support packages have been welcomed, it is extremely important to compliment this with additional support that businesses need to plan and invest for the future.

“The proposed North Wales Ignition Fund is key to putting some much needed momentum back into the economy as quickly as possible.

“It is vital that micro, small or medium sized businesses can access this fund to kick start their business and help maximise their potential growth.”

Mike Learmond, senior development manager for FSB Wales, added: “Enabling micro-businesses, the self-employed and freelancers in North Wales to grow, will be incredibly important for the regional economy once the lockdown is lifted.

“Encouraging and supporting them to work together and develop new products and services is key, given the importance of small businesses to our local communities. Regional schemes such as the proposed Ignition Fund, can help to add real value to North Wales, sitting alongside future national Welsh Government support.”

In April, the Business Council called for a £3 million Regional Hardship fund for North Wales to be established to help companies survive the immediate crisis.

Mr Rogers added: “The hardship fund was aimed at helping those businesses falling through the cracks on support or those organisations with special circumstances because they have substantial ongoing costs whilst closed.

“The Business Council hopes to see the main elements of the Regional Hardship Fund reflected in the next phase of Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience fund in June.”