Western powerhouse should plug into region’s high-growth sectors to spur economic growth, says report

March 14, 2021

Cyber technology, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy and the green economy should be harnessed to drive recovery and growth in the Western Gateway, the regional powerhouse that includes Swindon, the West of England and South Wales.

The recommendation comes in an independent report published this week which also suggests the region should focus on raising productivity levels and realising the potential of land, buildings and people currently unemployed or underemployed. 

The Western Gateway, a cross-border partnership of eight cities either side of the River Severn and with a population of 4.4m people, was launched in November 2019 as the UK’s third regional powerhouse to unleash its potential and secure similar economic benefits to the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine.

The new report, Western Gateway Economic Position Statement, was commissioned by the Western Gateway Partnership and produced by Oxford Economics and Hardisty Jones Associates, a development consultancy based in Nailsea and Cardiff.

It says the Western Gateway must now identify clear objectives and measures of success to make the most of the opportunities available – and these should form part of the next stage of an independent economic review of the region.

It also responds to one criticism of the powerhouse – that its area is too big and diverse – by its saying its geography works well in economic terms.

At present the partnership stretches from Swansea in the west to Swindon in the east and from Salisbury in the south to Cheltenham in the north. 

The partnership board, which includes local authorities, the West of England Combined Authority, the Cardiff Capital Region, three local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and two higher education representatives, is chaired by Katherine Bennett CBE, Airbus senior vice-president and soon to be CEO of the UK’s High-Value Manufacturing Catapult.

Ms Bennett, pictured, said: “The first phase of our independent economic review provides an excellent foundation and evidence base for our work in the Western Gateway.

“It sets a clear direction to ensure we enhance our strengths, build on our reputation as a great place to live and work, and ready ourselves to address both the major challenges we collectively face to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate emergency.”

Oxford Economics head of global cities research Richard Holt described the Western Gateway as one of the UK’s most promising regions, with great strength in modern technologies and excellent universities.

“If partners can pull together and build on what each part offers the others, it can achieve faster growth for the benefit of all residents,” he said.

Hardisty Jones Associates director Stuart Hardisty added: “It was clear, in speaking to many partners and stakeholders, that the partnership is maturing and there is a strong desire to build momentum, capitalising on the key sector strengths and opportunities across the Western Gateway.

“Grappling with how to deliver sustainable and inclusive improvements for the whole area, as well as identifying where to collaborate with other partnerships will be the next phase.”

A second phase of the independent economic review will be conducted this spring and summer and will include a series of in-depth analysis of the Western Gateway’s strengths and opportunities to deliver clean, green and inclusive growth.

The research carried out by Oxford Economics and Hardisty Jones Associates included 43 interviews with 75 individual people from 45 organisations across the gateway region and beyond, including a number of organisations drawn from or spanning other parts of South West England.

A joint webinar with the University of South Wales to assess its findings is to be held in the spring.

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