Our managing director Tracy North took to the stage as chair of CBI North Wales for its annual dinner on Thursday evening.
More than 200 business leaders from across the region were in attendance at the dinner, considered to be the top business event of the year in North Wales.
The CBI is the UK’s biggest private sector employers’ representative body. Its strong membership in the region includes Airbus, Ipsen, Toyota and Welsh Slate.
This year’s keynote speakers were Mike Wright, former executive director of Jaguar Land Rover and David Byron, former boss of airline bmibaby.
Tracy’s speech focused on her work with the CBI, local governance and the need for progression of the Northern Powerhouse.
Her speech in full is below.
Speech by Tracy North, CBI North Wales Chair
I won’t keep you for long, I’ve got three key messages I think it is important to convey to you this evening.
They are: One, an update on CBI North Wales; Two, a message about local government reorganisation; and, finally, a point about the growth deal that is going to give us access to the much-heralded Northern Powerhouse.
Firstly, the CBI in North Wales has welcomed several new members recently, a number of whom have a presence here tonight. Our review of how the CBI engages with members is ongoing. As part of a wider CBI strategic review, we continue to put members first.
We’ve chosen as our charity tonight the Wales Air Ambulance. It costs £6m a year to run, gets no money from the Welsh Government and is funded entirely by public donations. It’s recently started carrying NHS Wales doctors on its helicopters, meaning that more life-saving interventions can be made on site. It’s a very deserving cause. Envelopes are on your table. Please make a donation.
My second point is about local government reorganisation. We all know how important local government is in developing and maintaining an attractive business environment – from local schools to business support and procurement. Many local authorities work hard in a challenging financial environment.
However, most of us in business accept that 22 local authorities is too many for Wales and reform is needed. Before the recent Welsh Assembly election, inertia was deemed to have set in within some local authorities, with decision-making postponed because reorganisation had been promised and officers awaited guidance.
There was a general acceptance that, after the election, reorganisation would get under way.
Not so, it seems. Now the First Minister has said that it is to be revisited. There is talk of fewer council mergers, driven partly by the political reality of a minority government and the need to get cross-party consensus on a way forward.
If a much smaller number of councils was deemed to be most effective and economical before the election, the case should still apply now.
Businesses want this new Welsh Government to stick to the plan and deliver fewer but better local authorities, more able to improve public services for both businesses and local communities.
Many CBI member companies have carried out their own reorganisations. They are willing to share experiences to help our councils reform properly. And the CBI is willing to publicly support the tough decisions that need to be made.
This leads me to point three: the growth deal for North Wales. This was announced by Chancellor George Osborne in the March budget. It’s North Wales’ gateway to the Northern Powerhouse. Already, we have a successful, borderless east-west economy, trading between North Wales and the North West of England.
Our businesses are now seeking a game-changing growth deal that sets up our region to compete and prosper for decades to come. This way, we’ll create more jobs, bigger tax receipts and better standards of living.
Cardiff City Deal has its Metro and Swansea has ultra-fast broadband as its catalyst. North Wales’ deal doesn’t have a big idea – yet.
The Treasury says our growth deal should be business-led. We want to contribute ideas and will support bold decisions made by both local and central government. The CBI’s door is open.
In conclusion, procrastination is no good for government, business, or the taxpayer. Plans are all well and good, but it’s delivery that counts.
With the Welsh election out of the way for another five years, we have an opportunity for the North Wales economy to make astounding progress. Let’s get on with it.