North Wales 'needs more devolution' for powerhouse boost

Commuting map Image copyright Dr Alisdair Rae/Sheffield University
Image caption The commuting patterns in the north of England and north Wales

North Wales needs more devolution if it is to fully benefit from the "northern powerhouse," Manchester city council's leader has said.

Sir Richard Leese is a senior figure in the drive to unite the north of England as an economic force.

North Wales could benefit from better transport links and growth potential and the Welsh government had been supporting the development, he said.

But Sir Richard also said the region "needed more freedom".

"Devolution to Wales has to go beyond the Welsh assembly," he told the BBC's Wales At Work programme.

"I'd argue Cardiff and its city region ought to be able to do some of the things we're doing in Greater Manchester.

"North Wales again needs to be given more power by the Welsh assembly to enable it to work better with us in the north of England."

"From the discussions I've had in north Wales, the growth potential is enormous but it's more likely to be realised if we can work out those synergies between what's happening in north Wales and just the other side of the border.

"They need to be given the freedom by the Welsh assembly to do that."

Image copyright Getty Images

The cities of the "Northern Powerhouse" stretch from Manchester and Liverpool to Sheffield, Leeds and Hull and up to Newcastle and Sunderland in the north east.

Radical improvements to transport connections over the next 15 to 20 years could create a single labour market and "virtual city" of 15 million in the north of England, which could provide an economic counter-balance to London.

Sir Richard, who is also chair of the Core Cities cabinet which includes Cardiff, said north Wales could also benefit from that and there was a recognition in Cardiff Bay that the links between north Wales and northern England were more important than those with south Wales.

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Media captionSir Richard Leese says north Wales needs more freedom as a region to benefit from the northern cities of England

Sir Richard said energy production, advanced manufacturing and health innovation and digital industries were not just based in the urban cores and some of these sectors already existed in north Wales.

"North Wales has the opportunity to play into and contribute to those sectoral strengths of the north of England.

"For industry in north Wales its route to market is through the North of England. So what we're do to improve transport connections, there's a shared interest in extending that beyond the north of England."

He said care had to be taken with comparisons, as Wales had the same population as Greater Manchester but he said areas like transport and business support might benefit from greater devolution within Wales.

Tracy North, chair of the CBI in north Wales said company owners and managers wanted to be involved with the Northern Powerhouse but there was not an obvious body or mechanism for doing so.

"The CBI wants the next Welsh government to create a regional development corporation for north Wales," she said.

"It would need to be set up immediately after the election. It would have funding and staff, run in partnership with business and be unencumbered by local red tape.

"This way, the north Wales region can act independently to optimise economic opportunities, without going through the impracticality of discussing and voting on devolution, which would out of necessity take years and years."

A Wales Office spokesman said it was committed to delivering a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to the people and communities of this country and wanted the Welsh government to "have the same confidence and faith in Wales".

"Only by giving local areas the powers and freedom they need can we further drive economic growth and create the jobs and investment opportunities this country needs," he said.

The Welsh government said: "As part of the Mersey Dee Alliance, we already recognise the economic importance of cross border working and links. We will work with the UK Government to ensure north Wales has full potential to exploit the maximum economic advantage from any Northern Powerhouse proposals."

  • There is more on this story on BBC Wales At Work at 18:30 GMT on Thursday 14 January and later on BBC iPlayer.

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