Successful city regions require actively managed networks of business, educational and government organisations rooted in communities and recognising their economic interdependence across regions. Contrary to crachach opinion, the local authorities of South Wales have long understood this reality.
The Williams report recommends fewer, larger local authorities. These will be large enough to develop an inward looking culture of hierarchical control and assumed self reliance but far too small to develop the synergies necessary to succeed in the global economy.
Vancouver is a successfully developing city region with a population of 2.2 million served by 22 local authorities with populations smaller than those in Wales. Its location puts the region at the interface of the North American and Asian economies. The region works as a network of municipalities which ensure that innovative businesses are attracted to a region which has successful universities working together, high levels of skills in the workforce, an integrated transport infrastructure and ambitions for further development.
Stuttgart is one of Europe’s most successful regions which combines the most advanced manufacturing with the most attractive environment and diverse cultural activity. Its governance is that picture of multi-tiered complexity which is anathema to Williams with 179 municipalities, 46 districts and a directly elected regional assembly for 2.7 million sitting alongside the Lander and the Federal Government. It works.
To succeed economically we will need to build a networked city region across the Severn estuary to include the cities of Cardiff, Newport, Bristol and Bath. The mix of valley towns and attractive hills, vibrant and creative city centres, advanced universities, manufacturing and service potential, a market of over 2 million people, a skilled and adaptable labour force – all this will attract global investment. The region will be an hour travel time form the global city of London and have its own interconnections including a world beating barrage providing road and rail links and making the region self sufficient in non-carbon producing energy.
All this will be combined with systems of active local democracy rooted in towns and villages and networked into regional administrations and national governments. The Williams Report has no relevance to this exciting vision; its implementation would boundary organisations into inward looking, restrictive patterns of conformist behaviour far away from the complex needs of the 21st century.