How to Improve Welsh Infrastructure

Earlier this month DataKom MD Jay Ball added his thoughts to the Western Mail, giving his thoughts on infrastructure in Wales.

Here’s a full transcript of what he said:

6 Infrastructure Priorities for Welsh business

By Jay Ball

Infrastructure is high on the political agenda, with roads and railways making up a big part of the election manifestos earlier this year.

But sometimes the politicians have a clouded view – more interested in political point scoring than what is actually needed.  That means sometimes the business view is lost.
In 2013 and 2014 my company DataKom was on the Fast Growth 50 list – we now have a multi-million pound turnover after starting less than 10 years ago. As a businessman growing a business in Wales, these are the investments I think are needed to keep business in Wales competitive. 

Rail networks

As a business working across Wales and parts of England, it’s crucial we can quickly and reliably visit our clients.

Earlier this month, the UK Government revealed that Network Rail had missed 1/3 of its targets for improvement of the rail network.  (source:  http://www.nce.co.uk/news/transport/more-than-a-third-of-rail-enhancement-targets-missed/8684623.article)
The debate about whether to electrify the rail links as far as Swansea, let alone Carmarthen, shouldn’t even be a debate in my view.  If we want to grow we need to look outside our borders – and rail is a huge part of that.

The problems aren’t limited to South Wales.  There have been campaigners trying to get the line from Lampeter to South Wales reopened – potentially opening up new employment opportunities for people in rural areas.

The roads

The M4 is overcrowded and busy – and a relief road is needed.  There’s no question from a business perspective – time is money.

But the problems aren’t just limited to South East Wales, the road network across Wales needs work.  The A55 in North Wales has been crying out for investment – and the Welsh Government is currently asking the EU for more funding to pay for upgrades.

Airport

On the topic of transport, if it’s going to be competitive globally, Wales needs an airport.  Business is increasingly global – and if we want to compete on a global stage we need to be connected to it.

In the first quarter of 2015, Welsh exports totalled £3,124 million. (https://statswales.wales.gov.uk/Catalogue/Business-Economy-and-Labour-Market/Businesses/Exports/welshexports-by-quarter-destination)

With limited flights in Bristol, and Birmingham and London several hours away by car, it’s crucial that Wales has a sustainable airport.  We welcome the return of Cardiff Airport – and hope it gets the support it needs. 

Broadband 

By 2016, the Internet economy will be contributing 12.4 percent of GDP in the UK, compared with a G-20 average of 5.3 percent according to BCG.  With that comes expectation – businesses are expected to send and receive files on Dropbox, or have high-quality Skype conversations.  Without world-leading broadband – we will fall behind. 

And research from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) suggests that a 10% increase in fast broadband penetration can result in between 0.25% and 1.38% growth in a country’s gross domestic product (GDP).  (source:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27186354)

As part of the delivery of superfast broadband scheme we may be slightly biased – but we think broadband really is one of the most important infrastructure investments facing Welsh business.  We’re proud to have connected over 200 businesses in the last 12 months.

Renewables

Without energy none of the above would be possible.  And it’s hard for experts to predict what oil prices will be in three months, let alone three years or three decades.

Without investment in producing our own energy, we’ll forever be at the mercy of oil prices – which ultimately drive up prices of everything.  Which in turn affects our margins and profitability.

In Wales we’re blessed with natural resources such as wind and rain – and we should take advantage of them.  The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon is a great project – and needs to be the springboard for many more.

Town centres

Aside from all the big infrastructure agendas that connect us to the rest of the world, we also need to focus on what brings people to us.

For too long high rates, poor transport networks, expensive parking and restrictive planning departments have held back our cities and towns.  Instead they are being replaced by out of town outlets – which create jobs but at the expense of other (independent) jobs.

If we want Wales to be a great place to live, work and do business, we need to take an inside-out approach.  We need to make our cities great places to live – to be greener and to be more functional.  That’ll attract talent to Wales – people who value varied life – that will help us grow further.

That means sometimes allowing the purpose of buildings to be changed more easily – otherwise we will end up with a lot more units.