WALES’S Finance Minister told an influential audience of business leaders that Wrexham is now the commercial capital of North East Wales.
Jane Hutt was one of two Welsh Government Ministers who were keynote speakers at the latest meeting of Wrexham Business Professionals (WBP).
The group is made up of highly skilled professional firms of solicitors, accountants and other businesses working together to raise the profile of expertise that exists in the region and beyond.
Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant, also addressing more than 100 WBP members and guests at the Ramada Plaza, said economic development in “flying” Wrexham and Flintshire were the envy of the south of Wales.
WBP Chair Gill Kreft urged the Ministers to develop a regional strategy which was deliverable and business friendly and one that encouraged businesses of any size to prosper.
She said: “It goes without saying that we understand Government policy and funding must be prioritised for the good of the country as a whole.
“That said, North East Wales cannot miss the wave of opportunity that presents itself at this time
“We are uniquely placed to maximise the impact of the Northern Powerhouse, Anglesey’s Energy Island initiative and the East-West commercial superhighway. It is an opportunity we cannot and must not miss.”
Both Ministers spoke on the theme powering regional prosperity and the climate for business in North East Wales, which has been the special focus of WBP since last autumn.
Ms Hutt said: “I am delighted to be in Wrexham which is now the commercial capital of the region.
“This is a real opportunity as your Finance Minister to learn more about the area, which I will be listening and learning about while I am here. I also want to reassure you about how we want to take forward our ambitions for North East Wales.”
The Minister said that while she believed the Welsh Government had made good progress since the height of the recession in 2008, in the broad economic context many challenges remained.
But she added: “The progress in economic performance has been particularly marked in North Wales and the Assembly is proud of what you are doing here.”
Against a background of a 3.6 per cent reduction in its budget over the next four years, the challenge for the Welsh Government would be, she said, to manage its priorities of health, jobs, educational attainment and support for deprived communities.
Another to priority, said the Minister, was investing in infrastructure to boost economic growth in every part of Wales.
On new tax-raising powers given to Wales by the UK Government as part of the devolution process, Ms Hutt said: “The ability to tax and borrow will provide greater flexibility and more options to invest in our priorities.
“The last tax levied in Wales was 800 years ago, so this is a great opportunity.
“We are also now fully devolved in terms of non-domestic rates and will have a land transition tax to replace stamp duty.
“However, taxes should be fair and simple and support jobs and growth. That is why we are setting up a tax advisory group to ensure business stability and consistency with England.
“We are also establishing a Welsh revenue authority to collect the new taxes and there will be further tax legislation after this year’s Welsh Government elections, so the contribution of business to all this is vital.”
The Minister said the government planned to spend £1.9 billion on new social infrastructure schemes across Wales, including £500 million on its 21st century schools programme, £250 million on housing and £150 million on flooding and coastal defence.
Another intention was to spend £50 million on upgrading the A55 arterial route through North Wales.
“We are listening and taking on board issues you raise and will explore new opportunities through the extra powers we now have,” she stressed.
Dealing with the issue of whether there is a “north south divide” in Wales, Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant, who represents Alyn and Deeside, said: “My South Wales colleagues in the Assembly are very envious of what is being done in the North.
“Wrexham and Flintshire are flying in terms of economic development.
“This region is top of the list when it comes to innovation and we have got to ensure that you stay there.”
Mr Sargeant detailed the three major pieces of legislation he had been overseeing since being appointed to the natural resources portfolio.
This included the new Planning Act, which he said aimed to streamline the “out-dated” current process.
He explained: “I believe that the economy is directly linked to the planning system but in Wales we have 25 different planning authorities.
“If we have a system that is not fit for purpose we must step in and make it work for you. We want businesses to have certainty and security when it comes to planning.
“We are trying to streamline the process so it can take a much more holistic view about where our clever investments should be made.”
The meeting’s other guest speaker was Alan McCall, a director of Nu Instruments based on the Wrexham Industrial Estate, who took members through his career.
This has seen him create from scratch a multi-million pound company which is a world leader in the field of building and installation of mass spectrometers.
His firm, which employs 130 people in Wrexham and at its bases in China and Japan, has established markets across the globe for these high-tech measuring instruments costing up to £2 million which have applications ranging from the nuclear and mining industries to cancer research.
Gill Kreft, thanked all three speakers and told them: “We have learned a lot from you and you have contributed a lot to the North East Wales debate.
“This region is perfectly placed to take advantage of initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse in England but our ease of doing business must be second to none.
“We must have a regional strategy to encourage businesses of all sizes and those businesses must be supported and inspired by great advice, which has been the aim of Wrexham Business Professionals since we set it up in 2009.
“We need greater confidence in the planning process and also have to tackle other problems such as utility connections, which take too long, and the shortage of development land.
“We also have to work closely with government, local authorities and educational establishments such as Glyndwr University and Coleg Cambria.
”All regions must have a commercial capital and in North Wales surely this must be Wrexham – and one day I hope we will gain the city status we need to further build confidence in our region.
“In the meantime, businesses of all sizes must be supported and inspired by great business advice and we must work together for our region to thrive and prosper.”