The leaders of three major Welsh councils are calling for a comprehensive and significant support package to help cities through the pandemic.
Those who head Cardiff Council, Newport City Council and Swansea Council say that, although direct action continues to be taken by local authorities and major investment made, cities are being particularly badly impacted by the crisis.
The challenge has been brought into sharp focus this week by the troubles of high street retail giants Arcadia and Debenhams. Cardiff, Newport and Swansea together employ tens of thousands of people in retail and hospitality.
The council leaders said: “The news about Arcadia and Debenhams is a severe blow to the cities of Wales.
“These announcements could have a potentially catastrophic domino impact on other retailers who depend on the footfall created by anchor stores.
“The effect could be widespread too – if the cities struggle, everyone will struggle.
“A comprehensive and significant support package is required to help cities through the challenges.”
The leaders acknowledge that the pandemic has impacted on all communities. However, they say that:
- The pandemic is hitting cities harder in every way;
- Its health impacts are more concentrated and severe in cities;
- The stop-start approach to the economy is having deep and damaging impacts on the retail and hospitality sectors which characterise city economies;
- Wales and its regions depend on cities as the engines of economic growth.
They said: “As councils, we have all been working with our retail partners to help them over the past months.
“Now, as cities, we are deeply concerned about the potential knock-on impacts on our retail heartlands.
“Our high streets have faced the growing challenge of online shopping – now the situation has been fueled by the pandemic.
“We cannot allow unmanaged decline in our city centres so we are calling on the Welsh Government to use all levers at its disposal to protect our city centres.
“This includes relief on business rates during the pandemic and beyond, increased grant support for the retail and hospitality sectors and enterprise zone status.
“We would like to see the Economic Renewal Fund 4 brought forward and focused on our city and town centres.
“Our city centres are the engines of the Welsh economy. If they fail, Wales fails.
“Our city centres collectively employ well over 100,000 people across South Wales, around one in every eight jobs, and that’s without considering their wider supply chain.
“The crisis of city centres strikes at the heart of the Welsh economy, and needs urgent and extensive support from government to stimulate recovery.
“Needless to say, high concentrations of businesses in our city centres are making a vital contribution to the economy but also to Welsh public finances, through their rates.
“Support now is crucial to sustaining our cities’ collective ability to anchor Wales’ emerging city-regions.”
The call by the council leaders is supported by Business Improvement Districts thatrepresent more than 2,500 businesses in the three city centres.
Swansea BID, FOR Cardiff and Newport Now Business Improvement Districts said: “Businesses have been making heroic efforts, at great personal cost, to keep the city centre economy going and to protect vital jobs – but so many business owners are at breaking point or beyond.
“We know that once city centres are hollowed out by the toppling of businesses, it is often the death knell for them.
“Swift and generous support, accompanied by a well-thought-out recovery plan developed working with us as businesses, is essential.
“Allowing city centres to wither away is unacceptable, and a comprehensive and significant support package would help city centres through these challenges.
“Our government now needs to use all its levers at its disposal to protect our city centres and quickly.”