Wrexham – Town or City?

The issue that seems to occupy most people’s minds in Wrexham and the area at the moment is that of City Status, and whether or not Wrexham should apply for it. 

Many influential people have voiced their support for city status – politicians and high profile members of the regional business community. 

However I’m against the plan, and believe that it would not help Wrexham nor the area in any significant way. 

The arguments for it seem to revolve around economic stimulation that might come as a result of  having a City title. 

But that doesn’t wash. 

St Asaph, St David’s, Brecon, and Bangor are all cities (by virtue of having a Cathedral rather than through Royal Charter), and none of these cities have a surplus of jobs and aren’t exactly economic powerhouses! 

Newport was granted city status ten years ago, and only last week their Conservative leader was urging Wrexham’s Lib Dem leader (the Cameron-Clegg special relationship seems to be more than skin deep!) to go for City Status.

Now, by stripping away the propaganda and the dressed up language, what he says is that City Status has provided Newport with funding for infrastructure, specifically the railway station. It would probably have been more accurate however to say that the railway station redevelopment came about not because of city status but because of the Ryder Cup that was being held up the road at the Celtic Manor. 

He refers to the Velodrome – I stand to be corrected on this, but my understanding is that the Veldrome was built in 2003, and would therefore have been granted funding and planning permission before Newport ever became a city. 

It is claimed that City status has attracted businesses. That is highly unlikely. Businesses will have been attracted to Newport over and above other towns because of a combination of factors, the biggest of which is labour costs. If there is a ready pool of labour available to carry out the work at a cheaper price than another town or city then a company will set up shop there. This however has nothing to do with city or town status, but is a damning indictment of UK Government’s policy on focusing economic growth in the south east of England. Other factors are cheap business rates, its proximity and ease of access to economic and political centers, and possible grants that might be flying around. 

Newport City Leader also says that city status has given them the ability to attract a numer of large public sector employers. Saddly, a few days after this statement of encouragement by Newport’s leader the think tank Centre for Cities released their annual Cities report. In it they identified Newport as being one of the

“…five vulnerable cities which may not feel the full benefits of national economic recovery for some time: Sunderland, Liverpool, Birkenhead, Swansea and Newport. These places will be affected more by Government spending cuts, given they have low skill levels and levels of business activity, more people employed in the public sector, and more people claiming unemployment benefits.  They will need additional financial support from central government, and a realistic local plan of action.”

 Now this is clearly bad news for these five cities, and as a former Swansea boy it saddens me to hear of the plight of a city that is still very much close to my heart. It is not something to celebrate, and I only refer to it because of its possible implications to Wrexham. 

Wrexham should not take any lessons from the Conservative leader of Newport. In 2009 Corus mothballed the steelworks at Llanwern with a loss of 1000 jobs; Lloyds axed 200 jobs there; Panasonic slashed their workforce there; and last year it was announced that the UK Passport Office would close with a loss of 300 jobs. These are just some of the terrible job losses that have affected Newport City recently. Did having city status help? Not in the least. 

As I said it gives me no joy to write about the catalogue of problems that has resulted in Newport’s weak economic position. Yes city status might have attracted the massive £200m Retail shopping project with Debenhams and others opening large shops there during the boom years. But at what cost to local traders? 

Retail cannot be expected to kick start the economy. Retail and the service sector can only be successful if the other sectors, (most notably primary and secondary manufacturing supported by a strong education programme), supply the surplus income required to spend on these services. 

Instead of spending our limited resources on applying for city status we should look at developing a strategy that will work to develop the skills and the resources that we have. Technological manufacturing is a valuable employer, and we have the skills and information to develop Wrexham and the area as a technological leader. The town is a centre for learning with a proud record of working with industry, and developing innovative projects. The area produces some of the finest foods, and we have the potential to create energy in abundance. None of these require city status, but it does require a vision and political leadership. 

I would suggest kindly that WCBC dismiss any notion of applying for city status and instead develop a vision that will make Wrexham a proud town once again.

You can sign the petition against city status here.

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