The UK’s role in global trade and investment is changing. In the global market for goods and services, the UK’s share is in decline - down from 6.1% to 3.6% since 1980 - as new challenges and challengers have weakened our position. The upshot is as a country we cannot rely on existing skills, historical relationships or legacy perceptions to drive future success.
PwC invited stakeholders from around the country and further afield to a virtual summit to discuss how the UK can carve a new path, with trade and investment at the heart of this. The premise going in was that there are three global fundamentals: global markets are more competitive than ever; COVID-19 and protectionism are challenging the existing order; and automation and technology will change everything. On top of that, there are three challenges for the UK: its traditional strengths are under threat; the UK can’t be good at everything; growth needs to be inclusive.
Regional Market Leader
As the Regional Market Leader for PwC in Wales, I led the breakout discussion with people from tech, law, local and national government, industry groups, financial services, and academia from Wales. With so much focus in 2020 on COVID-19, it was refreshing for me to be part of a conversation that looked beyond the pandemic. We discussed how playing to Wales’ strengths as a nation is paramount alongside investing in the digital industries of the future, and how in doing so we need to make sure our growth is sustainable and shared widely.
First, it's about building on what Wales is already good at. Manufacturing remains a key part of the Welsh economy, and while heavy industry is not what it was, the space is being filled by high-value sectors including electronics, aerospace, automotive and healthcare. For example, in South Wales we already have the Aston Martin Lagonda production and technology centre operating, and the world's first compound semiconductor cluster is expanding to create thousands more highly skilled jobs.
Alongside advanced manufacturing, Wales is already building a name for itself as an important cyber security hub. It was noted during the discussion that developing cyber excellence means we develop the Welsh brand as being a secure nation to do business with, which helps attract further investment from other sectors. It’s something we at PwC Wales firmly believe in and will continue to invest in, as we grow our team in Cardiff to help clients all over the UK and beyond. Of course, it’s not that cyber security, or indeed the wider tech ecosystem, is in itself a sector; more, tech is an enabler that we need to put to maximise to its full potential to give Wales a competitive edge - building on our credibility that Wales is a secure place to do business.
Secondly, it was felt growth must be inclusive, increasing opportunities, by making sure people have the skills and tech they need to be a part of tomorrow’s Wales. PwC research during the pandemic shows the stark relationship between those who can work from home and income. Equipping people to enable them to operate in new ways means investing in technology infrastructure alongside skills and education - where business has a key role. At PwC our ‘New World. New Skills’ initiative is a US$3bn commitment to upskilling globally. In Wales, we’re running a schools programme off the back of this where 3,000 students from 20 Welsh schools have signed up. The programme helps build confidence and key employability skills, including digital upskilling, aimed at those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Thirdly, the inclusive growth Wales needs must go hand in hand with sustainability. This is about making the most of our sustainable sources of energy to power Wales and further afield. About half of the hydroelectric power produced in Wales serves areas in England and some of Europe’s largest wind-powered electricity-generating installations are in Wales. These abundant natural resources give us a competitive edge, and the basis for sustainable expansion. Green finance will grow as will supporting businesses - 80% of which in Wales are SMEs - with making sure their supply chains are more sustainable. As mentioned before, our wider tech prowess can be the great enabler for this.
Events like the one we hosted reinforce the point that repositioning Wales into the 2020s is not the work of the Welsh Government alone. It can only be done by the public and private sectors continuing to work together - and finding ways to cooperate more effectively in areas that solve important problems. So, that’s linking higher education to business and government, and ensuring businesses can be involved in key decisions.
On top of this, it’s about communicating this new direction and new narrative to people. We have to tell the world what Wales is about and why it’s where they need to be. Creating the aspiration is important and getting people to buy into that big idea likewise, then making sure that we can show as a country what it is we’re able to do. It’s also important that we are not afraid to tell people about this and develop the momentum to get Wales where it needs to be: a place that thinks globally and acts locally. Whatever happens, it is evident the next steps in Wales’ development needs to be led by all groups interested in its success. This PwC event was a contribution to that discussion.