Bridge over the River Severn. Source: Serge Freeman (via Wikimedia Commons)
Economy and Transport

Bridging the North-South Divide

The concept of the North-South divide is commonly one we associate with our English neighbour, with the North being linked with less developed areas, declining industries, and less investment in comparison to that of the south of England and regions within close proximity to the capital. However, this is not a concept that is unique to England. Indeed, it is one that can also be applied to Wales, writes Meghan Francis.

Many people within North Wales feel disconnected from the decision-making of Cardiff Bay, with many feeling as though North Wales has been left behind. The Welsh Government has denied the idea that instilled within its decision-making is a favouritism that sees greater investment in South Wales. Their counter-argument is that for every £118 spent per head in South Wales on road schemes and other investment projects, a comparable £135 per head is spent in North Wales. However, this has done very little to address the serious feelings of disparity between the two regions, and so the sentiments of disconnect and separation remain.

An article published by the Centre for Welsh Studies highlighted how the North is often perceived as being detached from the South. Indeed, the only direct route from South Wales to North Wales is the A483. There is no direct motorway link. Should you wish to take the train from Holyhead to Cardiff, it will take you 4 hours 45 minutes, a distance of around 200 miles – a distance that’s comparable to Wrexham to London, a train journey that takes an average of 2 hours and 36 minutes.

How can it be right that it is easier to travel to England than it is to go from one end of Wales to the other?

However, the lack of investment is not just apparent in infrastructure and transport. The largest health board in Wales – Betsi Cadwaldr – covers North Wales, yet has remained in special measures since 2015. Five years later and the situation doesn’t appear to be improving; new scandals have become the latest norm. The Welsh Labour Government’s funding response has lacked any form of urgency, leading to pressure on this frontline service. Is the health of those in the North not a priority?

Between these factors alone, it is understandable that the sentiment of disconnection and resentment runs so deep.

Levelling up the higher education sector is also an area that needs addressing. Wales has a total of eight universities – Cardiff, Cardiff Metropolitan, Swansea, University of Wales Trinity St. David, University of South Wales, Aberystwyth, Bangor, and Wrexham Glyndŵr. As someone from South Wales, I’m lucky enough to have a wide and varying choice in academia, all married with decent transport links. However, not all students are wedded with this luxury: students from North Wales often choose to leave home and study on the opposite side Offa’s Dyke in search for a better education. Indeed, it is clear from the list that these higher education institutions are disproportionately located in South Wales, leaving young people in North Wales with the question of struggling to travel down to South Wales or moving elsewhere.

These physical factors are, in part, driving young people out of the region and out of Wales. Investing in higher education opportunities in North Wales is one of many ways in which we can attempt to bridge the divide between North and South, paired with the hope of attracting more young people to Wales.

Specialised education centres is also a sub-sector that is lacking serious investment and attention. To become a veterinarian in Wales, you are limited to the choice of one university: Aberystwyth. However, the degree is not entirely based in Wales, with the vast majority of one’s learning – three years to be precise – is to be undertaken in Hertfordshire.

Through insufficient investment in higher education, Wales is missing an opportunity to boost local economies. For most, it is unsurprising to know that the student community contributes massive amounts to Wales’ economy – a total of £5bn to be precise. This is mirrored against the estimated 50,000 jobs created as a result of student spending, with off-campus expenditure generating over £2.7billion of Welsh GVA.

Spending such as this sustains local high streets, keeps our local economies afloat and encourages the introduction of new independent businesses. North or Mid Wales hosts a number of perfect locations that could facilitate the introduction of specialised higher education facilities due to the rural nature of their regions. And with this will come other benefits, such as encouraging more young people to stay within the confines of Offa’s Dyke whilst simultaneously encouraging more students to use the Welsh language.

It’s clear that in the devolutionary era, 21 years of Welsh Labour Government has concentrated efforts, investment, and opportunity in and around the confines of Cardiff Bay, leaving the rest of the country crying out for the investment it so desperately needs.

Meghan Francis is an international relations student at Swansea University & the Welsh Conservative Shadow Youth Cabinet Member for Health & Wellbeing.

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