A new Ice Arena and Business Council for the City of Cardiff

Over recent years Cardiff has succeeded in attracting and retaining talented people.

So much so that it has one of the most highly skilled populations and is projected to grow faster than any of the major British cities.

This is because Cardiff is a great place to live.  Indeed, Cardiff was named as the ’Best City for Young People in Britain.’

This success is in part down to the fantastic cultural and leisure infrastructure that has been developed over the last 20 years, including:

  • The creation of Cardiff Bay;
  • St David’s shopping centre and the pedestrianisation of the city centre;
  • The Wales Millennium Centre;
  • The Millennium, SWALEC and Cardiff City Stadia; and
  • The International White Water Rafting Centre.

To this list we will soon be able to add a new Olympic standard, 3000 seat, ‘twin-pad’ Ice Arena capable of hosting international sporting events.

To celebrate the commencement of building works on the £16m Ice Arena project an unusual ice-cutting ceremony took place this week.


The Ice Arena is on track to open next summer, in time for the 2015 Ice Hockey season.  The arena is part of a £450m investment into the International Sports Village which also includes the construction of over 800 new houses – with nearly 20% of these being affordable homes – which are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

I was also hugely impressed by the adjacent Flow-Rider and White Water Rafting centre.  They’re unique facilities for a city to possess, and I’d recommend a visit to those of you who haven’t yet visited them!  The Flow-Rider involves surfing on jets of water on a bodyboard, with users able to progress to stand-up riding as their confidence and skills develop.  The centre also has a great café with a balcony and views over all the action on the white-water course.

During my visit, I also heard about plans for a new high-rope facility over the white water course, providing visitors and residents in Cardiff with an even greater range of adventure sports on the Cardiff Bay waterfront.  For more information on the facilities and courses available at the Flow-Rider and Rafting centre, visit www.ciww.com.


For me both these facilities – indeed the whole Sport Village development – have really helped to enhance Cardiff’s reputation as a world-class sporting and leisure destination.

Cardiff, as our capital city, has a leading role to play in lifting Wales out of the recent recession and onto a more sustained path of economic recovery.

I was therefore very pleased to recently speak at the launch of Cardiff’s new Business Council.   This is a new business-led organisation set up to grow Cardiff’s private sector by marketing and promoting the City of Cardiff and the wider Cardiff Capital Region as a world-class destination for investment, trade and tourism.

In developing a presence in New York, Beijing and Brussels, and through a programme of events in London and internationally, the Cardiff Business Council will be at the forefront of this effort.

The Business Council will also act as the primary interface between the City of Cardiff and the business community.

If Cardiff is to become Europe’s most liveable capital city it needs to be a great place to work and to do business.



Liveable cities attract, grow and retain talent

I believe Cardiff can be Europe’s most liveable capital city.

For me the fundamental quality of a liveable city is its ability to grow, attract and retain talented people.

I was therefore excited to be guided around the first phase of Cardiff and Vale College’s new £45m state-of-the-art campus by the Principal Mike James.  The project has been part-funded through a £20m grant from the Welsh Government and has also received ongoing support from officials from the City of Cardiff.

This campus is great news for Cardiff.

It’s located next to the railway and bus station, so is easy to access from across the city and the wider region.

It’s in the heart of the Central Enterprise Zone, and so is on the doorstep of many of the city’s major employers.

It’s right next door to some of our most deprived communities in Cardiff, where people need the skills and access to jobs most urgently.

It will also create a renewed sense of vitality in this part of the city, kick-starting the regeneration of Dumballs Road and creating exciting opportunities to improve the linkages between our city centre and the Cardiff Bay waterfront.

Most importantly of all, it will provide a platform for young people to learn the skills they need to fulfil their potential in Cardiff and so it was encouraging to hear more about some of the exciting projects the College has included within the new building, including a new public restaurant and hair salon, which will give students real life experience as part of their studies.

Access to great leisure and cultural opportunity, alongside a strong sense of cultural identity, are also vital components of any renowned liveable city.

As a capital city – with two official languages – Cardiff has an important point of cultural differentiation that other cities are not lucky enough to possess.  We have also developed excellent cultural infrastructure and have a world-class cultural and creative sector.

There are challenges – for example, last week I blogged about how the Council will need to manage its arts venues differently in the future – and it’s also true that funding for the arts has been particularly affected over recent years.

But my view is that we need to respond positively to these challenges.

I was therefore enthused to meet with representatives of the city’s arts community earlier this week to hear their views on how and where the city needs to direct its efforts.

The City Council will bring the reduced resources it has available to the table but will increasingly look to the cultural community to co-create solutions a new way forward.

And this new approach will need to focus on showcasing the city’s creative talent to the world, as well as attracting international talent to Cardiff. 

This is something we have already begun to do with Cardiff Contemporary. The Festival, which has been developed in partnership with Cardiff’s visual art, design and architecture communities, will give a platform for the best Welsh and international talent to be displayed across the city in October.

Finally, I’m looking forward to another big sporting weekend in the city, with both the Heineken Cup Final and the Amlin Cup Final taking place in Cardiff.

Major sporting events have raised Cardiff’s international profile and brought millions of tourists in to the city. For example:

– The economic impact on Cardiff from the 2011 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, both held in Cardiff, amounted to £24 million

– 84% of the 83,000 fans who attended both finals came from outside Wales

They are part of what makes Cardiff such a great place to live, and more importantly, I believe that they can inspire young, talented sportsmen and women to perform on the international stage themselves.

On that note, with one home-grown talent – Aaron Ramsey – scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final at Wembley last weekend, it would be great to see another – Gareth Bale – scoring the winner in this weekend’s European Champions League Final in Lisbon.



An open capital, HMS Dragon and exploring new options for our leisure and arts centres

Last weekend I welcomed the Indian High Commissioner to Cardiff Castle. Mr Mathai, who is a former Indian Foreign Secretary, was visiting Cardiff as part of a three day visit to strengthen ties between our two countries. During his visit Mr Mathai also met the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, and representatives from the city’s universities and the local business community.


Mr Raj Aggarwal, Honorary Consul of India in Wales; Cllr Phil Bale, Leader, City of Cardiff Council; Mr Ranjan Mathai, High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom and his wife, Mrs Gita Mathai

Cardiff, as our capital city, connects Wales to the world, and has always been an open and welcoming city. Between the beginning and the end of the 19th century Cardiff grew from a population of 6,000 to over 170,000. This staggering growth was the result of a booming economy and immigration from across Wales and beyond. 

Attracting international talent – in particular international students from major economies like India – remains important for creating a vibrant economy, as is highlighted in the latest work from the Centre for Cities.

In Cardiff overseas student numbers have trebled since 2000, and now make up over a quarter of the city’s total student population. It is hard to underestimate their importance in helping develop international business and academic links, supporting local retail and tourist markets as well as contributing to the cultural life of the city.


Over recent weeks I’ve posted about how the Council will need to manage and deliver services differently in the future.

The Council’s Cabinet has since approved an important report on the future management options for leisure centres, St David’s Hall and the New Theatre. We will now be undertaking an exercise to determine the level of interest in managing the facilities. We know from best practice in Wales and across the UK that leisure and arts venues can be managed in a number of different ways. Our challenge is to design the best way of managing these facilities in Cardiff which will allow the Council to reduce costs and ensure that an excellent and accessible service is delivered.


Finally, many of you will have seen HMS Dragon has docked in Cardiff Bay. Her Majesty’s Ship Dragon is to be given the Freedom of the City of Cardiff in a ceremony at City Hall this weekend.

Since 1886 only 62 people and 9 organisations have been awarded the honour, which is only bestowed on ‘persons of distinction’ and persons who, in the opinion of the Council, rendered eminent services to the City of Cardiff.

Granting HMS Dragon the Freedom of the City is a fitting tribute to the dignity and bravery with which the ship and its crew serve our country.

The ceremony will take place at 11am on May 18 with music from the Royal Marines Band from 10.45am. This will then be followed by a Freedom Parade through the city. I look forward to seeing you there!



Sony, Bloomberg and creating a co-operative capital

I blogged recently about how the Council will need to change to meet the challenges it faces, and so it was fascinating to hear Sir Howard Stringer talk on delivering change in a major organisation like Sony at the Cardiff Business Club. In particular Sir Howard praised the transformation at Sony’s Pencoed plant as a great example of delivering change through empowering staff and generating an entrepreneurial attitude, through better understanding their customers and through sharpening their systems and processes.

On a similar note, I read with interest a recent article in the South Wales Echo about Co-operative Council’s which I’ve discussed in previous posts. I’m pleased to see that this concept is generating a debate on how large public service organisations like the City of Cardiff Council can adapt to meet the major challenges they face.

And the City Council will have to change. A report which makes clear that the status quo is no longer an option will be considered at our next Cabinet meeting on Thursday 15th May.

This will set out a framework for the Council’s approach to change over the next 3 years. It outlines many of the alternative ways of delivering services that will need to be explored as well as the values and principles that will guide us through this period of change. It also makes clear that the needs of those who use our services must be at the centre of how they are delivered in the future, alongside a comprehensive approach to achieving internal efficiencies.

The Echo article suggests that in order to deliver these changes, there needs to be “a visionary at the heart of the Council with the ability to generate ideas that no one else has conceived”. But for me, no single person or organisation has a monopoly on good ideas. Instead, the right solution is much more likely to be found through listening closely to, working with, and empowering those who use and deliver local public services.

I know this is possible because it’s already happening in other major cities, with similar examples in Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow and Newcastle.

And there are promising signs here in Cardiff as well.

You may have read that Cardiff’s submission to the Bloomberg Mayor’s Challenge – a competition for bold new solutions to city-challenges – has reached the final 21 from an initial 150 applications from cities across the world. Our idea really excited the judges and would look to motivate and empower people to make small improvements in their lives or in their communities. The ultimate goal would be to generate a multiplier effect, translating into huge gains for the city. This is an idea taken from sports, like cycling and football, where it is accepted that a series a small positive changes add up to make a large impact.

Other great examples of this co-operative approach include:

– Our Families First programme which involved young people in helping to design a £29m programme to support families in Cardiff that are in most need;
– Cardiff’s 6 new Neighborhood Partnerships which will bring local people and other local partners together to address issues and build greater community resilience;
Cyd Cymru, our collective energy-buying scheme that is already helping people save money on their energy bills;
Cardiff Start, a community interest company which is supporting tech start-ups to create high-skilled jobs in the fast growing digital economy.

These initiatives weren’t dreamt up by a single visionary sat in an office in Cardiff County Hall. They have all come from motivated and empowered people – citizens, businessmen and women, academics and public sector workers – coming together to understand what works, explore new ideas and co-design the best solutions.

Through adopting an open approach to change, based upon strong public service values, I believe we can nurture the kind of entrepreneurial spirit and culture in the City of Cardiff that Sir Howard Stringer argued was fundamental to the successful reinvention of Sony in South Wales.



New jobs, EURO2020 and a changing Council

This week began with some really exciting news, with the announcement that fast-growing US cyber-security firm Alert Logic has chosen to establish their Headquarters for Europe, the Middle East and Asia in Cardiff, bringing over 100 well-paid, highly skilled jobs to the city.

For me, this is not just about attracting significant new investment from the United States. It’s a clear demonstration that our city’s economic strategy is working and that the Central Enterprise Zone, centred around Callaghan Square, is beginning to deliver tangible benefits for residents and businesses across the city-region.

Talking to Executives from the company earlier this week, they were very impressed with the all-round package of support that the City of Cardiff and its partners have been able to provide. This really is testament to the great work being done by staff within the Council’s Economic Development team, the Cardiff Business Council and the Welsh Government.


I am convinced that Alert Logic will be the first of many such innovative and successful companies attracted to what Cardiff has to offer.

Over recent times, Cardiff has become renowned internationally for hosting great sporting events, with several more in the pipe-line. We already know that we will be hosting key games during the 2015 Rugby World Cup, including 2 quarter finals, as well as the round-the-world yacht race and the IAAF half marathon. This is in addition to the events coming up this year such as the Heineken Cup final in May and the UEFA Super Cup Final in August.

I’m therefore confident that Cardiff’s bid to be chosen as one of the 13 host cities for the EURO 2020 European Football Championships will be successful. I’m equally confident Wales will qualify and that Bale will be the tournament’s top scorer! That’s Gareth Bale, not me.

EURO 2020

“Team Wales”

On a more serious note, events like these are important for Cardiff. Bringing the world’s most prestigious and most watched sporting events to Wales will also bring visitors to the city, enhance our international profile and will make Cardiff an even better place to live.

Taken together, Alert Logic and the Euro 2020 bid are two great examples of what we are doing with partners to make Cardiff Europe’s most liveable capital city.

Finally, this week saw the publication of a report which sets out how the City of Cardiff Council will need to change to meet the challenges it faces. Over the next 3 years, in the region of £90m savings must be found, on top of the £50m savings that will need to be delivered this year. And this is at a time when demand for our services is rising.

I believe that we have to respond positively to these challenges. The time for simply salami-slicing budgets is over. This is important if we are to have a clear understanding of the needs of those who are using our services and what they are likely to need in future. We need to reflect on how we deliver services in the city, and lead a change in our approach based on the principle of co-operation and the involvement of communities in shaping the services they receive.

That is why I will soon be launching the Cardiff Debate, a series of events which will enable you to have your say on the future of local public services in the city. This is a really important issue, and so I’d encourage everybody to get involved in the community events that will be taking place over the months ahead.