The vote to leave Europe is a chance to devolve some key decisions to North Wales instead of them being taken in Cardiff, according to a Government minister.
Guto Bebb, Under Secretary of State for Wales, told the influential Wrexham Business Professionals (WBP) the Brexit negotiations were also an opportunity for the region to develop stronger economic links with the North West.
The theme of the meeting in the Rendezvous restaurant at Coleg Cambria in Wrexham was powering regional prosperity and it was chaired by the college’s chief executive, David Jones OBE.
The WBP group is made up of successful businesses and highly skilled professional firms of solicitors, accountants and other business professionals working together to raise the profile of enterprise and expertise that exists in the region and beyond.
Mr Bebb, who revealed he was born in nearby Cefn y Bedd, stressed that Wrexham businesses must have a say in how Wales looks after Britain leaves Europe and that the whole of Wales must be at the heart of UK Government thinking when it comes to Brexit talks.
The Conservative MP for Aberconwy said: “The guiding principle of the UK Government over the next four years will be Brexit and how we respond to it will be a key issue for North Wales.
“We are facing a challenge but it’s all about how we respond to that challenge and deal with the risks and also the opportunities.
“However, it is important that we keep the business community and the general population informed about what we want to achieve.
“We need to put Wales at the heart of our thinking when it comes to the Brexit negotiations and as far as the Welsh Office is concerned there is a huge amount of consultation going on at the moment with businesses.
“This is because we need to have a compromise agreement in place in due course which looks at all the opportunities.
“It is vital that the voice of the Wrexham businesses community is heard and we will use the feedback we get from them to try to respond in a way that does ensure their priorities are part and parcel of our negotiating position.”
Mr Bebb added that arrangements for Brexit gave North Wales the chance to be considered as a region in its own right.
He said that while city growth deals were being worked out for Cardiff and Swansea, it was essential to produce a development strategy for North Wales.
“Too often people say that the area is forgotten about but in terms of growth deals it’s not about the UK Government saying what it will give them. It’s about Westminster saying, `we want to work with you – what do you want?’
“That’s why both the Secretary of State for Wales and myself genuinely welcome the policy document on regional growth just produced by the six local authorities in North Wales.
“It’s an ambitious plan which is not just a sticking plaster for the next few years but an attempt to respond to the needs of North Wales over the next 15 years. We must now see how this fits into the Brexit agenda.
“The responsibility now of the government in London is to work with stakeholders, to work with North Wales to see what can be delivered from the very ambitious plans that have been put forward by the six North Wales counties.
“One thing we do need to have now is a regional policy that addresses all parts of Wales and all parts of the UK.
“Working with the Welsh Government is absolutely essential for our success in North Wales and we have to make sure that we work in full partnership with them.
“After all, the new Secretary for the Economy is a local Assembly Member in this area. Ken Skates is now in that position and we have a strong working relationship with him at the Welsh Office and we have to build on that.”
Mr Bebb also welcomed the opportunity to work with the Welsh Government and councils in the North West of England on producing a strategy for North Wales’s development.
“That border is important when it comes to football but not so important when it comes to economic development,” he said.
“The economy of North Wales is very much tied to the economy of the North West of England. They have a lot to offer us but we also have a lot to offer them.
“The challenge is to work with all our stakeholders in North Wales to develop a growth deal which recognises devolution but also gives us the chance to work across the border.”
Responding to a question from David Jones about what part devolution would play in future plans for North Wales, Mr Bebb said: “Devolution is part and parcel of growth deals and some decisions affecting North Wales must be made in North Wales rather than in Cardiff. Brexit gives us the opportunity to bring together a coherent strategy for the region with the co-operation of both Cardiff and Westminster.”
Gill Kreft, the chair of Wrexham Business Professionals, was grateful to Mr Bebb for his insights in relation to Brexit.
She said: “It was encouraging to hear him talk about listening more to needs of North Wales and developing a coherent regional strategy to take advantage of the post-Brexit opportunities offered by the Northern Powerhouse initiative to cement our partnerships within North Wales and build closer ties with the North West.
“There appears to be a consensus developing that North Wales should have more say about its economic destiny and that can only be a good thing.”