Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns chats to 
The Business about what scrapping the tolls could mean for south east Wales...

The Business: Why did you decide to hold the Severn Growth Summit?
Alun Cairns:
When I became Secretary of State I made it my number one priority to abolish the tolls and send a message to industry, commuters and tourists alike that Wales is open for business. 
When the tolls are removed later this year, it will signal the start of a potential transformation of the joint economic and cultural prospects of South Wales and the South West of England.
The value of connectivity between these two regions is clear beyond doubt. And it is the importance of this collaboration that is driving the UK government’s commitment to bolster these existing relationships and develop new partnerships across the nations. The Industrial Strategy fully commits to developing growth corridors that transcend the four nations of the UK and that is what the Severn Growth Summit was all about. 
We brought together representatives from business, education, cultural and the digital sectors from both sides of the Severn to co-operate on opportunities to help make our economies stronger, more dynamic and fit for the future.
And it is a conversation that we want to carry on way beyond the summit, with a similar event planned for the English side of the border in the autumn. 

TB: Why get rid of the tolls?
While the bridges have served commuters, us for more than 50 years, they have also been a symbol of an economic barrier and a hindrance to the future prosperity of Wales. 
We have listened and have promised we will abolish the tolls to all vehicles at the end of 2018. The move means the South Wales economy could potentially see a boost of around £100 million a year.
Abolishing the tolls will drive the biggest economic stimulus Wales has seen in decades and create the most natural economic growth corridor spanning Cardiff through Newport to Bristol. 
We have the opportunity to create an economic region on the Western side of the UK which can compete with the Northern Powerhouse, the Midlands Engine and the economy of London and the South East. 
From Bath to Swansea we can create a critical mass which can raise prosperity, create closer collaboration and competition and improve social and cultural opportunities for people who live in the region.
This is just the beginning. With further announcements related to the crossings later this year, the structures will soon be seen as a positive symbol of a newly invigorated and successful economic and social partnerships between communities.

TB: What will it mean for our region?
We are making politics fit business – not business fit politics. It represents a clear symbol of breaking down the economic and historic barriers which have hindered Wales’ prosperity, while supporting the union of the UK.
I envisage we will see a boost to Welsh employment opportunities and the fostering of lasting relationships between the economies of South Wales and the South West of England.
And Wales will be coming from a position of great strength. In 2016, Cardiff was the fastest growing capital city in the UK. The capital region is also quickly establishing itself as hotbed of research and development, with innovative projects being driven forward with the joint backing of the UK and Welsh governments. 
Take for example the long-term project being driven by one of Wales’ leading technology firms IQE and Cardiff University – a shining example of what can be achieved through collaboration. The region is aiming to become Europe’s major cluster for firms developing the technology behind robotics, 5G and driverless cars. 
Businesses and governments at all levels are working together to support and nurture the region as a true global player in the new and emerging technologies. 
This joint working to build and grow a world-leading cluster of hi-tech expertise in Wales is exactly the type of initiative that the South Wales economy needs to create jobs, drive productivity and deliver prosperity for years to come. 

TB: How should we prepare for no tolls?
I want to ensure that visitors and investors know what Wales has to offer socially, culturally and economically. 
Most importantly, I want the world to know how accessible we are to business, commuters and leisure seekers. 
We have already seen companies on both sides of the border benefitting from the removal of VAT on the tolls and I hope that businesses will look to the potential opportunities which abolishing the tolls will bring.
From a tourism perspective, South Wales has a wealth of wonderful attractions, activities and events for visitors who may have seen the tolls as a barrier in the past. I want every new visitor to leave with a clear message about everything Wales, its people and its impressive landscape has to offer.
More than 350 people took the first step to finding out more about what opportunities lie before them on the other side of the Severn by attending the Severn Growth Summit when we were able to look across the border for new contacts and new collaborations which will make our mutual economies stronger and more dynamic.

TB: How easy will it be to persuade businesses to move here? 
South Wales with its renowned pharmaceutical, life sciences and creative sector industries continues to be a draw for investors who want to take advantage of the expertise the region has to offer.
But if we want to stimulate every part of our economy – particularly at this time of great economic change – then we need to create the right conditions for generating ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship. The decisive action to abolish the Severn tolls will be a key catalyst for this ambition.
South east Wales has an impressive track record of attracting business investment and giving them the support they need to flourish. 
We must continue to welcome investors who are willing to make a sustained, long-term commitment across the country. 
The summit was the perfect platform to show our strengths as an excellent place to do business. 
The Industrial Strategy is giving businesses the confidence to invest over the long term, creating the type of high skilled jobs that we need to thrive in the future. 

TB: How do we make sure we have a skilled workforce willing to stay in Wales?
Universities and HE institutions have an important role to play in this. We have great universities and higher education institutions in the region, growing a highly-skilled workforce.
And let’s not forget the lifestyle dividend Wales has to offer. Our nation and its unique landscape regularly graces the travel listings of the best places to visit in the world. 

TB: How do we make sure everything doesn’t migrate towards Cardiff?
I have no doubt the whole of the region will benefit from the abolition of the tolls.
Our individual strengths are many. 
But by pooling our resources, expertise and experiences, we can deliver ideas and projects which will not only benefit the cities of Bristol, Bath, Cardiff and Newport and the Gwent Valleys, but the wider South Wales and South West England regions as well.

TB: How well do you think we will work together?
The value of connectivity is clear beyond doubt.
Between Bristol, Newport and Cardiff we have one of the strongest digital corridors in the UK. From the world famous Aardman Animations in Bristol to multi-award-winning Plimsoll Productions, with offices in Bristol, Cardiff and Los Angeles, our creative industries sector is making waves the world over.
Our universities and HE institutions also have extensive research links with industry and businesses through several institutions and centres on either side of the Severn. 
Airbus, with its operations in Filton and Newport, is leading the charge in aerospace and defence innovation. And we shouldn’t forget the importance of the financial and professional business services sectors to the region, with both Cardiff and Bristol identified as Financial Centres of Excellence by the UK government. 
I want to build on this work to ensure that we maximise the potential benefits on both sides of the border.

TB: What about a Severnside International Airport?
The entire purpose of the summit was to look for growth opportunities and what is in the best interests of the people and the industries on both sides of the Severn.
The Welsh market is important to Bristol Airport, just as the South West market is to Cardiff Airport. And both airports are important gateways for inward and external investment.
The new daily scheduled service of Qatar Airways from Cardiff to Doha, which launches this May, opens up the prospect for increasing freight traffic from the airport. 
This new route will send a positive message about an outward looking Wales developing international trade and tourism links to the rest of the world.
The proximity of both airports should be seen as an opportunity to attract more people to Wales and an opportunity to work more closely with tourism organisations on both sides of the border to promote Wales as a destination of choice for business or pleasure. 

TB: How committed are you to getting an M4 Relief Road built?
The new relief road will help local business compete on an even keel and ensure that South West Wales is not cut off from the rest of the country.
There are clear economic advantages to tackling the congestion around Newport, but the increasing uncertainty around the project is having a clear impact on businesses in South Wales. 
The UK government has underwritten Welsh Government borrowing powers of up to £1bn to help deliver improvements to Wales’ infrastructure, and the M4 in particular. 
We need a solution to the daily bottleneck problem we see in the Newport area. 
Once the public inquiry into the preferred route has concluded, the Welsh Government should get on with the job straight away.

TB: How important is ICC Wales to the area and will you be canvassing to have the Conservative Party Conference here in the near future?
It is certainly an exciting proposition. It has the potential to propel Wales to a platform where it can compete with leading venues around the world. 
The Conservative Party holds regular events in Wales and once we see the ICC built, I will be encouraging my colleagues to look at the venue to see how it could fit with future plans.