Dr Jo Dally, 42, has been a highflier in business and government. She now needs all that experience to pilot the day to day running of the region’s Western Gateway partnership which was born two years ago.
She is now two months into her role as Director of the Western Gateway-the region’s equivalent to the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine.
Dr Jo Dally was appointed Director of the Western Gateway in August this year. The Western Gateway was established in 2019 and aims to mirror the successful, established work of the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine and will seek to ensure that the region is globally competitive. The Western Gateway covers a wide-ranging area from Salisbury, up through Bristol and Bath, to Cheltenham and Gloucester and the South Wales as far west as Swansea.
Ian Mean spoke to Dr Dally about the new role and her ambitions for it.
*How do you see the role of Western Gateway and how can it add value to the region?
“My role is to bring to life the ambition of the partnership board and to turn that ambition into tangible programmes.
“When it comes to adding value there is a huge opportunity there. Our independent economic review demonstrated that we have sectors of strength across our area whether it is with creative industries, cyber, semi-conductors and advanced engineering. The Deloitte report said there was an opportunity for us to add at least £34 billion to the UK economy by 2030.
“But despite that some of the 4.4 million people that live in our geography still live in areas of deprivation and don’t have access to the transport services and economic opportunities they should have. We do have people who struggle to access the jobs and the economic opportunities that they should be able to access.
“One of the things our partnership can play a real role in, is in creating those opportunities.”
*Your role and your priorities?
“The board have agreed four priority areas. The first is around Net Zero and more specifically decarbonising energy generation—how we harness our natural assets with the potential of the Severn Estuary, and the strength we have in hydrogen from Swansea to Swindon. That is one area of priority.
“The second is around strategic transport and connectivity. Our independent economic review identifies potential strengths and connectivity across the Western Gateway geography between its towns and cities as well as the capital city up to Birmingham.
“The third is Innovation and ensuring our businesses have access to the finance they need to grow and scale.
“And finally, a programme about the global gateway to make sure we are capitalising on opportunities for foreign direct investment and export led growth.
“If we were as good as the UK average, we could add another £4 billion to the economy so again there is real room there to support our business and enterprise.”
*So, of those four priorities would you say that carbon Net Zero was the first in terms of the time frame?
“The two priorities we are working on now are around decarbonising energy and on connectivity and transport.”
*What about the voice of the South West? Is it heard enough in Whitehall? Are you on the stage shouting?
“One of my upmost priorities is that we are visible to and heard by decision makers in Whitehall and in Wales—the full span of our area.
“It is about using the power of the Western Gateway partners to amplify our voice and creating our own stage.
“We are going to host our inaugural conference on January 20th at the International Convention Centre in Newport. We will be bringing together leaders from across the public sector, business, research and industry. “What I would like to do is to have an enduring conversation bringing all their insights to our own work programmes as well as getting our own message out.”
*What is your view on Levelling Up in the region? What do we need to do as first steps?
“It is clear we have got industries and sectors of strength that span the Severn and unite in a common endeavour just like the partnership itself.
“We do have areas where there are lower incomes, employment, skills and training and pockets of depravation. One of the areas of focus for our work programme is how we unlock opportunities which are accessible to all.
“If I think of a tangible example of what we are doing, we have submitted to the spending review a bid for a digital accelerator programme harnessing the power and depth of the assets we have across the Western Gateway-to create a digital super cluster.
“It will be globally competitive and drive digital innovation in the creative industries-for example, unlocking the production of Net Zero content creation and in advanced manufacturing – providing the virtual assurance processes that could halve the time to market for products like ultra light wind turbine blades. It is about connecting excellence and attracting foreign investment. “Embedded within the bid is a proposition to create a programme on the workforce of the future. That will include harnessing things like virtual reality and augmented reality to upskill and reskill individuals in incumbent businesses and having business mentors and leaders to help those businesses going on this journey. It is incumbent on us all how we build up that Levelling Up agenda.”
*What about a strategy for the region’s economy—is there one?
“My role is not to set the region’s economic strategy. The partnership needs to look for those opportunities that are bigger than a single plan that will have an impact across the geography as a whole.
“How, for instance, do we bring all our strengths in green technology together to decarbonise energy and help everyone on their Net Zero journey?
“How do we bring together Swindon’s strength in hydrogen together with Swansea and the South Wales industrial cluster? How do we bring transport and the airports together?
“Everyone has to be on the journey together to create a really compelling case. We are on the cusp of being a green energy cluster-let’s just make it happen.”
*You are one woman—how are you going to get all this done? Don’t you need a lot of support?
“I have seen fantastic things happen in partnerships and that has been an integral thread of my career. It can be transformational and we have a board and stakeholders really committed to make a difference to people and places.
“One of the strengths we have is a convening power-bringing people together to spark and catalyse that new thinking”.
*How important is the Fusion bid project in Gloucestershire to Western Gateway?
“It’s an incredibly exciting opportunity. It has got the potential to create thousands of jobs across the area bringing billions of pounds of investment
“It builds on our nuclear heritage and creates jobs and skills for a future workforce that we are only beginning to realise. It’s a project that recognises the strength of the Western Gateway in its breadth and nearby areas -whether it is the lithium from Cornwall, construction skills from Somerset or the steel from Wales.
“All that is a huge example of the power and impact of partners which will help land this and bring it into the Western Gateway.
*Is Wales a bridge too far in your operations?
“The Western Gateway is founded in a collective endeavour—it was a powerhouse before it was a formal powerhouse. Our communities on both sides of the Severn are committed partners and have been working together for many decades. This is a natural partnership.”
*And how rigid are your borders in terms of working and influence?
“The most important thing is to do the right thing for our people and places and that will mean partnerships. The administrative border does not affect how we will work together in a collaborative way to really deliver.
“We are already working with partners across the Great South West and will do so with those in the Midlands, in London and beyond to realise our ambitions.”
*What does good look like to you in the next year?
“A year from now we will have launched our programmes of work. We will have great networks of partners all delivering.
“And I am determined to get our Western Gateway name front of mind with decision makers and influencers across the area.”
Dr Jo Dally’s Career
Before taking up the Western Gateway role Dr Dally was Senior Integrated Deal Manager in BP’s City and Corporate integrated Solutions segment.
Prior to joining BP, Jo was Head of Policy at the Royal Society.
Jo’s earlier roles all had science, evidence and advice at their core. They included as Deputy Director for Horizon Scanning and Emerging Technologies and Head of Innovation in the Government Office for Science, leading the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Security team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Private Secretary to the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser.
The Western Gateway
The Western Gateway is a cross-border economic partnership of Local Authorities, City Regions, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Governments (in Wales and Westminster), working together to bring additionality to the area’s existing strategies and structures.
Across Britain the economic map is being reshaped by devolution and the emergence of regional powerhouses. The Western Gateway goes one step further than ‘regional’. Covering the core cities of Bristol and Cardiff, it stretches across south Wales and western England, from Swindon to Swansea, Wiltshire and Weston-Super-Mare to Tewkesbury. Our focus is inclusive and clean economic growth, where scale and collaboration can achieve more for our people and the wider economies of our countries than our constituent parts could achieve alone.