Friday, 31 December 2010

Bleak economic outlook for Wales

Yesterdays Western Mail interview with First Minister Carwyn Jones was pretty grim reading for anyone hoping that the Welsh economy might be a priority for the Assembly in the coming years.

Firstly Carwyn seems to think GVA figures have improved over the last 10 years. In fact Wales has been sliding backwards at an alarming pace over that period despite the millions of pounds of extra spending brought about as a result of the additional Assembly related civil service.

Carwyn suggests that he wishes to see the GVA figures improve but like Nerys Evans the day before offers no actual solutions.

He seems to believe that additional law making powers for the Assembly will give him the tools to improve Wales's economic performance.

I am not sure which businesses Carwyn is talking to but I would be amazed if he could find one who believes that more legislation and more regulation is what they need to get their businesses growing. (Other than professionals & consultants who would be leeching more money in return for dealing with the new legislation)

It is clear that the First Minister like the rest of his Party is completely out of touch with the needs of Welsh Business and the Welsh Economy.

When the subject of tax-raising powers was mentioned he immediately talks of trying to increase tax rates, rather that lower them to encourage additional investment and attract new businesses to Wales.

Business responds better to the carrot (tax breaks) than the stick (further legislation) and if we wish to see an improved economic performance in Wales we have to accept that that will mean tax varying powers at some point.

Those in the Assembly who continue to argue for "fair funding" before discussing the issue will soon realise that they are not going to get anywhere. Why should the UK government increase our hand out when, rather that invest the money in economic development we spend it on freebies and tuition fees which are not available to their constituents.

If we want to improve our lot we need to take responsibility for ourselves and have the courage to find suitable long term economic solutions for Wales.

This will inevitably lead to us having less money to spend on health and education in the short term, but will lead to higher revenues in the future allowing Wales to enjoy the benefits of its improved economic performance.

Unfortunately the impotent electoral system in the Assembly means that it is highly unlikely that there will be any change in Government in Wales next May, meaning that the Welsh economic outlook continues to be bleak for at least the next 4 years.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

What does the future hold for Plaid Cymru?

There is a very nice profile of Nerys Evans in today's Western Mail.

It is a very interesting article and was the first time I realised that potentially Nerys could be out of front line politics from May.

In the article Nerys is rightly proud of the progress Plaid Cymru has made over the last 10 years. She points out that despite devolution and the fact that Labour and the Conservatives have now re-branded themselves as Welsh parties, Plaid are riding higher than ever before.

However in my opinion the real challenges for Plaid still lie ahead. The re-branding of the Conservatives and Labour in Wales has so far been little more that window dressing. As devolution develops and evolves it is inevitable that the two main parties will seek greater autonomy in order to avoid disputes and conflict with their masters in London.

This is likely to lead to separate political parties in Wales who whilst aligned with the main parties in London, will be completely independent.

At this stage the question will be put to the Welsh public of small vs large state and Plaid may well be left on the sidelines. Chances are that the left leaning Plaid supporters will fall in with Labour whilst the pro business wing will jump on board with the Conservatives.

It is only when the dust of full devolution has finally settled will we finally know whether there is any future for Plaid Cymru.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

What is the solution to Wales's economic woes?

This week we once again saw Wales fall further behind the rest of the UK in terms of GVA.

For several years there has been general debate about how far Wales is behind the rest of the UK as several of the most commonly used measures of economic success do not take into account factors such as the lower cost of living in Wales as compared to the rest of UK.

The latest figures leave us in no doubt however that our economic performance is deteriorating.

Despite this the Welsh Assembly Government's budget made huge cuts to economic development. What is worse the Conservative opposition (who I always thought were a pro business Party) would have made even deeper cuts in their alternative budget.

If we want Wales to begin to close the gap we have to think big and think long term.

Cutting spending on infrastructure such as roads, rail & broadband may save money now but will leave us in a far worse position in years to come. These are they key arteries which allow Wales to trade with the rest of the UK. Failure will lead to businesses relocating to areas where the economy is taken seriously.

But we also want to trade with the World and to do this we need an airport in South Wales close to the M4 which has regular flights to key world destinations. This is a huge project and would cost billions of pounds but it is something we should be aspiring to. Cardiff International is in the wrong place and is frankly amateur. If we decide to keep it, at the very least it needs to have proper transport links (trains every 30 minutes to Cardiff and Swansea and decent access roads) and a car hire desk which stay open past 9pm!

If the Welsh Economy begins to recover many of the other problems facing Wales will begin to reduce, but it is bottom of WAG's list of priorities. Why?

One of the primary factors is that any upside in the Welsh Economy will have little impact of the Assembly. This weeks horrific economic data passed by with barely a mention in the Welsh Media and any improvement would probably get similar coverage. The real benefits of higher taxation revenue and lower benefit costs would instead be enjoyed by the Chancellor in Westminster.

This is a fundamental flaw in the current devolution settlement, and the referendum next year will not make things any better.

Businesses in Wales are already over burdened with paperwork and legislation and an additional layer of legislature could actually be a step back. If the Welsh Assembly was more responsible for raising it own income (rather than whining about the size of the hand out from England) the economy would certainly be higher up their list of priorities.

What is more important the Assembly would be in a far stronger position to make a genuine impact on the Welsh Economy if they had the power to cut taxes for Welsh businesses.

The Holtham Commission has already made the case for such a system and whist it would surely lead to short term pain for many area of Wales it is the only way that we will be able to get economic development back up WAG's political agenda and bring a end to the current economic slide.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

S4C becoming a national embarrassment?

Once again S4C is making headlines tonight for all the wrong reasons.

Questions over whether the Chairman of the S4C authority has resigned or not are making S4C, the Authority and the Westminster Government look painfully amateur.

I have no idea who is to blame for the latest mess but my fear is that it reflects badly not only on S4C but also Wales and the Welsh Language.

It is time for somebody to take responsibility and move thing forward before the whole saga becomes a national embarrassment.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

What is more important, S4C or the Welsh Language?

In recent weeks there have been a number of attacks on individuals who have questioned the performance and funding levels of S4C.

Many of these attacks have come from individuals who have never before shown much interest in the language and seem to be using an important subject to score political points, however I feel it is important to point out that questioning the performance of S4C is not anti the Welsh language.

I like many others was very disappointed by the S4C funding cuts announced but I do understand that cuts have to be applied fairly and I can understand why S4C had to take a share.

I am a passionate supporter of the Welsh language and I feel that it is a vital part of our national identity. The work that has been done over the last 30 years (much of it by S4C) to protect and support the language has been excellent and we are very fortunate to have a relatively strong base to start from.

However I do not believe that television will play nearly as significant a role in protecting and expanding the number of Welsh speaker over the next 30 years.

The point that when S4C was established it was 1 of 4 channels whereas today it has to compete against nearer 400 has already been made, and if feel the future of the language is more likely to be protected through more modern media.

The expression of this view is not anti Welsh or anti the Welsh language.

Going forward S4C needs to either diversify and promote the Welsh language through far more channels such as online tv, smart phone apps and social media or accept that its budget is going to be squeezed.

Ultimately the total budget for promoting the Welsh language is finite and going forward the proportion spent on traditional television should fall as new ways to use the language emerge.

I know some steps in this direction have already been made by S4C but so far they have not been sufficient.

Criticism of S4C is not anti Welsh Language. Indeed many of those who question the performance of the channel do so out of concern for the future of the language.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Should Pembrokeshire Council Bailout Care Home Businesses?

Over the last few weeks a storm has been brewing in Pembrokeshire over the funding for care homes. The issue that is being raised throws up several important questions, but there is a long term issue which will have to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Once again the reason for the business failing (as with several other recent care home business failures) is deemed to be lack of income from the local authority. However funding can only get worse in years to come as a combination of an ageing population and spending cuts begin to bite.

The truth is that many of the care homes in Wales are simply not suitable. They are too small and are buildings which are not ideal for being effective care homes. This is often the reason that the businesses that run them are failing and it is not the fault of the local authority. If we wish to ensure that we have high quality care homes for the future we need to start to plan the building of larger purpose built homes now.

I have huge sympathy for the residents and I hope that all concerned work hard to ensure that their care is maintained during the difficult period that the company in question is facing.

However government, local authorities and those involved in the sector need to begin to plan for the future as we cannot expect councils to be bailing out failing businesses through higher fees in the years to come.

Monday, 8 November 2010

20,000 empty seats a blip?

I attended the Wales vs Australia game on Saturday and like most others was very disappointed by the thousands of empty seats. I have seen many comments as to the reason for this over the last couple of days with the blame being laid at the door of ticket prices, the recession, too many matches or 'just a blip' as Roger Lewis put it.

There is no doubt in my mind that the main reason is not the price or the recession but the number of internationals being played. When you play the big 3 from the Southern Hemisphere 2 -3 times per year it is no wonder that the games lose some of their sense of occasion.

I do not feel however that we should necessarily be going back to playing them once every couple of years.

It is not long since Wales were a 2nd class rugby team unable to live with any of the top 5 rugby nations. Wales has come a long way in recent years partly through regional rugby and partly through playing the best teams in the world on a more regular basis.

If Wales once again were regularly having 40 - 50 points put on them, crowds would soon fall away to well below the numbers that showed up to support on Saturday.

If lower crowds and the odd dead atmosphere are the price we pay for being a team capable of living with the best in the World then so be it.

The truth is the FAW would love to see 50,000 plus fans filling the stadium for them but as they have learnt the crowds follow success.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Hello again

3 years after giving up blogging I have decided to give it another go. I intend to use this blog to give my views on all things that I feel impact on Wales and the Welsh people.