Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Swansea as a city must grab the current opportunity

Last night Swansea City started their first season in the Premier League.  Whilst the result was not great we all know that the sides survival this season will depend far more on games like the one this coming Saturday than one last night.

Never the less we have to accept that it will be a tough season and could ultimately end in relegation.  Hopefully Swansea will establish themselves as a Premiership club and we will have years of economic benefit, but we as a city will be kicking ourselves if we miss the opportunity and only survive one season.

It is crucial that we make a big impression on all of the fans who visit the area over the coming 10 months and sell ourselves both as a place to holiday and a place to do business.

There has been a debate in recent weeks on how much, if at all, the city will benefit economically.  Whilst pubs, restaurants and hotels will see some benefit whatever, the real lasting benefit is something we will have to make happen.

I agree with those who point out most fans only visit for the day of the game and come straight in and out but we still have an opportunity to sell the area to them.  With the fantastic beaches, golf courses, walking, scenery and seafront we have lots to sell but this needs to be done by somebody.   This is not the clubs responsibility and Swansea City Council or Visit Wales should be stepping in to help the club sell the area and ensure that visiting fans are left with a good impression of Wales.

They might not spend much when the come down on a cold January night but if we sell the area they will come back for a family holiday or a golf weekend.  This is the lasting benefit we can get for Swansea and the surrounding area.

Swansea will also have a global audience for the next 10 months.  Many of the people watching are people who do business in the UK or who want to do business in the UK & Europe.  This is a great opportunity to tell them that Swansea is a beautiful place to live and work and there is no better part of the UK to invest in.

Swansea will see an economic benefit whatever happens over the next year, the size of that benefit is down to us.  It is time for the Council, Visit Wales and the Assembly Government to work together and ensure we don't miss out on this fantastic opportunity.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Get on with the real job

The latest "big story" in the Assembly is the disqualification of two newly elected Lib Dem AM's.

I suspect that the vast majority of the Welsh Public share my view that I could not care less if the two AM's in question have broken a fairly minor rule.

The most important thing has to be that once the problem was found it was quickly rectified. (By making appropriate resignations)

As far as I am aware this happened so the new Assembly should be focusing on improving the lives of the people of Wales rather than wasting time discussing something which does nothing for the people that they are supposed to be representing.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Reflections on the Assembly Campaign

With a week now past since the Assembly Election it has to be said that the final result was more interesting than may predicted.

A number of prominent AM's lost their seats, the Conservatives overtook Plaid and there were some differing voting trends between North and South.

The pollsters pretty much got it spot on.  The commentators and the bookies were close but failed to appreciate the strength of Conservative support.  This I am happy to say this made it a profitable night for me although I am kicking myself for missing out on Angela Burns at 4/1.  The Plaid twitter campaign clearly had a far bigger effect on me in Swansea than it did on the good voters of Carmarthen West.  A lesson to be learnt there for somebody.

On reflection there are several things coming out of the election some of which I intend to explore further in future weeks.

1. Nick Bourne becoming a victim of his own success was sad, but his legacy is a Welsh Conservative Party that is in a strong position to kick on to become the alternative government to Labour in the future.

2.  The 3 opposition parties missed a huge opportunity to govern Wales 4 years ago.  Lessons must be learnt to ensure this opportunity is not missed next time.  By the time of the next election Labour will have been running Wales for 17 years.

3.  Whilst the result was bad for the Lib Dems they only lost 1 seat meaning that they are in a decent position to rebuild.  As the economy improves and they get the credit for the role they have played in that at Westminster they could come back stronger than ever.

4.  Plaid were probably the biggest losers.  A bad night for them was made worse by the fantastic result achieved by the SNP.  They lost a number of big hitters last week and are now at risk of becoming an very minor part of Welsh politics.

5.  The Conservatives are looking for a new leader and Plaid find themselves at a crossroads.  

Plaid will undoubtedly be looking to Scotland to try and learn lessons from the SNP success.  The first problem they have is that their leader is not is the same class as Alex Salmond.  The fact he has decided not to stand down straight away is a clear sign there is no one in the background of sufficient caliber to take over.The second is that the SNP have become increasingly center-right in their policies and this helped them take votes off the both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.  This political shift something it is hard to see Plaid doing.  

It may be that the Welsh Conservatives are the Party who can learn most from the SNP success and I look forward to hearing the different leadership candidates setting out their visions over the coming months.  

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Are the bookies right?

As we approach the end of what most agree has been a fairly dull election I fancy there may be a way to spice it up in the last few hours.

A couple of bookmakers have been offering odds throughout the election and the odds are heavily stacked in favor of a very successful night for Labour.

This gives some very good value on bets on they 3 other parties.  Conservatives in Aberconway can still be got at 10 - 1 although this has come in a bit suggesting I am not the only person who felt the odds were too good to resist.  There are also very favorable odds on all the other seats they won in the recent Westminster Election.

There are also some very good value bets on Plaid (particularly in Carmarthen West) and if the expected Lib Dem capitulation does not materialise there could be some very happy punters who have backed them in places like Montgomeryshire and Ceredigion.

It will be interesting to see if the bookies have got this one wrong and applied UK trends to a Welsh Election.  I suspect they have and hope to make a small profit from them, but if they are right it will be a good night for Labour and an unprofitable one for me.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Time to work together

A couple of blows for Welsh economic prospects in the last week.

First came the news that BMI baby are pulling out of Wales.  Then we heard that unemployment had risen in Wales whilst falling everywhere else in the UK.

The decision of BMI did not surprise me but it did concern me.  I have long felt that Cardiff airport is not fit for purpose.  Unfortunately its location means that unless you live in the South of Cardiff or the Vale of Glamorgan it is difficult to get to.  This in turn leads to  fewer passengers (as most people head to Bristol or even London) and fewer services.  The airport also suffers from poor transport links in particular to Swansea and West Wales.

It is not therefore a surprise to see operators pulling out.

If we are truly ambitious for the Welsh economy  a new airport should be at the top of our list of priorities.  I recently flew from Gatwick and the amount of economic benefit for miles in every direction is plain to see.  If we built an airport close the the M4 and with high quality train links the benefits to the Welsh economy would be huge.

My main concern with the second news story regarding unemployment was the reaction of the political parties.  All  seemed immediately to blame someone else.  The truth is the Welsh economy is now to some degree the responsibility of each Party.  Labour and Plaid have control of economic development in Cardiff whilst the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats hold the major fiscal levers in London.

All parties have come up with some useful suggestions for the Welsh economy but now is the time for delivery.  It is too important an issue to be used as a political football.

Who ever ends up running Wales from next month, they need to make the economy their first priority.  Given the joint responsibility of the parties it would be good to see them working together on the economy rather that constantly passing the buck.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Welcome Good News

There was a very welcome bit of good news over the weekend for the Swansea economy.

A Wales Online article highlighted a Royal Mail survey which showed Swansea was 2nd in the UK for new business growth in recent months.

I get lists of new business starts in the area as well as lists of businesses that have moved into Swansea and I too have seen a large growth in the numbers over the last 5 months.

This has to be a positive sign and I hope it is evidence that the private sector in Swansea is growing.

We are often too quick to draw attention to the bad news at the moment and it is worth highlighting economic success as well. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

It's about time tax and NI were merged.

An interesting suggestion in yesterdays Budget was the decision to look into whether Income tax and National Insurance should be merged.

This is regarded as something of a political minefield and it is clear that National Insurance means something different to the older generation than what it means to me and my generation.

For us National Insurance is clearly just income tax by another name.  I understand historically the money raised was put aside for specific purposes and although a theoretical reserve remains the truth is the money is in the general pot.

Another concern particularly for those approaching retirement is that this will in effect be a tax on the retired as they do not currently pay NI.  This is an understandable concern but can be quickly and easily dealt with by raising the personal allowance further for people past the retirement age.

The current system of having effectively 2 income taxes is unclear and unnecessarily bureaucratic.  I often meet people who have put 20% of their profits to one side to cover their tax bill.  Most people don't realise that the also need to put aside another 8% to cover their National Insurance.

The system has been used to con the public in recent years.  Gordon Brown often went into elections promising not to raise income tax.  Once the election was won he duly put up National Insurance.  This is the sort of underhand political spin which has lead to politics in general being brought into disrepute.

A simpler tax system which is easier to understand is something we should all want to see and I for one hope the Government push forward with this as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Will Wales take the opportunity the budget presents?

The Chancellor did his bit today to get the Welsh Economy going again but there will see be considerable work to do for the next Assembly Government.

Whilst lower fuel costs and reduced corporation tax (for the few Welsh businesses that pay it at the higher rate) will benefit Wales, many of the other schemes announced will depend on who is running Wales after 5th May.

Wales got an extra £65m as a result of todays budget.  The big question is what are we going to do with it.  England will shortly get more than 20 new enterprise zones which will prove attractive to new and existing businesses.  It is vital that Wales uses some of its money to follow suit.  If we don't we risk falling further behind as businesses chase the lower taxes and easier planning rules available over the border.

The Chancellor also announced help for first time buyers.  Any help of this nature has got to be welcomed as it helps to get the property market and the construction industry going again.  Whilst I have not seen the full details of the scheme it is vital similar help is given in Wales.

My concern is that the extra £65m will be frittered away in other areas rather being put into economic development where it is really needed.

Jane Hutt said today the budget "did not do enough for hard pressed families".  What those families need is a strong economy with good jobs and she needs to spend less time moaning and more time coming up with policies to turn the Welsh Economy around.

Of course it will not necessarily be her in charge of the Welsh finances come 6th May and I look forward to seeing what the different parties propose to spend this latest wind fall on.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Is the Welsh Language about to go the way of education and the economy?

I spent this morning at the Welsh Language Board "Welsh means Business" conference in Cardiff.

It is the first of their events that I have been to and I was very impressed by the work they are doing.  It is clear that they are making progress in getting Welsh businesses to use more of the language, this has got to be a good thing.

I was surprised therefore to find that the Board is to be replaced by a Welsh Language Commissioner, and some of its functions are to be absorbed into the Welsh Assembly Government.

We witnessed the "bonfire of the Quangos" several years ago where bodies such as the WDA, ELWA and the Welsh Tourist Board were absorbed by the Assembly.

Since that happened the Welsh Economy has fallen further behind the rest of the UK and Welsh education standards are at an all time low.

This may be a coincidence but I fear that the problem may be caused by the lack of accountability that being hidden within the Welsh Assembly Government brings.  If the Welsh Language Board is also lost the same way I am concerned that the excellent progress made over the last 20 years could be lost.

I appreciate that the commissioner could improve things but it is not the way to encourage small businesses to use the Welsh language.  Businesses will react far better to the carrot (such as a discount on business rates for adopting the Welsh Language Board Policy) than the stick which is ultimately what the commissioner will wield.

A far better option would be to allow the Welsh Language Board to remain and continue its work with business but have a separate commissioner who can further the good work that has been done in the past and focus on non compliance by the public sector.

It is disappointing to see Plaid Cymru pushing this forward, and they seem desperate to be seen to be doing something.  They should heed the saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it".

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Turnout Predictions

I popped into my local polling station on the way home and I thought I would give a quick update on likely turnout for tomorrow.

Barring a late rush the turnout looks like being about 30% in my polling district.  This compares with 55% in the last council election.

Very unscientific as my sample of one might be, I doubt it is far wide of the mark.

This is actually a bit better than I had feared but a low turnout should favor the yes campaign so fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Is Electrification Really Best For West Wales

My first reaction to the decision for electrification of the main line to stop at Cardiff was, like many in West Wales, one of bitter disappointment.

Once again it feels like Wales's second city was slipping further behind Cardiff.

But once I had read the facts I could not help feeling that we may be campaigning for the wrong thing.

The cost of the Cardiff to Swansea part of the Electrification project would be about £150m - £200m.

And what time saving would we see for this investment?


It turns out that the "geometry of the line" is such that trains could not travel any faster even with electrification.

It is therefore no wonder that it became difficult to justify the electrification on business grounds.

If electrification was to be carried out it is unlikely that further investment would be forthcoming to sort out the other issues which obviously exist so it is important we get what we need, which might not be the same as what Cardiff has got.

Therefore I feel our efforts would be better spent lobbying for the track to be upgraded in a way which will reduce journey times from Cardiff to Swansea.

The other thing holding us back is the relatively low usage between Swansea an Cardiff.  This does not surprise me as when I have used the train it has always been very quiet for that part of the journey.  But this is due the the fact that the train takes almost 50% longer than driving and only goes once per hour for most of the day.

If additional services were put on which went direct from Swansea to Cardiff they would prove more popular as this would cut out 3 stations and immediately save 10 mins with no further investment.  I appreciate that this would seem hard on Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend but they would not lose any services.

Shorter journey times and more direct trains would increase usage and help build the business case for future electrification but first we need to give careful consideration as to whether that is what we really need.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Why I'm Voting Yes on 3rd March

The further powers referendum on 3rd March has split the Conservative Party in Wales. Whilst most Assembly politicians are firmly in the Yes camp there is certainly more scepticism in the grass roots Party.

I have already decided how to Vote and have been actively supporting the Yes campaign. Until now I have kept my reasons largely to myself but in view of  the True Wales decision not to have an official No Campaign I think it is time to give my reasons.

We currently have a two types of politician in Wales.  One type have some powers over certain areas but lack the real tools to do the job. (Law making and tax lowering powers) The others have the tools albeit along with 600 other MP's but not the ability to make changes for the people they represent.

Frankly it must be very frustrating to be in the Assembly or Westminster and would certainly put me off standing for either one.

In the long term I hope to see one group of politicians get both the tools and the powers, and realistically this is more likely to be the Welsh Assembly.

The referendum on 3rd March is a step towards that day, and that is why I will be voting yes.

Ultimately it is only when one group of politicians have tools to do the job in their areas of responsibly that they will be properly accountable to the people of Wales.

Many Conservatives fear that giving more power to the current Socialist coalition will mean that the Health Service, the Economy and Educational Standards will fall further behind in Wales.

I am sure that the current government would argue that part of the reason for the failure in the above areas is not having the further law making powers.

Once this excuse is taken away the Socialist coalition will be more accountable and if they fail to improve things for the people of Wales the electorate will look for an alternative.

At that time it will be up to the Welsh Conservative Party to offer an alternative program of government for Wales and in particular to address the over dependence on the Public Sector.

In my opinion rather than condemning Wales to decades of failure, further powers will speed the demise of Socialism in Wales and allow Conservative polices to make a positive difference to the people of Wales.

It is no coincidence that "True Wales" is predominantly made up of Labour Party members who have seen that further powers could eventually lead to the Party's grip on Wales slipping away.

Monday, 24 January 2011

S4C and BBC Wales Need to Talk

Sorry just a quick moan.

Welsh TV does not have a huge amount of new and original drama, so it was great this week to see the start of 2 new shows, Baker Boys and Alys.

But why schedule them at the same time on the same night!

I know that in the days of Sky plus, recordable digiboxes and Clic/BBC iplayer it is easy to catch up, but surely it would make more sense to avoid a clash.

Hopefully if S4C and the BBC are working more closely together going forward they will communicate a bit more.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Is Welsh Influence in Westminster about to Soar?

Last week I bemoaned the lack of a senior Welshman/woman in the Westminster Government.  It seems possible that my wishes are about to become true.

Were Guto Harri to replace Andy Coulson as David Cameron's communications chief we would have a through and through Welshman at the heart of the Westminster Government.

In recent years, particularly when Alistair Campbell was in the job, it was argued that the position of chief spin doctor was more like the "Real Deputy Prime Minister".  The position is certainly more influential the the Secretary of State  for Wales.

If Guto was to be appointed the move could help Wales have a far stronger voice in London and potentially improve the communications between Westminster and the Assembly.

Fingers crossed that Wales may about to get a big hitter right where it matters.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Worrying education data in Wales must not be ignored.

At a time when the Welsh blogosphere is busy discussing and debating the decision of True Wales not to launch an official "No Campaign" another very important bit of news is in danger of slipping through the net.

Today the university admission figures for last year were released.  The figures showed that there was a huge drop in the numbers of Welsh students making it to university whilst in all other parts of the UK the figures stood still or increased.

This data comes soon after the very disappointing PISA results in Wales.

It is clear that there are potentially serious failings in the current Welsh education system as evidenced by the two stories above.  I do not want to advocate knee jerk reactions based on one poor year but if the trend continues we must take action.

Having a workforce with both basic skills as well a strong base of highly skilled graduates is vital to develop and grow our economy.  If we wish to attract new business a strong workforce is key and at present there is a danger that the Welsh workforce will become less good than other parts of the UK.

The underfunding of schools and higher education in Wales cannot continue if we are serious about wanting a better future for our country.  Eventually we may well have to take the difficult decision to reduce health spending  in order to ensure that future generations of Welsh children are given better opportunities.

Finally I fear that the Assembly Government's highly populist decision not to put up tuition fees in Wales will soon lead to Welsh university funding dropping even further behind the rest of the UK.

They may be feeling pleased with themselves right now but  the Assembly government could well have consigned future generations of Welsh students to a second rate education.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Does the Welsh Economy have an image problem?

Another week and yet another bad news story for the Welsh economy on the front page of the Western Mail.

This time it is the news that Welsh businesses have failed to win a major slice of the many contracts coming out of the 2012 Olympics.

The reaction to this was a predictable mix of some saying it amounted to general anti Welsh bias in England whilst others laid the blame with Welsh business for not being good enough or not interested enough.

Without further information it is difficult to tell whether Welsh businesses simply did not go for the contracts, went for them but were not good enough or were intentionally or unintentionally discriminated against.

If it is that we did not go for the work we only have ourselves to blame.  If we were not good enough that is disappointing but something that can be resolved, particularly if we are able to get a more pro business Government in the Welsh Assembly. (And the powers to reduce the regulatory burden of Welsh businesses)

The other option is that Wales and Welsh businesses have reputational issues over the border.  The anecdotal evidence that I have from friends in England is that Wales is still regarded as a Socialist Union controlled no go area for business.

The Not the Nine O'Clock News "Failed in Wales" sketch still seems to sum up the Welsh Economy to many English people and we need to get past this if our economy is to make real progress.

The problem of branding is a major one and not easy to remedy.  It is also one which is the responsibility of the Assembly Government as it is very difficult for businesses to group together to run an international advertising campaign.

The effect of a good advertising campaign should not be underestimated.  The series of excellent Welsh Tourism campaigns have helped change the perception of a holiday in Wales from "an unfriendly place where they all start speaking Welsh once you walk in" to "a beautiful vibrant Country with fantastic food, castles, beaches and places to stay."

The success of the Welsh tourism campaign is evidenced by the number of other parts of the UK which seemed to have copied the same formula.

We need a similar message to be coming out from Wales on business to show that we are hungry for investment and pro business.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Is David Cameron Leaving an Open Goal in Wales?

Today Cheryl Gillan made an unfortunate gaff which I heard live on Good Morning Wales.  The mistake has been headline news in Wales tonight.

I have a lot of sympathy for Cheryl as I certainly can not remember all the things that I was doing 8-9 years ago.

Nonetheless the opposition have once again leapt onto the mistake. Once again we hear the same old complaint that she is out of touch with Wales as she does not live here.  (What this has to do with with this current mistake is beyond me.)

She seems to spend more time in Wales than Peter Hain ever did, despite him supposedly living in Resolven.

I do however feel that the Party seems to be missing a trick by not having a Welsh based Secretary of State.   A Welsh based Secretary of State would  be an easy way to shoot down the main argument of the opposition and give Wales a stronger voice in the Cabinet.

Hopefully the next reshuffle in London will see Cheryl kept on but in a different role, whilst a Welsh based (possibly even Welsh speaking) MP will be given the top job in Wales.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

How can further powers benefit the Welsh economy?

At the launch of the Yes campaign in Carmarthen over the weekend a discussion started as to what further powers will mean for business in Wales.

I have previously made clear on this blog that I have serious doubts as to whether further powers will benefit Welsh business.  My concern, which is shared with several business owners which I have discussed the issue with, is that more powers will lead to additional regulation for Welsh business.

The danger if this were to happen is that the Welsh economy could suffer as follows:

- Welsh business would be less competitive than their English and European counterparts
- New start ups would be discouraged from locating in Wales
- Relocating and expanding businesses would be put off locating in Wales

However, as Rhodri Glyn Thomas pointed out on Saturday, additional powers could actually mean the reverse for the Welsh economy; but only if used wisely.

One of the most common complaints made by business is over regulation. Further powers for Wales could mean that regulations are removed in Wales.

The effect of this would be the exact opposite of the above and lead to Welsh business becoming more competitive and additional investment in our economy.

I still have doubts as to whether our politicians will be able to resist the temptation to create knee jerk laws and regulations and damage Welsh business.  It will take considerable political bravery to start to strip away regulations in Wales but if the new government in May 2011 take the opportunity it could lead to a new dawn for the Welsh economy.