Thursday, 4 March 2010

Economic Renewal

There was quite a lot of comment last week about the article from Ron Jones of Tinopolis. And the article itself was certainly hard-hitting. But was it entirely fair?

Certainly, drawing attention in a forthright way to the fact that, after all the time and effort directed towards trying to strengthen the Welsh economy, we are still lagging behind is a fair point to make. And I also tend to agree with his assertion that the public sector 'stole' Objective One, although I might not have put it quite in those words. It certainly did not get spent in a way which lifted Wales long term economic performance, which was supposed to have been the original intention.

His comments on the ways in which Wales has suffered from the centralisation which followed nationalisation, and his criticism of attempts to shore up failing or doomed industries also strike a chord.

I do think though, that in some ways, he (and even more so, some of those who have responded to his comments) seems to have looked at the issue over too short a timescale, certainly when it comes to criticising the performance of the Assembly Government since 1999. And I really do think that it's unfair to simply try and pin the blame on the current incumbent at the relevant ministry - and I don't say that just because he's a Plaid minister.

I'm not saying that there aren't some valid criticisms of government policy to be made - merely that the problem has been with us for a long time, and that expecting the situation to be turned round in such a short time is unrealistic. That said, it is surely clear that a change of direction is needed. Carrying on with the policies and approaches of the past was probably inevitable during the first years of the Assembly, but we should have identified and started out on a new direction by now.

On solutions, though, Ron Jones' article was more than a little lacking. It's always easier to criticise what others are doing than to suggest an alternative - that's something which politicians know only too well, of course.

I share at least some of his concern about any government responding by producing yet another strategy – I've previously expressed concern myself about the plethora of strategies and the dearth of clear action plans. Part of that reflects a limited ability to act in some areas, but it would be a mistake to try and hide behind that. However 'Ready, Fire, Aim', is not likely to serve us much better than 'Ready, Aim, … er… that's it', and we need at least some idea of what it is we're trying to achieve.

My biggest worry about the Economic Renewal Programme is not the fact that it is happening, nor the unfortunate wording of the first objective (an open goal for Ron to shoot into), but the fact that it is planned to take up to nine months to complete before it can be implemented. That smacks a little of excessive concern for the partnership and lengthy (and ultimately meaningless) stakeholder consultation of which government seems to be so fond, rather than the short sharp exercise which any private sector organisation would undertake at this point. Nine months is more than enough time to refocus and reorganise an entire multi-national corporation – and to do so at least twice.

For me, the key elements of any revised strategy for driving economic growth in Wales have already been identified by Ieuan – a switch from dependence on trying to attract footloose multi-nationals to an emphasis on nurturing and developing local enterprises, and an emphasis on building growth around industries and activities which support rather then undermine our commitment to reduction of the carbon footprint. Sounds very simple, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of those two changes in terms of economic policy.

Our biggest need is to get on with it – on that much, at least, I can agree with Ron Jones.

5 comments:

A Change of Personnel said...

nice to see a contribution by Plaid Cymru even if its not from an AM or Minister John.

I agree that the ferocity of the article has at least got people talking about the Welsh economy seriously which can only be a good thing.

I would take issue with you on the part about the length of time the economic development should have made and impact because Ron Jones in the article said.

'The great levers of the economy are outside Wales, but we were entitled to hope that devolution would at least bring an understanding of our economy, empathy for what our country needs.

Instead, post-devolution we have created the foundation of an economic nightmare. The public sector stole Objective 1. We lost the wasteful hundreds of the WDA only for them to reappear within WAG, now hidden in a new fog of bureaucracy and hidden from public view.'

On the point about solutions i agree it easier to sling mud than put forward ideas and this applies across the board but on the subject of the Welsh economy the solutions are well known, what is needed is political leadership to drive the changes even if it means tackling the vested interests and upsetting people along the way.

However with the 47% endorsement of Gordon Brown and Carwyn Jones handling of the economy i fear thing are even more unlikely to change despite the real and pressing need.

Spirit of BME said...

The Plaid bash to business on Thursday before Conference few weeks back was very good,but not that well attended.
IWJ asked an important question of the audience but got no reply.-"What is the role of HMG in Wales in business development ,should it restrict itself to infustructure or were markets were disfunctional should it intervene" He went on to propose a Ventutre Capital Bank which would be at arms length from HMG but have public money. Bad idea, one small mistake by this Bank would sell a lot of newspapers ,but being a resounding sucess would sell few- if you get my drift.
The Laws of England will determine the business enviroment and the crooks in the English Parliament are in no mood to give the Welsh a economic advatage, so business in Wales will still be operating at the end of the M4.

John Dixon said...

CoP,

Well, you know, political thinking and comment isn't limited to those who actually win elections!

I think I agreed with much of the quotation from Ron Jones which you put in your comment. But we are dealing with a problem of relative economic performance which has been with us for many decades - it will take a lengthy period to reverse as well. Eleven years since the establishment of the Assembly should have seen us further forward than we are now, I'd agree - even though it would be naive to believe that the gap could have been closed in that time.

"the solutions are well known".

Actually, I'm not so sure that they are. There are some actions which need to be taken where there is a degree of consensus, but I tend to the view that 'solutions' require rather more than those agreed actions. Perhaps I'll return to that point in a future post rather than a response to a comment - it needs to be developed a lot. It does mean tackling the vested interests - but we need to do a lot more than that.

A Change of Personnel said...

i didn't mean to offend you John I welcome your contributions on this any other issues. I doubt any Labour bloggers would dare or are capable of writing anything about the Welsh economy.

We'll have to agree to disagree over the solutions but i take your point about the timescales, if you get the time develop those themes you talked about I would certainly be interested to read you thoughts.

Have a good weekend

John Dixon said...

CoP,

No worry - you'd have to try a lot harder than that before I'd start to take offence!