Tuesday 5 January 2010

Jones v ap Gwilym

The article, or rather two articles, by Martin Shipton in today's Western Mail made for interesting reading. I don't know to what extent Jeff Jones represents the mainstream of Labour thinking on the economy, but Eurfyl ap Gwilym has certainly provided a key input to Plaid's economic thinking for decades.

Eurfyl's analysis of the elements of the GVA gap between Wales and the rest of the UK is a valuable and useful input to consideration of the way forward. His conclusion, that Wales needs a practical long term economic plan, is entirely in line with Plaid's long-standing approach to developing the Welsh economy.

The plan produced by Dr Phil and Dafydd Wigley in 1968 remains, 40 years on, as a unique contribution to economic debate in Wales. Love it or loathe it, it was an honest attempt to show how the Welsh economy could be improved with the right direction and leadership. In contrast to that planned approach for our economy, I thought Jeff Jones was over-emphasising the importance of outward-facing transport infrastructure as a means of attracting inward investment.

That isn't to say that I disagree with everything he says. His comments about the way in which local government and the third sector chase grants very much strike a chord. I've seen enough instances, under both Objective One Funding and more recently with Convergence Funding, of the way in which grant funding is approached to agree entirely with his comment that "the name of the game is to get the money". Whilst Convergence Funding has been approached more strategically than was Objective One, I remain far from convinced that the funding is sufficiently well targeted at increasing GVA, which is the official objective.

I also find myself in agreement with his comments about 23 economic development departments, with no real overall direction - and that chimes with Eurfyl's call for an overall economic plan for Wales.

I do think though that we need to move away from the stress on improving the outward-facing infrastructure to attract inward investment. It was very much part of Plaid's economic plan; but it now looks very 1960s. In the 1960s, we were trying to anticipate future trends, and the policy was right for the times, where inward investment was very much seen as the answer to Wales' economic malaise.

But if we try to anticipate future trends, I think we should be planning for a different type of economic future - one based on sustainable and localised development rather than on attracting footloose global enterprises. And we need to plan for a low carbon footprint in a world where energy is less plentiful and more expensive. Wales needs good transport links to the outside world, of course. But I'm unconvinced that that is as central to the economy of the future as it has been in the past. A more localised economy would lead to an increased emphasis on improving the internal transport network - and in that area, we have a long way to go.


Anonymous said...

Much of Jeff Jones' analysis was spot on, but I agree that his belief in the the M4 relief road and airport link then made no sense. We have to commit to along term economic policy around our SME's and move away from inward investmnet bribes.
How many of those firms we managed to attract in the 1980's are still here?

Anonymous said...

The M4 relief road is complicated because of the environmental aspect, but there is no case for a new airport link road as the airport has specifically said they don't need a new one!

We need less pet projects and more unseen, hidden gems bubbling under the surface, ideas being grown into viable companies. It will take decades for things to visibly improve, and by then Western economies will resemble something similar to what the Welsh Govt has been trying to nobly (but ultimately failing to) encourage, green industries and hi-tech companies.

I think the Welsh Govt's policies are right but will take decades to be realised. Depressing for those of us who want rapid change, but true.

Why not say to hell with it and go full independence? Take the hit now with the benefit of getting richer in the future, rather than just taking the hit and still lagging behind afterward.

Jeff Jones said...

Thanks for the comments John. I have as much connection with official Welsh Labour Party views as Trotsky had with the announcements of the Soviet Politburo in the 1930s. Unlike Trotsky,however, because of the present snow I am on the look out for anyone carrying an ice pick!