Opinion

Why we need a new freestanding agency to lead Wales’ economic transformation

23 Nov 2020 4 minutes Read
Holyhead Harbour. Picture by Darren Glanville (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Helen Mary Jones

In the wake of Brexit, Wales is at risk of being left behind both in terms of diplomatic representation, engagement, and developing links to further international trade.

You only have to look at the recent announcements by Irish ports investing heavily in alternative routes for their carriers to reach the continent, avoiding UK ports, including ports such as Holyhead.

This is despite the Irish Central Statistics Office found from the three months from April to June Holyhead was the main destination and source of passenger travel into and out of the Republic.

The challenges of Coronavirus, the global climate emergency and Brexit means we have to rethink what our economy is for and how the Welsh Government uses the limited tools they have.

In Plaid Cymru’s National Council later this month I will be advocating a whole new approach to developing and refocusing our country’s economy. We need to think differently to rebuild our economy.

Plaid Cymru, of course, welcomed the demise of the Welsh Development Agency when announced on Bastille day in 2004 by the Labour Welsh Government in a partial bonfire of the quangos.

We must look at the background to that announcement Plaid Cymru had been highlighting issues around health quangos which remained largely untouched by Rhodri Morgan’s Government and Labour MPs successful opposition to the Richard Commission proposals for an expansion in powers for Wales. The Welsh Government needed to be seen to do something.

I am no fan, on the whole, of the quango. I believe that in a democracy decisions should be made by the people that the people can sack – the politicians – with those decisions implemented by officials directly answerable. But I have been convinced that it is impossible for civil service culture, which is by its nature risk-averse, to successfully lead the inherently risky job of transforming our economy.

My proposal is different to what has happened in the past a new freestanding agency – Prosperity Wales – to lead the transformation.

 

Aims

This will be an economic development agency with a difference. Yes, it will focus on creating jobs and opportunities. Yes, it will be actively encouraged to take risks – supporting new and innovative business ideas.

Yes, it will take an intelligence-led approach, understanding the full complexity of our business landscape, identifying future opportunities and driving up productivity. But at its very heart we will place the duty to promote fair work, a commitment to green growth and decarbonisation, and a responsibility to ensure that opportunity and wealth are shared, between individuals and between communities.

Plaid Cymru believes ecological progress, economic progress and social progress go hand in hand.

So how will it work?

The next Plaid Cymru Welsh Government will adopt a well-being economy approach, testing all policy proposals against agreed well-being goals.

Prosperity Wales will take that well-being and decarbonisation approach, and will deliver the Welsh Government’s strategic economic development aims, creating wealth and sharing it, in tandem with our spatial approach to social and economic development, focusing on the Valleys and Arfor – the rural north and west.

Prosperity Wales would also oversee Wales’ international presence and economic development by facilitating targeted inward investment and greater exports by Welsh Small and Medium-sized Enterprises across all sectors.

One thing is certain. When it comes to recreating our economy – building back after COVID-19 not just better, but well; creating wealth both so that we can share it and so that we can afford world-class public services; and decarbonising our economy and society at pace – it would be foolish to think that we can keep doing a variation of the same thing and hope for a different result.

To change Wales for the better we need new thinking. And new action.

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