This week I’m launching Plaid Cymru’s ‘Plan C’ policy document for the Welsh economy. It builds on previous Plaid Cymru policy statements such as Recover, Reform, Renew in 2009, the Economic Renewal Plan published by Ieuan Wyn Jones in 2010 during the One Wales Coalition, and the Greenprint for the Valleys.
From the beginning of the financial crisis Plaid Cymru argued for the importance of investing in infrastructure as a driver of economic activity when budgets were becoming tighter. With cuts to both the capital and revenue budgets undermining growth since the last Westminster election, that position is now the political mainstream.
Even though Wales does not have all of the job-creating levers at its disposal, the Welsh Government has responsibility for the economy and a responsibility to the people of Wales to ensure sustainable growth that creates good quality employment and deliver a better standard of living for our communities. Sadly, unemployment in Wales has risen by around 50,000 since the beginning of the recession, to around 120,000. The numbers of under-employed have gone up from around 85,000 to around 135,000.
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It is clear that the actions taken so far by the Welsh Government, although welcome, have not been sufficiently ambitious or successful. Wales’ economic position in relation to other parts of the UK remains largely unchanged. Delivery is everything. Plaid Cymru’s Plan C stresses the interlinked nature of economic renewal and recovery in Wales. We want Wales to pull away from the financial crisis caused by the banking sector. We want to develop an alternative to the economic stagnation which is the only choice being offered elsewhere.
Infrastructure investment is a key driver of growth in the economy, but only if we make it so. In its most simple terms, it creates work right now for a construction sector which employs around 100,000 people in Wales whilst also providing facilities and opportunities for future economic growth.
But, if used correctly, infrastructure investment is an even more powerful tool for supporting the local economy. When Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones built the Church Village and Porthmadog bypasses primarily using local firms.
Using public procurement to stimulate the local economy means that jobs are supported and created in Wales, that money circulates within the local economy and, through the use of community benefit clauses, traineeships and apprenticeships created for local people.
As we know, public procurement in Wales is still around the 52 per cent mark. If we could get that to around 75 per cent then nearly 50,000 jobs in Wales could be created.
We hope that the National Procurement Service works, but Plaid Cymru believes that legislation for specialist procurement staff will make this much more likely to be successful.
Increasing connectivity, both physically, through public transport improvements such as a south Wales Metro, and virtually, through better broadband, internet and mobile phone connections in rural areas, can provide substantial benefits to our economy, from the construction phase through to the extra business and opportunities that will be developed as a result.
There is also need for a Green Skills Construction College, which is part of a refocusing of our economy towards sustainability across different sectors. Substantial opportunities exist at all levels in the sustainability sector, whether that is housing improvements, food production or renewable energy.
Focusing on research and skills is a crucial part of improving the Welsh economy. That is why we did the Budget deal last year for 5,600 new apprenticeships in Wales and the £10 million science park with Bangor and Aberystwyth universities. But we need the continued research and development spend in Wales to create patents, spin-offs and high level job opportunities – and that’s why Wales needs its own Research Council to counter the under-funding under the current system.
Currently Wales receives around £21 million less in research funding from the research councils than we would even under a Barnett Formula funding system for research. A Welsh Research Council is essential in ensuring that Wales sees the benefits of a well-funded and well-trained and ambitious workforce.
Plaid Cymru’s Plan C is an important part of the conversation on how we improve the Welsh economy using the powers and structures that we currently have. We must get the best from the many talents of our citizens. We must increase our productivity and increase the quality of employment in Wales.
However, Plan C is just the beginning of Plaid Cymru’s commitment to improving the economy. The Economy Commission that I set up last year has a remit to go further and to think more creatively. Watch this space for more thinking and acting on the Welsh economy.