Edwina Hart takes on Business, Enterprise and Technology

John Osmond reports on Carwyn Jones’ new Cabinet line-up which has some surprises

The appointment of former health Minister Edwina Hart as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Technology in Carwyn Jones’s new Cabinet, announced earlier today, will come as a shock to the business world. There seems little doubt that the business and wider economic community in Wales will be bemused by the appointment.

Edwina Hart is undoubtedly a strong-willed and feisty member of Labour’s team with a reputation for leading from the front so far as the civil service is concerned, but she has little experience of the sharp end of business and enterprise other than as a union negotiator. Before being elected to the Assembly in 1999 as AM for Gower she was employed in the banking industry, became President of the banking staff trade union BIFU, and later chair of the Wales TUC.

She was appointed Finance Secretary in the first Cabinet in 1999 and then Minister for Finance and Communities following the Partnership Agreement with the Liberal Democrats in October 2000. In 2007 she took on the Health and Social Services portfolio.

There is no doubt that the economic development department needs considerable sharpening in terms of the speed of its response, its anticipation of trends and its attention to outcomes. Civil servants will undoubtedly feel rather more intense pressure from Mrs Hart than from her predecessor. It will be interesting to see how her robust style goes down with a business community that has traditionally been sceptical of the Welsh Government in general and the economic development department in particular.

Yet for all the attention that her appointment is likely to receive, especially in terms of Wales’s poor economic performance relative to the rest of the UK, the Welsh Government has relatively few levers it can pull compared with those of the Westminster Government. Where the Welsh Government can make a difference to the economy, however, is by improving educational performance and especially the skills levels of our young people.

For this reason, perhaps the most significant development for the economy is the linking of Skills with the Education portfolio under the direction of Leighton Andrews, who now has the task of tackling this fundamental part of the  supply side of the Welsh economy, where there are many deficiencies which he has very publicly acknowledged in recent months.

Carwyn Jones taking on responsibility for a new Delivery Unit within the Cabinet Office reflects the major theme of ‘delivery’ in Labour’s election campaign. Presumably, this means that he will rule his Cabinet with a tougher hand than Rhodri Morgan was known for. Carwyn Jones’s assumption of a role with energy was also trailed in Labour’s manifesto, taking a leaf out of Alex Salmond’s book – over the past four years the Scottish First Minister has had a leading role in driving an investment programme on renewables. Expect to see much more contact between the Welsh Government and the energy companies, in the search for a Welsh energy policy.

Three new Ministers join the Cabinet. Former Deputy Minister for Children, Huw Lewis, has been appointed as Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage. This means that for the first time since the creation of the Labour-LibDem coalition in 2000, there will be no separate culture/heritage portfolio. Former Counsel General, John Griffiths, becomes the Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development. Former Deputy Minister for Skills, Lesley Griffiths becomes Minister for Health and Social Services.

Three Deputy Ministers have been appointed. Gwenda Thomas has been reappointed as Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services. Jeff Cuthbert assumes responsibility for improving the skills level in Wales as Deputy Minister for Skills. Alun Davies has been appointed as Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes. This last part of his portfolio is an important one, since one must assume that it will include some responsibility for ensuring not only that we tap into the whole range of European funds, but also that we make more effective use of them when they are secured.

The size of the new Cabinet, eight Ministers and three Deputy Ministers, with the position of Counsel General still to be announced, suggests that Carwyn Jones is not contemplating entering a coalition with another party any time soon.

It is significant that for the first time there is no Minister for Agriculture or Rural Affairs inside the Cabinet. Formerly a single Cabinet position, Heritage – embracing the arts, National Library and Musuem, and broadcasting – has been attached  to Housing and Regeneration, perhaps reflecting a view as to its essentially economic importance. The Welsh language is to be the responsibility of the Education Minister.

It is also significant that the government has been renamed, from Welsh Assembly Government to to the simpler, more straighforward and less confusing Welsh Government. At ClickonWales we have been pressing for this for the last year, see here. A Welsh Government spokesman said the name change would be an “evolutionary process” and the government was conscious of costs.

The full Cabinet line-up is as follows:

  • Rt. Hon. Carwyn Jones, First Minister, also responsible for a newly created 
Delivery Unit within the Cabinet Office, Energy, Wales for Africa, Intergovernmental relations, Wales in the World, European Union, and Civil Service Reform.
  • Edwina Hart, 
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Technology
  • Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Health and Social Services
  • Jane Hutt, Minister for Finance and Leader of the House
  • John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development
  • Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
  • Carl Sargeant,
Minister for Local Government and Communities
  • Huw Lewis, 
Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage
  • Gwenda Thomas, 
Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services
  • Jeff Cuthbert, 
Deputy Minister for Skills
  • Alun Davies, 
Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes

John Osmond is Director of the IWA

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