Ken Skates says his region needs investment to become an engine for entrepreneurial activity
The latest economic data published in the Regional Economic and Labour Market Profile for north Wales contains a few ideas for us to mull over. One of the first, relatively positive, indicators is that the region has held its head above the economic waters quite stubbornly over the last few months.
Indeed, the latest headline statistics are better than for Wales as a whole. The region has a higher employment rate, lower economic inactivity and lower unemployment rates than the rest of Wales. This is probably a result of companies taking a long-term view, trying desperately to hold on to good staff rather than lose highly prized skills as a result of the downturn.
Moreover, since 2001 north Wales has seen a bigger improvement in its labour market numbers than the rest of Wales. The latest Gross Disposable Household Income, measured in 2010, gives the region £13,900, which is ahead of the Wales average.
However, this is where the good news starts to thin out a little. The Welsh Government numbers show workers in north Wales earn on average more than £18 a week less than other workers across Wales, with gross full-time earnings in the region being below the national average at £502.30 a week, compared with £520.70 for Wales as a whole. Across the UK the average gross weekly wage is £607.10 per week.
The figures also show a big disparity in earnings within north Wales, with a worrying gap opening up in terms of full-time wages between the six local authorities in the region. In Flintshire gross average earnings are over £542 a week, but in Gwynedd the average full-time worker earns £100 a week less, at £442 a week. In my own authority of Wrexham the figure is £485. It paints a picture of a region where jobs tend to be less well paid than in other parts of Wales.
The data also contains a year-on-year increase in the claimant count of three of the six local authorities in north Wales. This is a signal that if the UK Government’s failure to generate growth goes on much longer, the unemployment rate will soon be climbing higher again.
The big economic priority for north Wales in 2013 is attracting more high value, better paid jobs as well as getting a good mix of this employment across the region. We already have a good skills base and a bank of knowledge in areas like aerospace, advanced manufacturing, and in sectors like forestry. However there is more that we can and should be doing.
Speaking to employers like Kronospan in my own constituency, it’s clear we need to make a priority of skills investment and re-double our efforts in creating more higher level apprenticeships. We also need to be giving more help to small indigenous start-ups across north Wales so it can become an engine of entrepreneurial activity and growth.
Infrastructure will be a key theme too over the next year. As the economy picks up businesses will be making big strategic decisions about where to invest in the medium to long term. That’s why we need an ambitious plan to invest in regional infrastructure projects across every local authority area. The Department for Transport at Westminster have said an announcement about plans for the next phase of High Speed Rail north of Birmingham will be published early in 2013. We risk being left in economic second tier if a plan to electrify the north Wales mainline is not put in place to retain business confidence in the future of the area.
The fundamentals of the economy need investing in right across north Wales. The region has the potential skills base, geography and the track record of quality in key sectors to be a future powerhouse of the Welsh economy. All we need is the long-term vision, cross-party support and the entrepreneurial drive to make it happen.