Ed Evans offers his thoughts on how the new National Infrastructure Commission for Wales can best support economic growth.
We have great economic opportunities ahead of us in Wales – but only if we put in place infrastructure that is fit for the 21st Century. This will only be achieved if we take a far more integrated, connected and long term view of our infrastructure needs which is directly linked to economic growth. What flows from this is clarity and certainty of the projects we need, the investment needed to fund them and the skills and resources we need to deliver. This is what will make a massive difference to the future prospects of our communities and this is what we believe a National Infrastructure Commission for Wales can and should deliver.
CECA Cymru, along with many partners across the construction sector, have long campaigned for the development of a long term strategy for the delivery of infrastructure in Wales and called on all parties to support a “Vision for Infrastructure in Wales for 2040” ahead of the National Assembly election earlier this year. We welcomed the Compact agreement between Plaid Cymru and Labour to work together to establish a new National Infrastructure Commission for Wales. With Plaid Cymru already having nailed their colours to the mast with their proposals for the Commission, the Welsh Government has this week launched its own consultation on the development of the Commission with the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure providing some details on his plans for the body. However, the “devil is always in the detail” and the last thing infrastructure Wales needs is the establishment of a “toothless talking shop” which promises much but is not equipped to deliver.
Wales needs a Commission to focus on what is needed to support economic growth. It needs to set out a clear vision for the future, across the whole of Wales, connecting individual projects to a much wider infrastructure strategy, so that decision makers, funders and the people of Wales have clarity on the social, environmental and economic benefits that new infrastructure brings.
For the infrastructure vision for Wales to prosper, the Commission also needs to be tasked with the role of identifying the investment needed to fund these projects. We shouldn’t constrain ourselves to existing and, sadly, dwindling public sector resources. The Commission needs to be ambitious and should actively consider innovative funding mechanisms to bring forward infrastructure projects which can make a positive difference to our economy. And, whilst we welcome that the Cabinet Secretary has stated that the Commission should be up and running within the next 12 months, Wales cannot afford to, and shouldn’t have to, wait any longer for projects which we know will improve our economy now.
Why is this so important, not just to those working in the sector but to the broader economy? Clarity and certainty are so important for the businesses which grow our economy and yet the delivery of infrastructure, not just in Wales but across the UK, is characterised by exactly the opposite – uncertainty and a lack of clarity. This undermines business confidence to invest. A strong Commission can and should address this.
Finally, and crucially, the Commission needs to set out clearly the skills and resources needed to deliver this joined up programme of infrastructure projects. This will allow employers, training providers and education establishments to confidently invest in recruiting, training and upskilling the people we need. CITB Cymru estimates that we will need over 5,000 people per annum to deliver our current aspirations and this figure will only increase if the Commission identifies the reality of what we need in Wales. Whilst this is certainly a challenge it offers great opportunities. These are high value, long term jobs that could not only transform our economy but breathe prosperity into those communities that are in greatest need of regeneration,
However, the preparatory work needs to be happening now to ensure that the significant numbers of highly skilled workers are available in Wales, and stay in Wales. The lack of high quality apprenticeships in Wales at present is of great concern to the construction industry. The Welsh Government commitment to creating 100,000 high-quality, all age apprenticeships is of course welcomed but questions remain on the introduction of the UK Government’s Apprenticeship Levy and the consequent impact here in Wales.
As the Welsh Government moves ahead with consulting industry on the shape and purpose of a National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, partners and stakeholders across not just the construction industry but the broader business sector must continue to work together for a solution which delivers for Wales. During a challenging time, this is a golden opportunity to build a more prosperous Wales.