The performance of the Welsh economy was the focal point of discussions of a group of representatives of Welsh businesses today [4 Dec 2012], as the Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones hosted the eighth Business Advisory Group meeting in London.
Chairing his first meeting since taking his seat in the Cabinet, Mr Jones welcomed members of the group to Gwydyr House where they engaged in a round table discussion on the current business environment, and their response to the current economic challenges. The group was also given a presentation on the findings of Part 1 of the Commission on Devolution in Wales’ (Silk Commission) report on Welsh fiscal devolution by Professor Nick Bourne.
Mr Jones said:
Getting the economy back on track is this government’s number one priority, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet with representatives of Welsh businesses to hear first hand about trading conditions in Wales.
The challenging economic conditions we are facing have not made things easy. Indeed, the business environment in Wales has suffered two large losses in the last month with the news of job losses at Tata Steel and Paramount Foods in North Wales.
But even in these difficult times, there are encouraging signs.The recent positive GDP figures, coupled with rising employment and falling unemployment, is a sign that the British economy is on the right track. There are significant grounds to believe that Wales’s prospects will improve significantly over the next 12 months.
The recent decisions we have taken on infrastructure investments - such as the further programme of electrification we announced in July - are helping to show that Wales is open for business and a great place to invest. Hitachi’s £10 billion investment in new nuclear at Wylfa B on Anglesey is one of the most significant investments in North Wales for generations, and we are committed to building a strong business case for further electrification of the railway line from Holyhead to Crewe.
The UK Guarantees Scheme is further proof of how important infrastructure development is to this government’s growth agenda. Under the Scheme launched by the Chancellor George Osborne in July this year, up to £40 billion of funding will be underwritten for infrastructure projects that have been put on hold following difficulties in raising money from private investors.
Today, I updated members on the importance of Welsh companies seizing the opportunity to strengthen our economic assets in Wales, and dramatically accelerate major infrastructure investment.”
Following the roundtable discussion, Professor Nick Bourne updated the group on the Silk Commission’s report Empowerment and Responsibility: Financial Powers to Strengthen Wales, which was published last month. The report makes recommendations to devolve certain tax and borrowing powers to the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh government.
During 2013, the Commission on Devolution will turn its attention to the second part of its remit, looking at the powers of the Assembly and recommending modifications to the present constitutional arrangements that would enable the Welsh devolution settlement to work more effectively. It will report on Part II by spring 2014.
Mr Jones continued:
I am grateful to Professor Bourne for taking the time to update the group on the Silk Commission’s findings in Part 1 of its work. The UK government will now consider the recommendations made and will respond formally in due course.
As they look ahead to Part II, I would urge businesses in Wales take the opportunity to engage with the commission and provide their own views on the case for any modifications to the Welsh devolution settlement.