Welsh Conservatives Debate: Economic Development
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. It gives me great pleasure in introducing the second Welsh Conservative debate this afternoon, and I formally move the motion in the name of Paul Davies. I should say that I agree with all of Plaid’s amendments. Unfortunately, we can’t support them because they delete all of our motion.
After the referendum to leave the European Union and the inevitable uncertainty associated with the result, the UK Government’s recently published industrial strategy, I believe, provides businesses with the security and certainty to plan for their future, as well as a firm foundation for improving living standards and investing in the future success of all parts of the UK. It outlines major investment for infrastructure, new investment in science, in research and development, and aims to ensure that growing enterprises have the skills and support to create new jobs and prosperity.
Looking at the Welsh Government’s White Paper—and there is much I can agree with in that, I should say, but there is little in the way of support to businesses and little to drive forward important infrastructure projects. We have to wait, of course, until the spring to see what the Welsh Government plans for the Welsh economic strategy. When that plan is published, I hope that the Welsh Government looks to ensure that its strategy dovetails with the UK Government’s industrial strategy and is equally forward looking and ambitious for the future economic challenges that face Wales. The UK’s industrial strategy puts emphasis on addressing the regional disparity in economic prosperity and the skills shortages that exist within the UK and in Wales, which, if successfully addressed, will drive increases in productivity and in social mobility.
It ought also to be noted that the industrial strategy will support the economy of north Wales, with the north Wales growth deal, major transport schemes under construction, including a third crossing over the Menai straits, work to improve the A55 and the A494 interchange, and also the electrification of the north Wales coast line. One of the ways in which the industrial strategy is doing this is to recognise R&D as an essential part of the future economy. It is, therefore, I think, a welcome development that the UK Government is concentrating on making the north of England a tech region. This will present significant opportunities, I think, for north Wales to plug into the wider Northern Powerhouse. I want the Welsh Government to have the appetite to drive R&D forward to ensure that north Wales has the tools to be able to take advantage of these opportunities. The Welsh Government has, historically, chosen not to invest heavily in R&D. It continues not to in the 2017-18 budget, in terms of business innovation and R&D facilities. The year-on-year budget remains unchanged, and, of course, that represents a real-terms decrease in funding for this, I’d say, crucial growth area.
Now, when it comes to support for the steel industry, we need to ensure that the industry can be commercially sustainable in a competitive global market. The UK Government have been addressing some of the key asks of the industry, including compensating—[Interruption.] in a moment—energy-intensive manufacturers, providing flexibility over the implementation of EU emissions regulations, and have also pressed for action against unfair steel dumping. I give way to David Rees.
I thank you for taking the intervention. You mentioned steel, so, me, so—. Clearly, are you as disappointed, and perhaps disgusted, as I am at the lack of emphasis on steel, a foundation industry here in the UK, in that industrial strategy, and that, in fact, to date, the UK Government’s done very little to support the steel industry? It’s the Welsh Government that’s been doing it, not the UK Government.
Well, I just outlined, just before you intervened, what the UK Government’s been doing. But what Greg Clark said last week is he wants a special deal with the steel industry as part of the Government’s flagship industrial strategy. I’ve got to say, I won’t take any lessons from Labour, and I don’t think the UK Government should take any lessons from Labour, in regard to the steel industry. The steel industry reduced productivity by around about a third when the last Labour Government was in power. Also, in terms of people employed, the industry halved the amount of people employed whilst Labour was in office as well. So, I don’t think the UK Government should take any interventions in that regard.
In drawing my remarks, Presiding Officer, to a conclusion, the UK’s industrial strategy is optimistic and ambitious for Britain’s future, from a UK Government that is determined to make a success of leaving the EU, and surely we should all be supporting that aim. My concern is that the recent White Paper issued by the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru is not a plan that supports the economy. Welsh businesses need that security to plan ahead. Now, the Welsh Government promised to, and I quote, ‘produce a plan for confidence-building measures, to help re-assure businesses and investors that Wales remains open for business, and that the economy is a priority for the Welsh Government.’
Now, in my view, as much as I agree with a large amount of what’s in that White Paper, what I’ve just read out now is not achieved when it comes to the ambition of the Welsh Government in that regard.
The UK Government’s industrial strategy is a vision for a modern, successful, ambitious Britain that gets every part of the country firing on all cylinders. It’s now time, I think, that the Welsh Government devoted the same kind of commitment as the UK Government in laying the foundations for improved living standards, economic growth, and a more prosperous and equal Wales. So, I do commend our motion today to the Members, and I look forward to contributions from Members throughout the next hour.