Friday, May 28, 2010


As expected, the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has made an immediate impact, with twenty two new bills introduced during the Queen’s speech.

I have already discussed the potential impact of one of most significant bills, namely the promise to raise income tax allowances so that “low and middle income employees’ will pay less than they do now. The long-term goal, over the course of this Parliament, is to take the first £10,000 of all individuals’ income out of tax.

What about the others?

As a result of devolution, some of the bills apply only to England. For example, the Academies Bill will only allow English schools to apply to become academies and gain independence from Whitehall control, whilst the Health Bill will only give increased power and responsibility to doctors and nurses in England.

However, there are also those bills that will apply across the whole of the UK and it is worth considering which of these will have an effect on the wellbeing of Wales and its economy.

For example, the Welfare Reform Bill aims to get more than five million people off benefits and back into work by simplifying the benefits system and introducing better incentives.

With recent studies showing that half of the top ten areas for claiming incapacity benefit in the UK are to be found in Wales – Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent, Neath Port Talbot, Rhondda Cynon Taff and Caerphilly – this bill will have a significant impact in Wales. Indeed, as “A Change of Personnel” notes, any reform must take into focus on these in high benefit dependency areas to create real jobs and improves people’s skills in order to fully tackle the benefit trap that many individuals and families find themselves in.

Given that hundreds of millions of pounds are already being spent via initiatives such as Communities First and other Convergence Funded programmes, there must be greater co-operation between the Department of Work and Pensions and the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) to ensure joined up thinking over this critical issue.

Wales also has the potential to benefit from the energy bill and the creation of a £2 billion green investment fund but only if we get our act together over renewable energy, particularly in supporting businesses that are developing micro-generation products.

To date (and excuse the pun) there has been a lot of hot air about supporting green businesses in Wales, despite the presence of excellent exemplars such as G24 Innovations in Cardiff and Dulas in Machynlleth. If WAG is serious about exploiting the potential of a green investment fund, then it must begin to put some significant amounts of support behind the activities of companies within the low carbon sector.

The promise to ensure that high speed broadband is to be made available to millions of people living in remote parts of the country should also ensure that many parts of rural Wales become more accessible to businesses, especially those operating in the digital and low carbon economy. The question is how Wales can lobby within Westminster to ensure that we become one of the first areas in which this new programme is rolled out across the UK?

Certainly, there should be an advantage in having the MPs for the two main constituencies of Mid-Wales currently sitting on the government benches.

Therefore, after only two weeks, the new Government has already developed legislation that can have a real effect on Wales.

However, for those bills related to welfare, broadband and green technologies, it is critical that there is greater joined up thinking between Cardiff Bay and Westminster to ensure that these work for the benefit of Wales.

If there is not and WAG continues to focus on petty political point scoring against the new Secretary of State, then it will be a real wasted opportunity for this nation.