Sunday, January 23, 2011


Over the next few weeks, there will be considerable debate over whether the National Assembly for Wales should be granted further powers.

The two camps supporting and opposing further powers are putting their arguments to the public, with each hoping that they will prevail when the polling booths open in just under six weeks’ time.

So, let me take this opportunity to put my own cards on the table.

For those who have read this column during the last seven years, my views have always been that that Wales should be given every opportunity to maximise its economic potential.
As a result, I will be voting ‘Yes” on March 3rd.

But not because we have a devolution deficit relative to the other parts of the UK as some politicians have argued but because I believe that greater powers can make a real difference to Wales and the Welsh economy.

Indeed, I believe that the assumption that full law making powers for the Assembly would not help Wales, as indicated by several business organisations during the original devolution debate, is no longer valid.

In fact, the real question is how we can use further powers to support indigenous businesses to grow and flourish and make Wales a more attractive business environment for inward investors?
I believe that a more radical Assembly Government, with increased devolved powers, could use legislative powers to boost investment and profitability whilst cutting administrative burdens for companies in a range of areas. This would certainly be an improvement on the current settlement where economic development policy in Wales has been largely straitjacketed to pre-devolution economic levers previously operated from Westminster.

More importantly, if further powers are devolved to Wales, then it does give the Assembly the opportunity to adopt a pro-business approach to legislation.

Only last week, the First Minister stated that he believed “in seeing a burgeoning and thriving Welsh private sector being the engine of recovery. I want to lead a country where business feels Government its on its side, not on its back”.

Now if that not just political rhetoric and is how Carwyn Jones really feels, then I challenge him and the leaders of all the main Welsh political parties to immediately pledge that any new powers devolved to Wales will have no detrimental effect on business.

In my opinion, that would have an immediate and positive impact on the campaign for further devolution amongst the Welsh business community.

After nearly twelve years of devolution, Wales still needs to improve its economic performance relative to the UK and further powers must be used to positively enhance the economic performance of individual businesses and the Welsh economy as a whole.

For example, the National Assembly could look to reduce much of the legislative burdens on the tens of thousands of micro businesses that spend the majority of their time dealing with unnecessary red-tape. Such a move by legislators would make an enormous difference to the competitiveness of the vast majority of Welsh firms.

We have waited too long to argue the case for greater legislative powers and its effect on economic and enterprise development. During the enquiry by the Richard Commission into further powers for the Assembly, I was extremely disappointed that the economy was not discussed in any real depth. In fact, I believe that when the vote is won in March, the first step that the National Assembly should take is to set up an internal cross-party commission to thoroughly examine how additional powers can create competitive advantage for Welsh businesses over the next four years.

Since devolution, our nation has experienced a growing confidence, especially amongst our entrepreneurs. Unlike the lukewarm attitudes from many business organisations and their members back in 1997, the last decade has seen a growing number of businesses, especially those in new knowledge-based sectors, embrace the opportunities created by greater self-government.

Devolution has also encouraged larger businesses, especially within banking and finance, to create Welsh headquarters for their divisions that were previously managed from Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.

With increased legislation that can positively enhance their opportunities, I expect that more investors and large firms will look to Wales to support a pro-business type of legislative environment over the next few years, and that can only be good for the Welsh economy.

Therefore, I can only be hopeful that a higher proportion of those heading Welsh businesses will consider the possibility of adopting a more positive approach to further devolution that can make a real difference to Welsh businesses and, more importantly, those sixty members elected to the fourth Assembly after May will respond positively to this opportunity.

To me, Wales is the greatest nation on this planet and there is now the opportunity to create a legislative environment in which entrepreneurs and innovators can flourish.

Used properly, further powers can help us fulfil the potential we all know exists amongst our business community and I hope that everyone who wants to create a more prosperous Wales will make the right decision on March 3rd.