the Labour Party manifesto for the 2011 Assembly elections.
The opening line in the section on the economy, entitled “Standing up for growth and sustainable jobs”, states that “Wales faces significant economic challenges and the next Assembly term will be a critical period for the Welsh economy”.
Yet, the rest of the section is a major disappointment, and for a so-called progressive party with a radical manifesto, I can see no major far-reaching policy innovations that will radically change the direction of the Welsh economy and prevent it from languishing at the bottom of the UK prosperity league table.
It is notable that there is a tacit admission that their current strategy - the Economic Renewal Programme (ERP) - has got it largely wrong on focusing only on six key sectors. As the manifesto notes,
“In building upon the support for the sectoral approach of the Economic Renewal Programme Welsh Labour also recognises that much of the existing economic base of Wales and future projections of job growth and wealth creation lie outside the six key sectors, in areas such as business services, construction and tourism”.
So, here we have the main party in Wales admitting that the ERP’s main policy of focusing support on a companies in a few key sectors, one which they supported without question for the last ten months, is not only wrong but which flies in the face of existing evidence.
Such a statement may not be the final nail in the coffin in the ERP, but is certainly an indication that it will not last long under the next Assembly Government.
However, the biggest disappointment is that Labour simply have not learnt the lessons of the past and the fact that it is entrepreneurs and the SME sector that drive job growth out of a recession, not the large firm sector. Indeed, they continue to argue, erroneously, that
“Much of the economic base of Wales is founded on large companies and they are vital to many parts of Wales” and that they will “Continue to build strong links with our anchor companies and develop strategic, mutually supportive/beneficial relationships with these key companies, embedding them in the Welsh economy through developing close links with our further and higher educational institutions and maximising supply chain opportunities”.
The only sop to the critically vital SME sector is that Labour will “Review what entrepreneurial support is needed by start-up and small firms (SMEs), with real potential to thrive and grow, and how we can embed an entrepreneurial culture in Wales”.
Considering that the last Assembly Government has allegedly spent a small fortune on this very exercise already through the ERP, is that all that Welsh Labour can offer SMEs in Wales?
Do we really need another business support review that will no doubt take months and come up with yet another strategy that will prove to be largely useless?
Certainly, Labour’s continuing ambivalence towards entrepreneurs and small firms in Wales remains an open goal for the other three parties, especially as they seem to be the only major party that has no policy on reducing business rates for small firms.
Given the critical importance of firing up the Welsh economy, this is a disappointing document from Wales’ largest party and frankly, it would seem that they have learnt nothing from the last 12 years of running Wales. I see nothing substantial here that will change the direction of the Welsh economy, especially within its more deprived communities, and if Labour do retain power after May, then it is clear that we will not see the radical change necessary to stop Wales continuing its downward economic spiral.
One of the sayings popular with my son and his friends is "C.B.A.T.B.A" which translates from teenager lingo into "Can't Be Arsed To Be Arsed". Having read their proposals for the Welsh economy, I think that statement perfectly defines the attitude of the Welsh Labour Party towards supporting the Welsh business community.