Daily Post column, May 2nd 2011
During this election campaign, we have had the unedifying row between Labour and Plaid Cymru over which party was responsible for developing the Pro-Act scheme.
As you may recall, this Welsh Assembly Government programme was put into place to help companies during the recession by encouraging them to avoid redundancies through supporting workers to train instead. It was available to businesses that had introduced short time working and faced the threat of redundancies. It offered £2000 per individual towards training costs and a further wage subsidy of £2000 per worker whilst this training was being undertaken.
Across Wales, it can be argued that the scheme did its job, safeguarding 10,635 jobs in 250 firms at a cost of £27 million, although there has been some dispute as to how many of the jobs were actually under threat of redundancy at the time. Yet, whilst the political wrangling has gone on between the two parties that made up the last Assembly Government as to who was responsible for its development, no-one seems to have asked whether the every part of Wales has benefited fairly and equally from the funding made available through the Pro-Act scheme.
Well, according to a report written by Assembly Members’ Research Service, it would seem that funding has been geographically concentrated.
Not surprisingly, two thirds of the Pro-Act funding has gone to businesses based in South Wales, with only 15 per cent going to firms located in North Wales. The county that received the largest amount of funding was Neath Port Talbot, with £3.2 million going to 18 companies, safeguarding around 1700 jobs, although it is to be noted that Tata Steel received a third of this funding to support a thousand employees at its main Welsh plant. This contrasts with Ceredigion, where one firm received £31,680 to support eight of its workers.
In fact, it would seem that rural areas such as North West Wales have again lost out when it comes to receiving support from major Assembly initiatives. In Conwy, Anglesey and Gwynedd, only sixteen companies were supported by Pro-Act and the amount they received came to only 2 per cent of the total funding given out by the Welsh Assembly Government under this initiative. Contrast that with individual counties such as Rhondda Cynon Taff, which received 10 per cent of the Pro-Act budget and Swansea, which received 8 per cent.
I cannot believe that businesses across North West Wales, which were facing the same difficult economic conditions as those in South Wales, would not have applied for financial support from this programme. Why has so little been done to support businesses in these three counties, especially compared to other parts of Wales?
With Anglesey being the poorest county in the whole of the UK, you would have thought that it would have been an economic imperative for the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that businesses across the island were made aware of the financial support available through Pro-Act. Yet only five businesses were supported on Anglesey during the worst recession for generations.
During the last two years, Labour and Plaid Cymru have constantly described the Pro-Act scheme as being their solution for the economic recession that hit many Welsh businesses. Yet, these statistics show that it has had little effect on some parts of our economy. Certainly, the next Assembly Government needs to ensure that any large scale business support programme needs to be focused not only on those old industrial areas in South Wales but also on the more rural areas such as North West Wales where businesses face many similar challenges.