Thursday, January 31, 2008
The paper I wrote on enterprise education for the event can be found here.
The transcript of the committee session can be found here.
Monday, January 28, 2008
First conceived thirty seven years ago as a meeting for European industrial associations, it has become the main global event at which the powerful, the bright and the popular meet every year to discuss the challenges facing the world economy.
Tony Blair, Bono, Henry Kissinger and even Barbara Streisand are amongst the luminaries rubbing shoulders with the chief executives of the most innovative businesses from five continents, including Bill Gates (above) and Richard Branson.
In terms of Welsh representation at this august gathering, it is not surprising to see Sony’s Barry-born chief executive, Sir Howard Stringer, mixing it with the other leaders of world business.
However, it is also fantastic to see the founder of one of Wales’ most exciting new companies at this event. Mark Crozier, managing director of Bangor-based Deepstream Technologies, was named as one of the WEF’s Technology Pioneers for 2007 and is present again this year to represent the best of innovative businesses worldwide.
Click here to see an interview with Mark.
The timing of the event couldn’t have been more appropriate, given the meltdown in stock markets across the world and the ongoing crisis in the banking sector. I am sure the ‘R’ word is being bandied around every lecture, meeting and cocktail party but whether recession is actually around the corner is still open to debate.
Of course, the issue of economic insecurity was already a key theme of the Forum, especially in mitigating against further risks following the meltdown in the US sub-prime market and the ensuing international credit drought.
However, in the scrum to see whether any leading economist, businessman or politician has any solution to clear the dark clouds of economic gloom other key themes of the forum have been forgotten.
The continuing globalisation of the economy will reward those organisations that can collaborate successfully both within their sectors and externally, especially as introducing new products and services quickly to market will depend on individuals and firms being able to work in partnership across corporate and national boundaries. This will not only include business to business relationships but also links between industry and civic society, with corporate social responsibility becoming the norm, rather than the exception.
In addition, issues such as terrorism, climate change, non-proliferation, poverty, scarcity of natural resources, and an ageing population are changing the pattern of global influence. For example, all businesses and politicians are becoming acutely aware of the growing influence of those countries which have natural resources such as the Arab Gulf States, Iran, Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, Russia and South Africa. As a result, it is vital that organisations and governments from the European Union, Japan and the United States are able to facilitate and manage their relationships with counterparts in such nations.
Finally, the delegates will have been exploring the future impact of science and technology, especially as every major global problem, from climate change to disease eradication to ageing societies, can potentially be solved through advances in technologies such as nanotechnologies, genetics and computer science.
In the midst of such discussions, I am sure that Mark Crozier is having a great time. Indeed, as he told me last year, where else could you be ordering a drink at a bar whilst standing next to Claudia Schiffer before turning to discuss the state of the computer industry with Michael Dell!
He also believed that staging a similar event in the UK, albeit on a smaller scale, could be of enormous benefit to organisations in the public and private sector, as it would give them the opportunity to get out of the office and the factory to network with other leaders and consider some of the real issues facing the world today.
If that could be done, then why not have Wales as its location? If a sleepy ski resort in the Swiss Alps can become the centre of the world economy for a week, then why can’t somewhere like Llandudno or Portmeirion perform a similar role for the UK?
Certainly, the Assembly Government could, if it wanted to, act as a catalyst in establishing such an event and ensuring that, for a few days of the year, the best of the UK’s businesses come over to Wales.
I personally cannot think of a better way to sell our wonderful nation to the rest of Britain and, indeed, the world.
Friday, January 25, 2008
In an incisive piece of analysis, Phil said that
"there is a duty on all of us involved in trying to improve the economic performance of Wales to think seriously about this matter and consider carefully the best way forward. There is no point in trying to pretend there isn’t a problem when the statistics prove otherwise".
Other key points made in the article include:
- Serious reservations about the Assembly Government’s recent strategy of trying to pick winners. Rather than focusing on companies that are already successful, it would surely make sense to concentrate on helping start-ups. One of the problems with backing already successful companies is that most of them are in the parts of Wales that have done relatively well economically. That perpetuates a Cardiff-centric, M4 corridor emphasis, when new small businesses should be stimulated in places like the Valleys. It is perverse to help companies in richer areas at the expense of those in the poorer parts of Wales.
- Refocus the economy and transport department of the Welsh Assembly Government on the real needs of its external stakeholders rather than navel-gazing on its internal problems. There is a need for rationalisation based on actual market needs not on public sector perceptions;
- Stop officials talking about confusion in the business support market as if it were caused by the delivery chain and providers of services – the biggest culprits are public sector bodies who have developed programmes in isolation;
- Face up to the reality that several key government programmes that seem to be the nucleus of current strategy are not achieving anywhere near the expected outputs and have failed.
- Redirect the resources into programmes that have a history of success and you get more value for money – not the other way round, as is the current scenario
- Reduce the red tape and bureaucracy involved for small firms and individuals who try to access publicly funded business support programmes. Entrepreneurs tend to favour approaches that are high on innovation and low on bureaucracy.
- Clarify the role of the economy and transport department and decide if they are fund-holders and programme managers of government funds or deliverers of services to small firms. Evidence suggests that their skill sets and cultural values are better suited to the former rather than the latter.
- Establish economic development targets as this will make it easier to measure success and capture the enormous goodwill available from the numerous business support organisations involved with the delivery of services.
Phil has hit the nail firmly on the head when he says that there may need to be a Damascean conversion to realise that the poorer parts of Wales still needs support to close the enterprise deficit with the rest of the UK. That is, after all, why a further £1.2 billion of European funding is coming to this country.
Don't get me wrong, there is certainly a need to 'back winners' in key areas within Wales - especially in the fields of science and technology - but to adopt this approach as the ONLY strategy for regenerating Wales whilst ignoring the entrepreneurial potential of this nation is a formula for economic suicide.
If such opinions are being kept away from the Minister for the Economy by advisors determined to keep to the 'picking winners' strategy at all costs, then there is food for thought for Leighton Andrews, his Deputy Minister for Regeneration, given his valid concerns for the economic problems within the more deprived areas of the South Wales Valleys.
I hope he, if not his officials, will take the time to discuss some of Phil's issues directly with the man himself and other leaders within the enterprise support field.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Responding to a question from his shadow Cheryl Gillan, he made the following remark.
“She should applaud the statement that, 'the business sector in Wales seems to be going from strength to strength.' It was made by Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, the director of the national entrepreneurship observatory for Wales and Conservative candidate for Clwyd West in last year’s Assembly elections”.
Unfortunately for Mr Hain, that statement reflects the shambolic nature of his entire deputy leadership campaign.
First of all, I was the candidate for the constituency of Aberconwy not Clwyd West and perhaps the researcher who collected this information was the same person responsible for reporting the donations to the Electoral Commission!
If a senior Minister cannot get such a simple fact right in putting together a response to the House of Commons, then no wonder he is in such trouble in reporting other information.
Secondly, this response demonstrated that, contrary to Gordon Brown’s assurances, the Government spin machine is still alive and kicking.
The quotation I used was, of course, taken completely out of context from an article examining the worsening state of the Welsh economy in the last few years, and spun by Mr Hain’s speechwriters to suit his reply.
So that Mr Hain and his team can be in no doubt about my views on the economic state of Wales, let me repeat the main part of that article.
“We have seen economic statistics which have yet again cemented our position at the bottom of the prosperity league table. Only two weeks ago, we found out that Wales now has its lowest ever prosperity level, at 77% of the UK average.
“This dire economic statistic is compounded by the fact that we have the lowest mean gross weekly earnings for full-time adults in the UK and that the gap with the UK is growing. Business R&D expenditure for Wales in 2006 had fallen by 7 per cent since 2005, as compared with an increase in the UK of 5 per cent. Our export performance has worsened over the last 12 months and the tourism sector has suffered a downturn.
“With some economists now predicting a possible recession next year, these statistics are hardly good news for the Welsh economy.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement of his Government’s handling of the economy in Wales!
In fact, Mr Hain should get his research team to undertake their own analysis of the Welsh economy as it would show, contrary to the myths he constantly peddles, that the average annual growth rate in prosperity in Wales in the period 1989-1997 was actually higher than that for the period 1997-2006, despite billions of pounds of European money and devolution funding.
Wales currently props up the prosperity league table of the UK even though we all know that we could, and should, be doing better.
Hopefully, the next Secretary of State of Wales will hold only one job and focus his entire effort on lobbying cabinet colleagues to ensure that we get a far better deal from the UK Government to develop this nation and its potential for the future.
Monday, January 21, 2008
The event brought together researchers from all over the world to examine entrepreneurial activity and its effect on economic activity. As it is ten years since the GEM project was established, it was an interesting meeting to reflect on what has been achieved to date and our agenda for the next decade.
As discussed on Friday, the meeting was held at Babson College (above), which is recognised as the leading entrepreneurship centre in the World.
As a small private college of less than 3,500 students wholly dedicated to enterprise, its mission is “to educate men and women to be entrepreneurial leaders in a rapidly changing world, and prepare them to identify opportunities and initiate actions that result in genuine accomplishment”.
For example, its flagship course - Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship - was recently rated as being the most innovative entrepreneurship education course in the USA by the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
This is not surprising, as the all first-year undergraduate students have to participate in the Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship course, where student teams create their own for-profit ventures over the course of twelve months. The college even loans the potential entrepreneurs £1500 to get going, with all profits from these student ventures donated to local community projects.
As far as I am aware, no other business college engages its students in this manner from day one.
After an immersion in the real world of enterprise, the undergraduates then go on to study areas such accounting, marketing, finance, management operations, organisational behaviour, and economics in one integrated course. They are taught by a team of professors who relate the interaction of each subject studied with each other, rather than being taught as stand- alone subjects as we see in many UK business schools.
In their final year, they can focus on one key aspect of business including areas such as economics, family business, finance, global business management, leadership and retail supply chain management.
It is a highly innovative approach to teaching business and management to students but one that clearly works, given the continuous high rankings achieved by the Babson College every year.
Through connecting theory directly with practice, Babson has been able to infuse entrepreneurship education throughout all the courses it teaches.
Of course, excellence in enterprise education is not only about cultivating new businesses but about creating a state of mind where innovation, market awareness, entrepreneurship and leadership is second nature not only to those who develop a start-up for the thousands who will work in large firms, the public sector and within charities and voluntary organisations.
Perhaps the one question that springs to mind is why we haven’t done this here in Wales?
Certainly, the statistics show that whilst over 450 graduate start-ups have been created since 2002, the vast majority remain lifestyle businesses with an average of one employee each.
In addition, it would seem that only one academic institution has taken the whole area of enterprise education seriously during the last decade, although one would question whether the millions that have been spent on various programmes have actually produced the outputs expected.
If there is to be a step change in the economy of this country, then we need radical solutions. Given the general reluctance of academic institutions across Wales to take enterprise education seriously, then perhaps there should be pressure to create a dedicated Welsh institution along the same lines as Babson College.
However, that is highly unlikely in the current political climate and perhaps the best that anyone can hope for is that enterprise education is integrated properly into higher and further education across Wales and that it is not just seen as an add on to existing courses.
The Welsh economy is not only crying out for entrepreneurs, but for entrepreneurial managers to help take our existing businesses to the next level with new ideas and innovative products and solutions. Traditional teaching of traditional standalone business subjects will not do anything for our economy.
With Wales facing a major economic challenge over the next few years, I hope the time has now come for politicians and policymakers to take this issue seriously and ensure that we have a 21st Century management education system for a 21st century economy.
Friday, January 18, 2008
GEM is an annual assessment of the national level of entrepreneurial activity and explores the role of entrepreneurship in national economic growth and the characteristics associated with new business creation.
Over 150,000 individuals were interviewed across 42 countries as part of the research project.
In Wales, the GEM study is undertaken by the National Entrepreneurship Observatory, a joint project between Cardiff University and the University of Glamorgan with a separate annual report produced for the rate of entrepreneurial activity in North Wales.
In 2007, the GEM study shows that the highest levels of entrepreneurial activity are to be found amongst middle and low-income countries in Latin America and Asia.
For example, nearly half of the adult population in Thailand were involved in some sort of entrepreneurial activity with high rates also found for Peru, Columbia, Venezuela and China.
In contrast, the countries with the lowest level of entrepreneurial activity were Russia, Belgium and France. In the UK, one in ten adults were involved in entrepreneurial activity, with approximately half of these starting or managing a new business.
Other key findings from this year’s study are:
- New businesses are started by young people (aged 25-34)
- Men are more likely to start a business than women and this gender gap is present among all age groups
- The more burdensome a country’s new business regulations, the lower the ambition for growth among a country’s entrepreneurs
-Media attention and other positive signals from society, such as entrepreneurship being considered as a good career choice or receiving high status is positively linked to enterprise activity
- Only three per cent of new businesses are expecting to create more than 50 or more jobs with 30 per cent of start-ups not expecting to employ anyone at all
- Entrepreneurship is going global and in some GEM countries, 40% of early-stage entrepreneurs expected 24% or more of their customers to come from outside the country.
I have been priveleged to be involved in GEM since 2000 and continue to believe that it is an important piece of economic research, mainly because no other exists that can provide consistent cross-country information and measures of entrepreneurial activity in a global context.
This involvement has enabled Wales to benchmark itself against economies all over the World, as well as different UK and European regions.
For Welsh policymakers, probably the most important results from the 2007 global study is a confirmation that there is a strong correlation between the rate of early-stage entrepreneurial activity and the general population’s positive perceptions of their entrepreneurial skills and opportunities for starting a business.
Therefore, a focus on developing higher levels of entrepreneurial skills amongst potential and existing businesspeople could lead to greater level of sustainable business creation.
Full details of the GEM Global Report can be found at http://www.gemconsortium.org/
Thursday, January 17, 2008
For those supporting nuclear power, it is a cheap and safe form of energy that does not produce global warming in the same way that gas and coal power stations do.
Whilst the spectre of Chernobyl is continuously raised by nuclear objectors, it is easy to forget that France, with the majority of its nuclear power stations within a stone’s throw of the south coast of England, has generated the majority of its power from this source for decades without one single accident.
A strong case can be made that the construction of nuclear power stations is strategically vital in reducing the UK’s growing dependence on imported energy.
With oil being largely generated in the Middle East - one of the most politically unstable regions in the world - and the majority of gas coming from Russia – a country that is happy to cut off supplies when politically threatened - there are real worries that any disruption in the supply of energy could seriously impact the economy of this country.
No wonder that Finland, despite its record as being one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world, is building new nuclear power stations to reduce any future dependency on its larger neighbour.
Having studied nuclear physics at university, I have no problems at all with nuclear power, its generation or its safety. However, as it will take ten years to construct these new stations, I believe the Government must also invest serious money in finding a solution to the problem of nuclear waste to ensure that it is minimised and managed, rather than being seen as an afterthought that can be dealt with quietly after the generators are built.
Growing evidence of global warming means that the main issue for the UK Government is one of developing energy sources that do not precipitate climate change, although the decision to support nuclear power also reflects the complete failure of our leaders in Westminster and Cardiff Bay to invest and develop major sustainable energy sources over the last ten years.
The obsession of politicians with windpower at the expense of any other form of renewable energy generation has meant that there is now little option but to increase our dependency on nuclear power, although with the talents available within our universities and high technology industries, there is no reason why we couldn’t have become world leaders in tidal power, solar cells and clean coal technology.
Unfortunately, we are where we are, and as the great visionary and environmentalist James Loveluck noted in the Independent three years ago, the worldwide use of nuclear power would “pose an insignificant threat compared with the dangers of intolerable and lethal heat waves and sea levels rising to drown every coastal city of the world”.
With the global clock ticking and governments having done little to address climate change in a meaningful manner, the real paradox for many is that nuclear power, of all potential sources of electricity, may end up being the only solution to further global warming.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
For businesses, the key question is where will the majority of these consumers be based?
Well, if we believe the doomsayer economists analysing the US and European economies, it is unlikely that there will be a consumer boom in the West over the next twelve months. However, this does not necessarily mean that there will be any slowdown in consumer growth elsewhere, and with the expansion of the middle classes in the so called BRIC countries, namely Brazil Russia, India and China, there is certainly scope for businesses to trade successfully in a number of emerging markets.
As these countries get richer, they will follow the pattern of the developed world, with the majority of the wealth being concentrated in a small number of high net worth individuals i.e. those with net assets of more than £500,000. Indeed, research suggests that this group is growing annually by 8 per cent and 16 per cent in China and Russia respectively.
More importantly, analysts suggest that the growing emergence of a middle class, especially in China, could result in a mini-boom for consumer-related products and services. Indeed, rather than focusing on major cities such as Shanghai or Beijing, it has been predicted that the growth will come in the so-called “second and third tier cities”, many of which are far bigger than most of the major cities in the UK.
An estimated 300 million Chinese are set to move into these cities over the next decade. As such, there will be over 700 million Chinese who will be part of the ‘consumer class’ within fifteen years time, as compared to less than 100 million today.
Similarly, there is going to be a massive growth in the middle class within India, with the urban population growing from 318 million in 2006 to 523 million in 2025. Of these, nine out of ten will belong to households with a comfortable standard of living and relatively high levels of disposable income.
The Economist recently reported that sales of new cars, computers and consumer electronics in Brazil and Mexico were at record levels, with much of the extra demand coming from the growing number of middle class consumers.
This should not be too surprising, as the number of households with annual disposable incomes of over $10,000 rose by 31.6per cent in the five year period 2002-2006 and the number of 20-49 year olds is estimated to increase by 7 million over the next eight years. This makes Brazil one of the most attractive consumer markets globally.
However, perhaps the greatest untapped market is the one closest to us geographically, namely Russia.
Currently, around 20 per cent of the population (or 30 million Russians) can be categorised as middle class. However, the potential growth is higher than in the other BRIC countries due to a number of factors. For example, consumers in Russia have relatively high disposable incomes because both personal income tax and the cost of housing/ utilities are low. As a result, something like eighty per cent of the incomes of Russian consumers is spent on goods and services.
Whilst the country suffered economic decline in the 1990s, the last eight years have witnessed continuous growth in the economy.
With Russia’s oil and gas exports, salaries have grown at a rate of ten per cent per annum, with much of this being spent on consumer goods. For example, £17 billion was spent by Russians last year on buying cars and the number of Russians owning mobile phones has jumped from 3 million to 80 million in less than six years.
Therefore, there are certainly plenty of opportunities for indigenous companies within these BRIC countries, although the important questions are how many of our firms are considering entering the markets and how many are ‘export ready’ to do so?
There certainly needs to be a greater effort in ensuring that many of the excellent small and medium sized businesses we have are geared up towards internationalisation of their business activities.
The growing consumer markets across Brazil, Russia, India and China represent an open goal to any business anywhere in the World willing to put the time and effort into establishing themselves within these fast expanding economies.
Let’s hope that Welsh firms will be amongst those who take the plunge and enter these markets in 2008.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
There are clearly differing views regarding the Chief Constable’s public profile, but in the debate over the content of his recent comments, we seem to have overlooked one simple thing.
He may have valid opinions on the dangers of alcohol and tobacco and the legalisation of drugs but with respect to his role as Chief Constable, many would suggest that his job is not to be a politician but to manage the North Wales police force efficiently and effectively.
As far as his job as Chief Constable is concerned, this is not a philosophical issue, no matter how much he likes to make it so. It is a matter of applying the law as it currently stands and, more importantly, not to undermine the laws of the land through such comments, no matter how much he disagrees with current legislation.
He may well be technically correct in saying that ecstasy is safer than legally prescribed pharmaceutical products but that is not the point. The fact is that ecstasy is an illegal drug - period.
There may a need for a debate on the legalisation of drugs but it is not his job to create or contribute to it. Under the current laws of the land, he should support those parents and teachers who, every day, are trying to convince young people of the dangers of taking drugs.
How can they do so when a major figure of legal authority such as a Chief Constable says an illegal drug such as ecstasy is safe? How does he think drug dealers will react to such comments? Will they now think, rightly or wrongly, that North Wales is a soft touch on illegal drugs?
It is not a matter of what is morally or statistically correct but what is legal according to the laws of this land.
For example, various motoring organisations have made the case that driving at 80mph on motorways would make very little difference to safety on the roads of the UK and yet the Chief Constable would hardly endorse such views given his public stance on speed cameras.
The real issue here is about the role of the Chief Constable within the region. He may have radical views that need to be debated in the public arena and he may believe that the law in respect of legalisation of drugs is an ass.
However, legislation is the job of the lawmakers in Parliament and not that of a civil servant such as himself, whether he likes it or not. If he chooses to enter the political arena, he can make his contribution then.
His current job, as he has pointed out time and time again with regard to speeding motorists who are caught slightly over the speed limit, is to uphold the law.
To do otherwise and continue a personal crusade on the legalisation of drugs undermines not only his position, but that of every policeman on the beat across North Wales.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Never forget the case of Tom Watson, chairman of IBM, who said, in 1943, that there was a world market for “maybe five computers”, or the genius at Western Union who wrote a memo stating that “this ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us”.
You can also sympathise with the engineer from IBM’s Advanced Computing Systems Division who, in 1968, asked, referring to the microchip, “But what is it good for?”
Even Bill Gates allegedly stated, in 1981, that he believed that 640K of computer memory “ought to be enough for anybody”.
While predictions can be hazardous, examining the emerging trends in different disciplines can give businesses and economies a vital commercial edge for the future.
Clearly, the main trend affecting society and business is that of environmentalism and it is clear the green revolution is here to stay.
Billions of pounds of investment will be going into areas that not only reduce global warming but, with oil hitting $100 (£51) a barrel, to reduce our dependency on this fossil fuel.
In particular, biofuels will become more important as a source of energy, although given the pressure on food production, it is likely there will be pressure on farmers to limit the conversion of their fields for growing biofuel-friendly food crops such as corn or soyabean.
Instead, experts suggest “cellulosic ethanol” is the way ahead, which can be generated from any type of organic product.
Indeed, around two-thirds of what is thrown into landfill sites contains cellulose and, with the right science, potential fuel.
It is not surprising, therefore, that venture capitalists are investing fortunes into cellulosic-technology start-ups, and large firms are putting funding behind research organisations, such as the Energy Biosciences Institute, established in the USA through a donation of £250 million by BP.
Indeed, Time magazine recently suggested that green investment by American venture-capital firms reached £1.3 billion in the first three quarters of 2007 – the highest level ever recorded – and this looks set to grow over the next three years. Many analysts are also predicting that 2008 will be the year when there is a real breakthrough in solar technology, especially in the development of efficient and cheaper photovoltaic cells.
As a result, it is expected that the global photovoltaic market is expected to grow more than six times to £20 billion by 2010.
Instead of fixing small solar panels on individual houses, it is expected that large solar power plants will be established all over the world as the producing energy from the sun finally becomes financially viable, especially for heating water and lighting up homes.
Apart from these technological breakthroughs, the green revolution may have an influence on bread-and-butter issues affecting businesses and consumers.
For example, Sun Microsystems recently reported that it has saved more than £500,000 a year by switching to electronic annual reports.
There is also evidence many Americans, tired of recycling hundreds of plastic bottles every year, are moving away from bottled water to drinking filtered water or even tap water.
What effect will such trends have on printing companies or bottled water producers not only in the USA, but also across the world?
Clearly, there will be other green trends that will also have an impact on the world in 2008. These include increased use of LED lighting, consumer demand for organic fabrics, more rigorous environmental standards in building and construction, technology breakthroughs for electric cars and greater use of local produce to reduce food miles.
The question for Wales is: Are we ready for this revolution?
We certainly have fledgling industries in many of the areas mentioned in this article backed up by scientific expertise within our universities, and the political will of a devolved government committed to sustainability.
Despite this, I would argue that we have been largely half-hearted in our attempts to push ahead with such developments with rhetoric, rather than action, being the norm.
Yes, we have created glossy documents such as the Sustainable Development Action Plan for Wales but how many of these laudable aims have actually become reality?
There is plenty of talk about becoming a “green nation” but how much of this is converted to real action? For example, the last European Funding Programme made it obligatory that every project had to demonstrate its environmental credentials.
With more than 1,300 projects funded over a six-year period, have we really seen a sea-change in green attitudes across our businesses and communities? I think not.
For those sceptical about the development of green technologies, this isn’t about “tree hugging” any more. It is about creating a multi-billion-pound industry that can create sustainable, well-paid jobs in Wales.
Given our natural advantages, we should be doing far more, but to date, policymakers have been content to use wind farms as a catch-all for any green development, forgetting the massive potential of tidal power and clean coal technology, never mind the other developments discussed earlier.
Well, that isn’t good enough and it is time that we, as a nation, grasped the opportunities being presented to us and showed the world how a small clever country can become a global leader in those industries and technologies that will have a major impact for years to come.
Friday, January 04, 2008
Certainly, there is not one political pundit that I know of who, twelve months ago, would have predicted an Assembly coalition partnership between two previously implacable electoral enemies.
It is also easy to forget, during this ‘honeymoon period’ given to the new Assembly Government by the media, that the real work remains to be done across Wales.
Political anoraks are overjoyed at the creation of a new commission to look at extending new powers for Wales, but for many ordinary voters, it is the way that the Assembly uses its current powers to support hospitals, jobs and local services which is of paramount importance.
We have still to see any real decisions made over the future of the health service in North Wales, despite this issue dominating the Assembly election campaign. With a far lower financial settlement from Westminster, it will be difficult to retain the local services many campaigners fought long and hard for without substantial cuts elsewhere in the NHS.
For example, the review of breast cancer services at Llandudno Hospital, which is due to report in the New Year, will probably recommend that breast surgery services for North West and North Central Wales should be located elsewhere.
Will the Assembly Government go against such a recommendation when the previous consultation process probably cost one coalition partner a majority and got the other into power?
Creating wealth is the key to the future of our nation and Wales, yet again, finds itself the poorest part of the UK despite eight years of the ‘devolution dividend’ and billions of pounds of European funding.
New ideas are needed across the poorer parts of North Wales and there needs to be a greater focus on creating entrepreneurship and innovation across the region wherever it can be found.
However, that does not mean that we should forget the small local businesses that are the backbone of rural economies. Local shops are closing all over North Wales under the burden of higher business rates, insensitive parking policies and the power of the large supermarkets. 2008 should be the year that small businesses fight back and they should certainly look to use the council elections in May 2008 to make their case.
Indeed, the local elections in May could prove to be a watershed in politics across North Wales, especially as, unless there is a minor financial miracle from the Welsh Assembly, there will be either be a significant increase in council taxes in April or cuts in council services.
Who will the electorate blame for this?
Will they throw out the sitting councillors or will the Labour-Plaid coalition in Cardiff get the blame for not giving local authorities the funding they need to carry out basic services?
Certainly, an extra variable has been added to one authority’s elections.
Following the school protests across Gwynedd, Plaid Cymru could see their main powerbase in Gwynedd disappear at a time when they are finally in government nationally.
The real question is whether the newly formed “Llais y Bobol” Party can get their act together in time and put up local candidates in seats across the county.
If they do, then there could be a ‘people’s revolution’ here in North Wales that reflects the success of independents in Blaenau Gwent.
It promises to be an interesting year
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Can't wait to see him live again at the Millennium Stadium later this year.