Raising GDP

2011 Tachwedd 2 4:08 PM
Gan Peter Black
Cyhoeddwyd yn wreiddiol gan Peter Black a Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Gorllewin De Cymru

Peter Black: I will concentrate on the Prince of Wales innovation scholarships and the disastrous decision by the Welsh Government to suspend the European payments for that scheme. That decision has had a number of consequences, one of which was to send a signal to academics and investors outside Wales that we are not interested in commercially based research, and that the Welsh Government does not understand the needs of business.

If we are to build the Welsh economy, we need to make use of the important work that is going on in our universities and turn it into wealth-creating enterprise and high-quality jobs. That is something that POWIS was particularly good at. This is a scheme that has hit all the targets set for it. It has brought in £14 million of inward investment and assisted 72 companies. Examples of firms that have been attracted to Wales as a result of this scheme are Pingar (NZ) and Kaimai Research (UK), which took the decision to relocate their research and development arms to Swansea, due to the personal academic relationships between Swansea University and the University of Waikato. They had planned to develop a new centre for knowledge engineering in Swansea, which could mean the creation of up to 100 high-value jobs in the area. However, they are being frustrated by the current position on POWIS and the failure of Ministers to sign off new leases in the digital technium. They sought an urgent meeting with Ministers, but were fobbed off with an acknowledgement indicating that they will receive a response within 17 days. Is that any way to attract new jobs to Wales and to grow the economy?

What of the decision to stop European funding to the POWIS scheme? I have in my possession an independent report written by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was commissioned by the University of Wales's audit committee. It is fair to say that its commentary on the Welsh Government's decision verges on the incredulous. It says that it was apparent from the outset that the nature, scale and intent of the POWIS scheme were well understood by the Welsh Government and the Welsh European Funding Office. It points out that the progress to date includes 54 identified collaborative research and development projects, and a total investment of £9.2 million, of which £408,000 came from WEFO. That represents much better value for money than most European investments. Its report has a point-by-point rebuttal of the Welsh Government's decision to stop the funding for this project, and it questions why identified problems could not be worked through and put right to continue this successful project.

This is especially so as the Welsh Government and WEFO were represented on the steering group and industry panel of POWIS, and were party to all the decisions of which they have subsequently been critical. The report says that there is no evidence that WAG or WEFO representatives raised any concern in respect of these issues as being deal-breakers for the POWIS scheme. It also says that there is nothing in the WAG report on corporate governance or its conflicts of interest matters that it would not have been aware of from the industry panel and steering group meetings. It is therefore surprising that it is now formally raising these matters in a way that questions the validity of the project in its totality, rather than by addressing those issues at the time that they arose.

In light of this, the decision by the Government to withdraw funding is perverse and against the interests of Wales and its economy. I urge the Minister to think again about that particular decision. I understand that the Minister has taken a decision and that there may be issues around this that she considers important in terms of the way in which European funds are being used. If you are not able to reinstate POWIS, it is important that we have something in its place. It is not right that the Welsh Government should step aside from a scheme that has been so successful and that has brought research and jobs to Wales, albeit limited to the convergence area. It is crucial that the Welsh Government shows that it understands business and the way that we can use research to create wealth and jobs. Therefore, it is crucial that there is some sort of replacement scheme for POWIS as a result.

So, if you are not able to reinstate the funding to POWIS, can we look at alternatives? Where we are at the moment is an untenable no man's land that we cannot sustain for much longer. There must be a replacement and something must be done to put in place an alternative scheme, or the business and academic world will take away the message that Wales is not interested in them, or in attracting those high-quality jobs to Swansea or to Wales.

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