Building a strong Welsh Economy

2011 Mehefin 15 3:55 PM
Gan Peter Black
Cyhoeddwyd yn wreiddiol gan Peter Black a Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Gorllewin De Cymru

Peter Black: I welcome you to the Chair, Deputy Presiding Officer.

Kirsty has kindly left it to me to explain the intricacies of tax increment financing. I have been told that I have to do it in words of one syllable. However, as I am sure that you all know about it already, I shall skip over that bit. Tax increment financing is a rather important tool because it enables local authorities to borrow against future proceeds from business rates-which would have to be devolved to them-to invest in regeneration. It is a tool that is already in use in Scotland. It has been used in America for 50 years and England is now looking to follow suit. If we do not adopt a similar principle in Wales, we could be left behind; that is one of the reasons why we feel that it is important that it be given serious consideration by the Welsh Government. It is also why it features prominently in the motion before us.

I tend to agree with Vaughan Gething that enterprise zones are not a panacea. It is clear that they are just one tool in the toolbox that we need to use to try to revitalise the Welsh economy. Enterprise zones will however be an important tool, not just to ensure that Wales is not left behind, but also in trying to stimulate private investment and private businesses in selected areas or sectors of the economy. When I was first elected to Swansea council in the 1980s, I think it was the only council in Wales that had its own enterprise zone committee. Swansea's enterprise zone was a success and a failure in many ways. Simon Thomas made a valid point about the problems with enterprise zones at that time. The failure, of course, was in allowing it to become a large out-of-town shopping development-the Government of the day allowed that to happen despite the fact that the council did not want to proceed in that direction. However, it did attract a number of jobs, particularly in call centres, and some businesses had their headquarters there. So, it did enjoy a level of success. Of course, it was also an important tool in helping to regenerate that part of the lower Swansea valley, which has been massively transformed from what it was when I first arrived in Swansea in 1978.

Swansea council is considering bidding for an enterprise zone: it wants to see something located in the city centre that will complement the current business improvement district and encourage businesses to set up, possibly combating the impact of the first enterprise zone, which attracted shoppers away from the city centre in the first place. I think that enterprise zones are an important tool that we need to have in our toolbox if we are to deliver an improved economy in Wales. I took the point that was made yesterday, when I contradicted the Member for Swansea East on the issue of enterprise zones, that electrification of the line to Swansea is another important aspect, but it is not more important than enterprise zones; it is as important. We need electrification, investment in capital, stimulants for businesses to set up in Swansea and assistance for businesses as well.

One of the things that I have found when talking to local businesses in my region is that they feel that there is a vacuum in terms of what the Welsh Government can do to assist them. Businesses that are trying to expand need to raise the capital to do so; they need to go to the banks, which tell them that they need to raise bonds to guarantee a loan or find another way of doing so. Is there a role for using European money or Government money to help businesses to do that? Businesses want employees who are trained appropriately for their needs. Do we need to ensure that the further education and higher education sectors are liaising more closely with local businesses to produce workers who are effectively ready to take on the job almost straight away?

A strategy on access to finance was published towards the end of the last Government, yet businesses still tell me that they find it difficult to get the Welsh Government to assist them in setting up. An instance has been raised in the Chamber before of a businessman who wanted to set up either in Swansea or Blaenau Gwent, but who had difficulty in getting help from the Welsh Government to do so, even though he proposed to bring a large number of jobs in manufacturing prefabricated housing to the area in which he set up. There is a problem of perception. There are also issues with the banks; whatever they tell you, there are problems with accessing money through them.

The whole point of today's valuable motion and debate is that we need to make a start by saying that this Welsh Government is open for business. We need to say that we are here to help businesses and encourage the growth of jobs in the private sector as well as the public sector. We need to grow the private sector and have all of the tools in the box to do so; that is why I hope that the Government will be prepared to support today's motion.

Beth hoffech chi ei wneud nesaf?