Why Rhun wants to be “Relentlessly Radical” in transforming Welsh economy

As a journalist, I remember saying in 1999 that perhaps the most important measure of success of devolution would be the impact it had on the economy. 19 years on, we certainly cannot say that devolution was a magic bullet.

However, we now more accurately point to Welsh Government, rather than devolution itself, as the problem. Even with the limited powers we have, I believe a new, concerted effort by ministers could transform the Welsh economy.

I stick to that original view about the importance of developing the Welsh economy. In fact, it’s more important than ever. Not only is Wales not better off than at the advent of devolution, but our comparative GDP has fallen further behind UK and European averages.

As a Plaid Cymru leadership candidate, I don’t need to spell out my view that I want Wales to take full control of moulding its own economic destiny. But this is not an end in itself. The reason I want Wales to strengthen economically is to lift children out of poverty, to reward aspiration, to allow more of a helping hand to be given to those who need it, to help businesses see Wales as a place to succeed, to make this a land of real opportunity. It’s about seeing national confidence and social fairness growing hand in hand with economic prosperity, for the good of all people in Wales.

It’s about bringing better jobs and tackling underemployment. Better jobs come through better skills. That means transforming education and ensuring skills match the needs of businesses. Better jobs mean better wages. Better wages means a higher tax take and firmer fiscal foundations.
To reach this point we need to be relentlessly radical in how we address Wales’ economic needs and aspirations. Managing isn’t good enough. Too much of recent Welsh economic history has seemed to be about managing decline, but even bringing some success through steady management isn’t good enough. We need real growth, a real expansion of economic horizons, and we must be relentless in our pursuit of this and in our ambition to succeed.

During my time as Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Economy Minister in the 4th Assembly, there were a number of issues I highlighted that I still consider very relevant today: the need for an infrastructure commission, with a much wider remit than the commission now set up by Welsh Government, to lead multi-billion-pound investment in our nation’s building blocks – from transport links uniting the nation to digital infrastructure; my determination to increase the proportion of Welsh procurement spend kept within the Welsh economy to around 75% of the total, creating perhaps 40000 jobs; establishing a new development agency looking outwards to new export markets for our indigenous companies and seeking new sustainable investment; expanding business rate relief and the expansion of support and for business through an ever more ambitious and far-reaching public Welsh Bank that can raise loan and equity capital for businesses in Wales.

In addition, there is the fundamental need to place our education system on a firmer footing, at all levels. From improving standards across primary and secondary sectors through encouraging and rewarding teaching excellence, to strengthening our FE sector’s ability to be at the very core of skills development for Welsh business and industry, and strengthening R&D innovation across higher education and industr, vital in a world increasingly moving towards a knowledge economy. Clearly a situation where Government and research council spend on R&D is ten times greater per capita in the South East of England than in Wales is leaving us at a huge disadvantage.

Innovation is the golden thread. To emulate the kind of sustained economic growth that revived the Basque economy, for example, Wales has to become a real innovator in all areas of economic planning. We must seek new export options and be confident about where Wales fits best within international markets; we must effectively identify and specialize in key sectors; we must develop an energy/industrial strategy built on maximising the yield of our plentiful natural resources and seeking ways to add value to it through exporting skills/technologies (we need to develop a Wales-led lagoons programme!); and we must encourage entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial success rates (figures show Wales have more budding entrepreneurs than the UK average, but fewer making it through to business success).

We need to celebrate Welsh business success, and encourage individual enterprise alongside the collective – I am an enthusiastic supporter of cooperative and social enterprise. From providing social care in our communities to injecting new life into our high streets I believe we should seek new opportunities to incentivise cooperatives. Mutuals provide another model to be encouraged, too – member-owned, with profits and benefits shared.

We face the most challenging of times. The failure of Welsh Government to keep up with competing nations and regions in key areas means we have no option but to aim high. Very high. Couple that with the uncertainties of Brexit and the potential chaos of a no deal Brexit, and we need a Government that is unrelenting in its economic ambition. As First Minister this would be a key priority, leading a Plaid Cymru Government that I know can deliver, a Government that combines dynamism and real integrity. We have exciting policy and economic thinkers in the party. We need a leader that can implement those ideas and build trust in what we’re trying to achieve for our nation.

Of course, the real opportunities will come through being in control of all levers ourselves and having the added incentive of seeking economic prosperity as an independent nation. All of us can unite now in the pursuit of laying down firmer economic foundations for Wales. Would could oppose that?! But I’ve always made it my mission to persuade others to take national ambition to the next level, and as Plaid leader that will always be a core driver. Break down barriers, address fears, build confidence.. and persuading people of the potential of the Welsh economy is at the very core of that enterprise.

Wales and Europe: The Economic Case for a New Referendum

WALES AND EUROPE: THE ECONOMIC CASE FOR A NEW REFERENDUM

I have always believed that leaving the European Union would have massive implications for the Welsh economy. However, like a good democrat I had to accept that Wales, like the rest of the UK voted to leave.

In the meantime, I have followed the withdrawal negotiations conducted by the UK Government with trepidation. Theresa May’s negotiating stance is determined by what she can get through her party rather than the interests of Wales and the Welsh economy. Her latest position-the Chequers deal-seems to be such a poor compromise that it is rejected by both pro-Europeans and Brexiteers. It is also likely to be rejected by the European Commission. We are therefore left with the prospect of a no-deal option which would be disastrous for us.

The implications of a no-deal option are now being laid bare for all to see. The first batch of technical papers issued by the UK government predicated a nightmare scenario of increased red tape, patients being denied access to medicines, and holiday makers being hit with hikes in bank charges. The implications for Northern Ireland are so bad that the Brexit Minister refused to say what the consequences of a no deal were! No doubt further papers will be released explaining the need for customs posts, the introduction of trade tariffs and the full implications of non-preferential WTO terms.

Even without these latest revelations the implications of leaving the EU for Wales were bad enough. The Treasury has only guaranteed access to EU funds until the end of the current round, with no guarantees beyond that date. Welsh researchers are already finding it difficult to secure partners for accessing Horizon 2020 research funds.
What we need to remember however is that even if we were to receive the full shortfall following the loss of CAP and Structural Funds, the lack of access to the single market poses an even more significant threat to the health of the Welsh economy. Access to the single market and the attempt to standardise conditions of access across the member states has provided Welsh businesses and companies which employ a significant number of people in Wales with opportunities to export without massive distortions and barriers to competition.

Being outside the single market means that Wales and its exporters are denied full access to our most important trading block and we will be disadvantaged by not being able to influence the rules by which we trade.

Leave campaigners deliberately confused voters with the idea that a country could have a free trade agreement which would give all the advantages of access to the single market but without the need for the free movement of people. But the free movement of goods and services cannot be secured without the free movement of people and acceptance of the other rules of the club. The European country with the closest relations with Europe outside the Union is Norway. The price it pays is making a financial contribution to the EU and being bound by the rules without any direct voice in shaping those regulations forming part of the single market.

The latest export figures show that 37% of Welsh exports by value (£1.124b) went to the EU. This is significantly higher than exports to other parts of the world, with 23% going to the USA and Canada and 15% to Asia. For Wales’ food and drink sector the EU is a vitally important market with 90% of our exports valued at £274m going to EU countries (2014 figures Business Wales).

Welsh GDP already low in proportion to the EU average is also likely to be adversely affected by the loss of EU membership. East Wales is at 93.7% and West Wales and the Valleys at 67.4%. This compares say to the Basque country at 116.1% and Catalunia at 110.7%. The loss of export markets will clearly affect Wales’ performance in terms of competitiveness and productivity leading to an impact on wage levels and unemployment. Multi-national companies such as Airbus, Ford, Toyota and others are likely at the very least to delay investment decisions and at worst transfer future investments to the European mainland. New inward investment opportunities are likely to be lost as companies will no longer see Wales as a platform for exporting to other EU countries.

Since I no longer have confidence in Theresa May’s ability to deliver a ‘good Brexit’ for Wales because of the massive divisions in her own party and given that the likelihood of a no-deal scenario is more likely by the day, I have come to the conclusion that we should be demanding a fresh referendum. It should be a binary choice, either to back a deal struck by Theresa May (or no deal if that happens) or to stay in the EU. The people of Wales stand a better chance of making an informed choice this time round, given that the full implications of Brexit have been laid bare.

Message from Rhun ap Iorwerth to Pride Cymru

Pride Cymru is a great celebration of equality and of emphasising the message that we are an inclusive Wales that believes in love rather than hate; a country that rejects any sort of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia; and a country that recognises and appreciates the contribution of the gay, bisexual and transsexual community in Wales.

I’m pleased of the work that Plaid Cymru has been doing on this through the health portfolio – calling to re-classify gender identity issues separately from mental health and making it a condition in our budget deal with Welsh Government to establish a gender identity clinic for Wales to give transgender people the help and support they need.

But there is more to be done, and we must ensure that Brexit and the rise of far right politics do not have a negative effect on the equality rights of any group in our society.

Pride Cymru is a great opportunity to declare that message, and so I wish all the best to the event again this year.

Rhun’s Column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 18.07.18

I was pleased to be chosen in the ballot recently to present a short debate to the Assembly on a topic of my choosing.

Having been impressed by hearing of (and seeing for myself during a recent visit) the excellent work done at the Bangor University Ocean Science department at Menai Bridge and being aware of Anglesey’s potential when it comes to marine energy as well as research, I decided to use my time in the Assembly chamber to discuss the future of the research vessel Prince Madog.

I’m sure that the Prince Madog will be a familiar site to many of you who have seen it tied to the pier in Menai Bridge. It’s the largest ship to be seen regularly on the Menai Strait and all those who are proud of it know it’s a symbol of excellence in the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor.

My debate not only celebrated that role, but also pressed on Welsh Government the importance of the Prince Madog now and its national potential for years to come, making the case for it to be made into a National Marine Research Vessel for Wales. Ireland already has two!

The Wales marine area includes valuable and varied natural resources that can provide significant economic and social opportunities, and which contribute to the well-being of the nation and of future generations. But, in reality, we know virtually nothing about those resources. It’s staggering how little of our sea bed has been mapped, given the detailed onshore mapping.

Mapping of this kind is a priority on an EU level and has been for some time, but there has been no co-ordinated plan for the UK—no plan for Wales. The process of gathering data has been ad hoc. It hasn’t been properly co-ordinated, and that must change. Of course, we have the resource that we need to do that work: the Prince Madog. Let’s be innovative and make it happen.

The pupils of Ysgol David Hughes certainly know a thing or two about innovation! I had a great time talking business and entrepreneurship at the Ysgol David Hughes Innovation Fair last week. It was a fair full of great ideas and a great group of students. Last year, the fair was where Arfordir Clothing began, and they’ve gone from strength to strength, having just launched a new product. We need to support and promote these young entrepreneurs. Go for it with your plans! – I wish you all the best.

Securing the future of the Prince Madog: The case for having a national maritime research ship for Wales

My Short Debate in the Senedd this week: Securing the future of the Prince Madog: The case for having a national maritime research ship for Wales

The Wales marine area includes valuable and varied natural resources that can provide significant economic and social opportunities and which contribute to the well-being of the nation and of future generations. But, in reality, we know virtually nothing about those resources. It’s staggering how little of our sea bed has been mapped, given the detailed onshore mapping. Mapping of this kind is a priority on an EU level and has been for some time, but there has been no co-ordinated plan for the UK—no plan for Wales. The process of gathering data has been ad hoc. It hasn’t been properly co-ordinated, and that must change. Of course, we have the resource that we need to do that work: the Prince Madog.

Anglesey says No to Pylons campaign comes to Senedd

Fideo ddwyieithog / Bilingual Video

Thank you to all the campaigners who travelled down from Anglesey to Cardiff and to all the AMs who supported us in sending a message to National Grid that pylons would be a blight on our island and they should instead put cables underground. The Assembly have spoken with one voice on this, the people of Anglesey and all its elected representatives have spoken with one voice on this. It’s time for Grid to listen.

Rhun’s Column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 25 04 18

“Smile!” Clad in lycra a group of intrepid cyclists took a final photo before their ride from Anglesey to Cardiff, and I joined them to wish them well. The 200 mile journey ahead would make some cry rather than smile! However, I’ve done it myself, and know how rewarding it is to reach the journey’s end – especially having raised money for or awareness of a good cause.

In this case it was the new St David’s Hospice being opened at Ysbyty Penrhos Stanley in Holyhead. The Chairman of Trustees, Lyndon Miles was among the cyclists. Since opening in 1998, the St David’s Hospice in Llandudno has provided the best possible palliative care for thousands of people in Ynys Môn, Gwynedd and Conwy. Now that care is set to be offered closer to home for people on Anglesey. I’m grateful to the St David’s team for their commitment to the island.

I made it to Cardiff by less exhausting means, where I was able to put a number of Anglesey issues on the agenda. I asked the Environment Minister to explain why staff monitoring Afon Cefni to help plan new flood defences have been moved to other duties. It’s not good enough – we need answers to the flooding threat with some urgency, in Llangefni and elsewhere.

Also weather-related, we’re still dealing with the effects of Storm Emma. After the destruction of the Marina, I’m glad to say we’re getting closer to the first meeting of a Holyhead Port Users Group, which I’ll co-chair with the island’s MP. I also paid a visit to Moelfre last week to see the effects of the storm there. I’ll help liaise with the local authority on what needs to be done to deal with the impact the storm had on the village’s pebble beach.

Finally – a political storm hit Cardiff Bay last week with the Labour Welsh Government threatening to take the Assembly to court to stop it discussing a report linked to the death of AM Carl Sargeant. I was bitterly dissapointed in the Government’s actions. The Assembly is there to hold Government to account – not the other way around!

Having said that it might help with the important task of helping people distinguish between the Assembly and the Government. The Assembly is the democratic voice of Wales. YOUR voice. Government – which can be changed at any election – must respect it always.

Rhun’s Column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 11.04.18

Many Mail readers will have followed closely the row over plans by the RSPB to charge visitors £5 to park at South Stack. I have been deeply uncomfortable about the proposed charge.

I wrote last month to the head of the RSPB in Wales, and met her at South Stack at the beginning of last week. I asked for a rethink, highlighting the importance of South Stack to the people of Holyhead and Anglesey, and asking for a more sensitive plan to be developed.

I suggested a number of models – from an annual pass for local users to separate long and short-term parking areas, or varied pricing. I also asked that proceeds should be shared with the social enterprise running the lighthouse – after all, that’s why many go to South Stack, as wonderful as the birdlife there is.

I listened to the RSPB, too. I was told there was no real alternative. Their grant funding has reduced over the years, and they need to make South Stack sustainable. The charge would be £2.50 out of peak season, not £5. It would be free before 9 and after 5 – ideal for regular local visitors and dog-walkers etc. (positive information that the RSPB should have publicised, surely?). But I still wanted compromise.

Thankfully, a strong campaign had grown since the proposed charge became public, and I’m grateful for all those who lobbied the RSPB hard. Later last week, the RSPB said they would now introduce a £20 annual pass, available to residents of Ynys Cybi. It’s a start, but not yet enough. It’s still a fair amount to stump up, and the net could be cast wider. There’s also the issue of sharing proceeds. But we do now have some movement.

So let’s continue to use the power of persuasion… and I’d also like the RSPB to use the power of research so they can work out much better how the charge would affect local users and affect their income, including by visitors to their cafe, for example.

South Stack may belong legally to the RSPB, but we on Anglesey know it belongs to all of us really.

Update from Dŵr Cymru – water in Llanddona

I’ve just come off the phone with Dŵr Cymru Chief Executive Chris Jones to discuss the latest in relation to the properties without water in Anglesey. Many of you have been in touch, and I have been in constant contact with Dŵr Cymru. I now understand that there are around 200 properties still affected – a figure that is, of course, still worrying, but I had the opportunity to discuss Dŵr Cymru’s response and the work being done to restore the supply.

First of all, it is very important for me that the most vulnerable people get all the support, and I urge you to phone 0800 052 0130 to report any special needs that you or your family member or neighbours have. I’ve been given a commitment that all possible help will be given.

I also understand that bottled water is going to continue to be distributed in Llanddona and Llangoed to the people who have no water.

The big question is obviously ‘when will the supply be back?’. Well, it’s certainly hoped that properties will be reconnected by tonight. The system itself is now ‘pressurized’ again, but some specific properties on sub-networks are still without water due to ‘air blocks’ in the system, or perhaps because water is still leaking from some pipes. It is hoped that all water supplies will be back by tonight, but Dŵr Cymru are nervous about giving a concrete promise in case problems take a little longer to sort out in certain properties.

Please keep in touch with my office on e-mail rhun.apiorwerth@assembly.wales or 01248 723599 if there are any specific issues that you would like to discuss.

I am grateful to the local Plaid Cymru Councilors in the Seiriol ward for their work for their constituents in this area which has suffered.

Rhun ap Iorwerth’s Column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 14 02 18

I’m pleased to report, first of all, that your Assembly Member is still in one piece after another tough Assembly v Commons/Lords rugby clash! It is an annual event, held on the day of the Wales v England 6 Nations Fixture. The Assembly won again (for the 7th game in succession) on Saturday, but more importantly we were able once again to raise awareness of our partner Charity, Bowel Cancer UK/Beating Bowel Cancer. My Plaid Cymru colleague Steffan Lewis is currently fighting bowel cancer, and our thoughts were with him as we took to the field at Rosslyn Park in London.

Also on a sporting theme, a word of thanks to Ray Williams of the Holyhead and Anglesey Weightlifting and Fitness Club for giving such compelling evidence to the Assembly’s Health Committee last week on the need for urgent measures to increase physical activity among young people. I wanted him to come to talk to us because I know what a passionate and knowledgeable advocate he is in this field. It’s up to us as Assembly Members now to press the case for Government action.

My exercise with a special group of school pupils on Anglesey last week was mental rather than physical. It’s always good to meet up with pupils, but I must say a big thanks to year 3 and 4 pupils at Ysgol Henblas for doing such good homework before our meeting, that I faced an hour and a half of non-stop questions. I really enjoyed myself with you – diolch bawb.

Our physical activity enquiry in the Health Committee is aimed at pupils just like them – giving them every opportunity to stay fit and healthy. As well as being good for them, it’s part of the long-term strategy we need to take the pressure off the NHS and care system – keeping people healthy and out of hospital. My visit to the morning “safety huddle” at Ysbyty Gwynedd the week before last showed me the kind of pressure they’re under. To all the doctors, nurses, managers and other staff, thanks for the welcome and the insight.