Posted: Wed 24th Apr 2024

New economy minister sets out his priorities for Wales

Wrexham.com for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area

Wales’ new economy secretary set out his priorities against the backdrop of a significant rise in economic inactivity and a fall in employment compared to the rest of the UK.

Jeremy Miles outlined his aim to make Wales the best place to start, invest in and grow a business by improving productivity, attracting investment and redesigning skills support.

In a statement to the Senedd about his economic vision on April 23, Mr Miles said increasing productivity and economic dynamism will be his number one priority.

He told the chamber his second priority is to attract and encourage business investment, both in established businesses based in Wales and from new investors.

The economy secretary said his third priority is to redesign employability and skills support, ensuring that economic priorities, apprenticeships and vocational education are all aligned.

However, opposition MSs warned that Wales’ economy is underperforming and urged the Welsh Government to set firm targets to measure success.

‘Cack-handed’

Mr Miles, who is also responsible for energy, cautioned that ongoing financial constraints as well as political and economic uncertainty at a UK level make the aims more challenging.

He said: “The legacy of EU withdrawal, the pandemic and ongoing budgetary constraints have weakened the economy.

“The slowdown in UK productivity has impacted output, wages and household incomes, and these inequalities were already more acute in Wales before this time.”

The former education minister, who retains responsibility for the Welsh language, criticised the “cack-handed’ approach of the prime minister to so-called sick note culture.

Mr Miles described the UK Government crackdown on the number of people signed off from work as a brutal way of approaching a very complex challenge.

‘Staggering’

Samuel Kurtz, the Conservatives’ new shadow economy secretary, raised concerns about worrying trends in economic inactivity and employment

He told the chamber that statistics show Wales’ unemployment rate was 60% higher than the UK average in the three months to February.

The Tory raised alarm about a “staggering” rate of economic inactivity at 26.2%, which he said is almost 27% higher than the UK average and rising three times as fast.

Mr Kurtz, who represents Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, called on the economy secretary to introduce job-creation targets.

He said it should be a sense of shame for the Welsh Government that Welsh workers have long taken home less money than their counterparts anywhere else in the UK.

‘Finger in the air’

Luke Fletcher, for Plaid Cymru, said sectors across the economy have been calling out for a comprehensive and meaningful industrial strategy.

The South Wales West MS described the economy secretary’s statement as “essentially a list of economic goods the government would like to see in Wales”.

Mr Fletcher warned: “But there’s no substantive plan on how those goods will be delivered, no road map, no waymarkers and no precise sense of the final destination.”

The shadow economy secretary raised concerns about skills shortages in the green sector, calling for closer collaboration with further education providers.

He said: “It’s currently a case of them putting their finger in the air, seeing which way the wind blows, and hoping for the best. That doesn’t fill me with much hope.”

Tata

Mr Miles told MSs that potential job losses at Tata remain the most high-profile concern, vowing that the Welsh Government will do all it can to protect jobs and the steel industry,

The economy secretary said a general election offers the real possibility of a better and fairer economic policy from a new UK Government.

Mr Kurtz called for the Welsh Government to confirm if it has made any financial support available to the £100m Port Talbot transition board set up by UK ministers.

Meanwhile, Mr Fletcher urged the economy secretary to look at using the planning system to protect the future of the blast furnaces.

Mr Miles stressed that the Welsh Government has supported Tata through capital investment and skills support for many years.

He said: “We’ve been pressing for 14 years for a UK Government to take seriously the future of steel and to plan for a transition to greener production.”

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter



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