Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Wigley: My hon. Friend touches on an important point. The Development Board for Rural Wales operates in rural and mid-Wales, but in areas such as Dwyfor, Preseli or Dinefwr, which fall within the WDA's remit, there needs to be a more integrated strategy serving the needs of rural Wales.

In developing its strategy, the WDA must, of necessity, be conscious of the resources that we have in Wales. One of those resources is the produce of our agricultural sector. In terms of meat and dairy products, we have a tremendous resource, but it is often too poorly marketed, and the added value in the food chain takes place outside Wales. We look with envy at how Ireland has succeeded in building on its agricultural and food production base. That must surely be an area in which the WDA more positively helps to facilitate development.

We also have the resource of our national University of Wales and of the research undertaken by its scientific and technological departments. Why on earth does such highly regarded research work not lead to more practical benefits, in terms of applied technology and jobs? The contrast between the direct spin-offs--jobs--created around Cambridge in England or Boston in the United States and the lack of such spin-offs in Wales is staggering. Key people in our university often take an academic delight in boasting that their work is not necessarily of relevance to Wales but is of relevance to mankind. That is all well and good, but they should remember that their budgets come from the Welsh expenditure block, and it is not unreasonable that the people of Wales should look to its university to bring back more direct benefits to the Welsh economy.

I mentioned earlier Ireland's success in attracting new jobs. We are, of course, aware that GDP per head in the Irish Republic is not just greater than that of Wales but has overtaken the UK's. We in Wales must learn the lesson from Ireland that it is important to create a skilled work force. The Irish have put substantial resources into education, to ensure that the industrial and commercial skills are there for potential employers. There has been a tragic failure to do that in Wales and throughout the UK. As a result--incredibly--there are high pockets of unemployment in Wales side by side with industrialists who cannot find adequately trained labour.

A strategic consideration, therefore, must be the improved skilling of the Welsh work force; the failure of the TECs in Wales in this context must be brought into the equation. There may be a case for integrating them with the WDA--and integrating part of their work with local authorities--so that the feedback from employers in Wales finds its way directly into the organisation of training and reskilling the work force. Clearly, there must also be a much closer liaison between education and training if this problem is to be solved.

On the need for reskilling our work force, the Government must surely be aware of the academic research that has been undertaken in Cardiff, based on

18 Jun 1997 : Column 235

primary research in Scotland, showing the benefit to the economy from investing in education, which virtually pays for itself. That is of direct relevance to the debate.

I was glad that the previous Government made some progress with regard to establishing training centres in Gwent and Bridgend, although I was sorry that no Welsh educational institution bid successfully for the Bridgend contract, and that we had to go to Swindon to find people who could take on the contract.

Do the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency seriously believe that a training centre in Bridgend will serve the needs of unemployed people in Pembroke Dock or Aberystwyth, let alone Porthmadog, Bangor or Penygroes? If it is their intention that such a centre should serve the whole of Wales, will travelling and residential costs be reimbursed? If, as I suspect, that is not the intention, can we have training centres nearer the people in Wales?

Another target sector that the WDA has identified, but which is being developed sporadically, is the television and film sector. We have a significant infrastructure in film production in Wales already, but I often wonder whether that base has been provided for the development of existing opportunities. One thinks particularly of the film development funds in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. We need something similar if we are to take the maximum opportunity in Wales.

A further sector with a strong track record is marine biology in Bangor, yet we do not get the jobs arising from that.

Because of pressure of time and to allow other hon. Members to speak, I shall curtail my remarks. The work of the WDA must be seen in the context of the resources available to it. Its budget has been severely eroded over recent years. During the Redwood era, the WDA was specifically required to sell off the family silver in order to maintain its statutory responsibilities. That was an outrageous situation and must never be allowed to recur.

The way in which the WDA was starved of cash in terms of grant in aid during the Redwood era is staggering. In 1991-92, the grant in aid stood at £87.5 million. By 1994-95, it was down to £50 million and by 1995-96, it was down to £29.2 million. The WDA had to make up the shortfall by selling its capital assets, but, despite its doing that, the cuts had a direct material effect on the total expenditure of the WDA, which fell from £165 million in 1992-93 to £130 million in 1995-96.

It is true that additional resources have been put in recently, not least because of the need to ensure that money was available for the LG project. The net result is that the revised budget for 1997-98 stands at £152 million, which is below the level of the 1992-93 budget. When one takes into account the fact that some of that money is earmarked for the LG project, it becomes clear that the resources available for the rest of Wales have fallen significantly in real terms.

That is a direct consequence of the dogmatic approach of the previous Government. The incoming Labour Government must give a commitment to avoiding that and to providing adequate funding for the WDA to do its job properly.

18 Jun 1997 : Column 236

We have recently heard about the appointment of the new chief executive, Mr. Brian Willott, and we wish him well in his responsibilities. It is a pleasant change to have a chief executive whose roots are in Wales and who is also prepared to live in Wales.

The WDA has a challenging time ahead. It will face changes in its democratic answerability and, quite possibly, in its structure and remit. All those will develop over the coming months. What is needed now is a clear-cut and decisive strategy geared to providing a fair range of jobs in required numbers within reasonable travelling distance of every community in Wales.

The WDA will need hands-on leadership, from within the Welsh Office and, in due course, from the Welsh Assembly and from its own senior executives. Its success or failure will be measured in terms of the increase in sustainable employment opportunities and in the standard of living and the quality of life in Wales. Its success or failure will be felt most of all by the people of Wales.

From the start, getting the strategy for the WDA right must be a priority for Welsh Office Ministers. We wish the Minister and his team well in their work, as we do the staff of the WDA. Labour was elected overwhelmingly in Wales on a programme of getting jobs for the people. It is now time for the Government to deliver. The WDA is the vehicle for facilitating that delivery. It is time to make it happen, and we hope that that is what the Welsh Office intends to do.

10.3 am

Ms Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate on the industrial location policy of the Welsh Development Agency.

The new seat of Preseli Pembrokeshire was created, in part, from a small section of the previous Ceredigion and Pembroke, North seat, which was ably represented in the House by Cynog Dafis, the first Green party Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, who has played a prominent role in bringing environmental issues to the fore in debate both here and in west Wales.

The major part of Preseli was inherited from the former Pembroke seat previously represented by my Labour colleague, Nick Ainger, who has shifted slightly east and now represents West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire. My hon. Friend was the third Nick in a row to represent Pembrokeshire at Westminster. In 1992, he defeated the Conservative Nicholas Bennett, who had followed the former Secretary of State for Wales, Nicholas Edwards, on his retirement from the Commons in 1987.

During the five years since 1992, Nick Ainger has earned a reputation as an excellent and hard-working constituency Member of Parliament with a great interest in environmental issues. I have great pleasure in following tradition and paying tribute to his record as my predecessor in the House. His maiden speech referred to the importance of pollution control measures in the burning of fossil fuels, notably proposals to import and burn orimulsion at Pembroke power station--an issue which is on-going and affects his constituency, in which the power station is situated, but has also raised concerns throughout west Wales and further afield.

The environment, together with job creation throughout all sectors of our economy, are without doubt the two most important issues in Preseli Pembrokeshire. The two issues are not separate, but closely interlinked.

18 Jun 1997 : Column 237

Pembrokeshire is a beautiful county, affectionately known by those who live there as Wales's premier county, and for good reason. We have probably the most beautiful coastline in the entire United Kingdom--a fact exemplified by the existence of the Pembrokeshire Coast national park, which was created to protect and conserve that coastline from increasing threats: threats from land use development, as well as the inevitable ecological and environmental pressures from the increasing number of tourists who come to share and enjoy our beautiful county.

Our offshore islands of Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm are internationally recognised nature reserves. The seas around the island of Skomer are a marine nature reserve, one of only three in the whole of the UK. That designation was awarded in 1990 in recognition of that unique and sensitive marine environment. It is hoped that it will soon be matched by designation as a European special area of conservation.

That will mean that the highest environmental standards are required for any development around our coast, which is vital to protect the livelihood of the many local people who rely on the agriculture, tourism and fishing industries. Insistence on the highest possible standards for development is vital also to restore the balance between the needs of the petro-chemical industry based around Milford Haven waterway and the other sectors of our economy that I have mentioned.

Much as I should like to extol further the virtues of Pembrokeshire, I am conscious that this is an Adjournment debate and that the time available for Members to contribute is limited. I shall outline the problems faced by our local economy and the reason why an effective strategy for regional development is so important to us in Pembrokeshire.

As I said, anyone visiting Pembrokeshire almost always recognises that it is a beautiful place in which to live. However, that beauty masks some serious problems which are just as severe as and, in some cases, worse than those in many more obviously deprived parts of Wales or the UK as a whole.

The population of the administrative county of Pembrokeshire is about 110,000--a figure which census information shows has grown significantly in recent years. It is, however, an aging population. For example, there was a fall of 11.65 per cent. in the number of males in the age group 16 to 24 between 1981 and 1991, compared to a fall of 9 per cent. in Wales overall. Over the same 10-year period, the number of males aged over 65 increased by 27.6 per cent., compared with a Welsh figure of 15.1 per cent. Thus, we have a greater migration of our young people out of the county, but a substantially greater influx of people over retirement age.

From my 20 years living in Pembrokeshire, I know that young people who have grown up in the county would generally like to stay, and leave only because work opportunities are simply not available for them. They face the choice of moving elsewhere to find work, or remaining with no prospect of work, or prospects of wage rates as low as £2.20 an hour or even less. Those figures were outlined by Cardiff business school for west Wales in studies from 1996.

18 Jun 1997 : Column 238

Unemployment figures have been consistently high since the late 1970s and are some of the worst in the United Kingdom. Long-term unemployment increased significantly between 1995 and 1996, despite numerous changes to the way in which the former Government calculated the "official" figures. A recent study commissioned by Pembrokeshire county council estimated that, in 1994, Pembrokeshire had a gross domestic product per head of population of just under £7,000--less than 72 per cent. of the United Kingdom average. That figure had dropped from 84 per cent. in 1984.

Fewer than 10 per cent. of those employed in Pembrokeshire are involved in manufacturing activities, compared with 20 per cent. for Wales as a whole. Between 1981 and 1991, manufacturing industries in Pembrokeshire declined by 12.7 per cent. compared with a 7.8 per cent. decline for Wales as a whole. Our mainstay industries of agriculture, tourism, defence establishments and oil have been hit badly. The former Government's closure of defence establishments at RAF Brawdy, Milford mine depot and Royal Naval armaments depot Trecwn led to the loss of hundreds of direct jobs and millions of pounds from our local economy.

The impact of bovine spongiform encephalopathy has been devastating for our local farmers; a 1996 study estimated an annual loss of £34 million from the south-west Wales economy as a direct result. In November last year, estimates showed that the Sea Empress oil spillage had cost the tourism and fishing industries about £32.7 million. The most recent blow to the people of west Wales is the news that Gulf oil refinery faces possible closure, with the loss of more than 200 direct jobs and a further 2:1 ratio of indirect jobs.

The whole operation of the Welsh Development Agency, including its industrial locations policy, is of immediate interest and concern to my constituents who are desperate for job opportunities and for investment. Earlier this year, before the general election, the former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), is reported to have instructed the WDA to point any inward investment to areas of Wales outside the M4 and A55 corridors. Such an instruction should not have been necessary, as the Welsh Development Agency's responsibility is clearly to all of Wales, and not just the south and north-east corners. In fact, the opening paragraph of the chairman's statement in the 1995-96 annual report of the WDA assures us that

Unfortunately, we have seen little evidence of that in Pembrokeshire.

Wales requires an economic powerhouse that considers the needs of all areas of Wales--east, west, north, south, urban or rural--without any lines of demarcation. That body would combine the best elements of the WDA with the best elements of the Development Board for Rural Wales in order to cater for the needs of both urban and rural areas of Wales. It should be able to apply the strategy that is most appropriate for the area in which it is working, instead of one strategy or the other in the selective style of the previous Administration.

I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who represents a Welsh constituency, will be acutely aware of

18 Jun 1997 : Column 239

the frustrations of the people of Wales not just with the industrial locations policy of the WDA, but with the lack of accountability of that organisation. For that reason, I welcome the referendum planned for later this year when the people of Wales will be given an opportunity to say yes to the restoration of democracy within Wales. The expertise of 60 local people in an assembly will ensure that instructions such as that given by the former Secretary of State to the WDA to "go west" are no longer necessary.

Local people know what local people need. The implementation of an element of proportional representation in elections to the Assembly will ensure that people from all localities in Wales have an input--whether the issue is economic development and regeneration, health or education and skills training. The Assembly will not detract from the work of hon. Members in this place or of local government in Wales. It will enhance and complement both and, unlike unaccountable quangos, it will restore the democratic deficit that has increased over the past 18 years--by all accounts, at a cost that is considerably less than that of quangos. It will deliver reduced costs, with democracy for the people of Wales as a bonus.

For the sake of the economic future of my constituency and in order to meet the needs of other areas such as Pembrokeshire that demonstrate problems of both urban and rural deprivation, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will consider ways of responding effectively to our needs.

Next Section

IndexHome Page