Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: Further and higher education - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 992-999)


7 OCTOBER 2008

  Q992 Chairman: Good morning and welcome. Could I first of all ask you to introduce yourselves for the record, please?

Mr Rosser: Yes. I am David Rosser, Director for the CBI in Wales.

  Mr Jenkins: Leighton Jenkins, Head of Policy for the CBI in Wales.

  Q993  Chairman: First of all, could I thank you for the memorandum you sent us and for the comprehensive nature of the memorandum. Whilst this session is essentially about education and training, we are keen to ask you about other questions in response to your memorandum, so it will be somewhat more wide-ranging, and I understand that you would welcome that.

  Mr Rosser: We would, thank you.

  Q994  Chairman: First of all, could I just ask a general question about what impact devolution has had for employers located near to the Wales/England border.

  Mr Rosser: I think increasingly we are seeing different policy environments developing in Wales compared to the rest of the UK, and in particular England. It strikes us that is a natural consequence of devolution.

  Q995  Chairman: We have acoustic problems in this room.

  Mr Rosser: I am sorry. It strikes me we have had an increasingly different policy context developing in Wales from that which employers see in England and the rest of the United Kingdom and that is an entirely natural consequence of the devolution process. There are two broad impacts on business arising from that. Firstly, there are consequences in what I would call the general business environment within which companies operate. I have some examples here: the lower use of public-private partnerships, for example, including PFI, in Wales is leading to different infrastructure pressures and less investment in the public infrastructure in Wales and, indeed, lower business opportunities for companies which might otherwise have been involved in those markets, and that is of general concern. Different planning regimes and different policies towards a reform of planning is something else which impacts on the general business environment. The second broad impact is around specific policy decisions which will impact directly on companies and their day-to-day activities. There are a couple of examples here. Building regulations being devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government will have a tangible impact on companies involved in the development industry. The Welsh Assembly is currently developing a policy on fees or contributions from employers towards post-19 education and training. Depending where that policy ends up, one could see very real differences to companies in the day-to-day operating environment. What would business like to see happening as a result of these differences? I think, first of all, the key issue is one of communicating to business. The Welsh Assembly Government, when it is imposing and implementing different policies must communicate how the environment in Wales is different and what companies can expect to see in Wales. Some of the written evidence from Airbus is particularly pertinent in that respect. The other issue that we are quite keen to push at the Welsh Assembly Government is that the calculation of the costs of different policy decisions in Wales should be made at a very early stage and made in a very transparent fashion. The Welsh Assembly Government is currently consulting on an Impact Assessment Code to match the Impact Assessment Code which operates for the UK Government on UK policy. We are very keen that should be as wide as possible so that where we have different policy decisions taken by a democratically elected government in the Welsh Assembly we understand the consequences and where those costs will fall.

  Q996  Mr Martyn Jones: Where further and higher education policies differ between England and Wales, are those differences made clear to you as an organisation?

  Mr Rosser: They are sometimes clear and sometimes less so to us as a business organisation. To individual companies they are frequently not clear until a company tries to access funding to introduce apprenticeships or whatever other training scheme it is looking to do and then discovers that actually things have changed and maybe are different from its English operations. That is not always worse; just different. I have one example of a company which operates across south Wales and the south-west which implements apprenticeships in both areas. It found the system much easier to get into in the south-west of England. The Learning and Skills Council is a much more visible point of entry into the system than the DCELLS (Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills) might be in the Welsh Assembly Government. Once into the system, using a private sector training provider, they found that the Welsh system worked a little more flexibly and was a little more encouraging, but it was not until the company was deeply into that process that it understood the differences. There is a degree of improvement in the communication that could be seen.

  Q997  Mr Martyn Jones: In addition, do your members have problems when they are working with institutions within Wales relating to the differences between establishments? I am particularly thinking of north-east Wales where we have our own colleges just across the border.

  Mr Rosser: I think the appetite and enthusiasm with which certainly further education colleges work with business is quite varied. There are some very good colleges which are very business focused, and I think you have two of them in north Wales, Glyndwr and Deeside.

  Q998  Mr Martyn Jones: One of which is now a university.

  Mr Rosser: That is not always replicated elsewhere within further education in Wales. I think higher education institutions have made much more progress along that agenda of working with business. The relative under-funding of higher education in Wales limits the degree to which some of those institutions can invest in working with businesses and that is something we are quite keen to see addressed. Shortly, I think Wales will be the only one of the four administrations in the UK which is not offering, for example, R&D innovation vouchers to companies to use with higher education institutions and that would be a shame.

  Q999  Mr Martyn Jones: You suggest the UK Government could do more to incorporate the needs of Welsh businesses in its policy development. How do you think that is best achieved?

  Mr Rosser: Clearly the Assembly Government has increased requirements now to consult with business under the new Government of Wales Act that was passed recently and we look forward to seeing that work well both in spirit as well as the letter of the regulation. It is working better in some areas than others. We are currently involved with the Welsh Assembly Government at a very early stage in helping their thinking on a fees or contribution policy towards post-19 education. That method of working is to be welcomed. It is quite resource intensive both on us as well as the Assembly Government. We would like to see more of that. It does not apply in some areas and some regulations where there is much more "brief the business community once we have taken the decision". Again, we come back to the current Impact Assessment Policy that the Assembly Government is considering and highlight the importance of that to understanding the consequences of different policies on business and the costs and where they will fall.

  Mr Jenkins: I would like to say that in terms of companies that we have spoken to, they have said they would appreciate more understanding of what happens post-devolution. In some ways, the Welsh Assembly Government has developed the conventional consultation model which is appreciated in terms of, "We will talk to you as and when the process goes on", but businesses need certainty, an understanding of what will happen after key decisions are made. There is inevitably going to be this tension, but I think companies would appreciate some understanding of what will happen after the decision has been made, what kind of issues are likely to change, if not the actual changes themselves then where they need to be looking, where they need to be considering. How they need to plan what I call their business models, is often or not three or four years in advance in terms of building regs they are buying plots of land and if building regs are going to be devolved, what is the impact of that and they do not know.

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