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11 December 2023

Leadership at Both Westminster and The Senedd will Wake Up the True Business Potential of Wales


Written By:

Ian Price
Director
CBI

 

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The 2.3 million Welsh electorate will soon be heading to the polls if – as is expected – a General Election is called next year.

The exact date of a poll is currently the source of feverish speculation in the coffee bars of Westminster and the Senedd – and on social media.

Whatever your political hue, we need to be beating the drum for Welsh business interests at the next election and the CBI has kicked off this conversation following the launch of its Business Manifesto.

The document is squarely aimed at everyone; from potential candidates who will fight to represent Wales in the House of Commons, to our next Secretary of State.

This manifesto is honest about the issues Welsh firms face – from sluggish productivity and persistent labour and skills shortages, to underperforming business investment. I recently voiced these concerns on ITV’s Sharp End discussion panel with the TUC and Wales and Citizens Advice Cymru in an edition of the programme that looked at the cost of living and the overall state of the economy.

Developed in partnership with our members, the manifesto sets out practical ways of overcoming these obstacles. It is a programme the next government can use to hit the ground running, change gear on our economy, and deliver sustainable growth that benefits everyone. To help reignite the competitiveness for all parts of the UK. To prepare for the future of work. To meet our climate commitments and secure green growth. To stay ahead on technology and innovation. And to find new ways to work together to transform public service delivery.

It comes hot on the heels of our General Election Countdown conference in London, which I attended along with CBI Wales colleagues and firms such as Barry-based Dow Chemicals. I was in the room to hear the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and the Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds pitch their political doctrines as the correct ones for business. Both were delivering the kind of positive messages that firms need to hear around economic vision, ambition and certainty.

Two days later the Chancellor followed up by delivering on our long-standing call to make a permanent change to the tax landscape for business investment at the Autumn Statement and other measures to raise sustainable growth in the UK.

The clock is ticking on the Welsh Government to put in place the funding blocks to deliver vital services from care to health and support for business investment. We know it is costly, but in the forthcoming Welsh Budget we would like the government to follow the Chancellor’s example in the Autumn Statement and impose a business rates freeze. This would help firms struggling with continuing high energy bills, higher wages and prices for goods and services to survive.

We’ll be using our election manifesto to build on those commitments, to influence the political parties’ own pledges and to campaign on those issues where businesses can play their part in securing sustainable growth, if government, whoever is in charge, gives them a chance.

Because even if you think it’s too early to be talking about the General Election, now is exactly the right time to make sure the business voice is heard. Especially on points where there is consensus, before they get drowned out by campaigns focused on the differences. It’s time to take the politics out of the conversations surrounding the issues firms face every day.

It's our chance to seize the real growth opportunities up for grabs in Wales, including tackling the skills shortages, a lack of apprenticeship training in colleges and further investment to develop innovation and infrastructure, building on the work of the compound semi-conductor cluster around Newport that employs over 2,000 people and contributes almost £280m in GVA to the Welsh economy.

The right action can deliver big results for the Welsh economy, and CBI Wales is looking to see this year’s announcements for two free ports in Holyhead and Milford Haven-Neath Port Talbot translated into delivery on the ground, so they can be up and running as soon as possible.

Government needs to take the bold decisions, in the national economic interest. And business needs to work with them. Wales and the rest of the UK is at its best when politicians – whether they are in the House of Commons or the Senedd – and businesses work together. And an election gives us the opportunity to reshape our economy together and deliver on our shared ambitions for the benefit of everyone.

On that note, I’m delighted to have received an invitation from the Welsh Government to represent employers on the First Minister’s new Social Partnership Council, which holds its first meeting early in the new year.

We’ll be working with organisations across the public-private sector to improve economic, environmental, social, and cultural well-being in Wales and embed social partnership at the heart of Welsh Government policy, giving fresh cause for optimism as we head into 2024.


 



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