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Playing the generation game in Wales

I have to confess that I’ve never quite been able to get to grips with the sustainability agenda in Wales. Somehow there always seems to be an element of the emperor’s new clothes involved.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully sign up to the idea of conserving resources, taking the renewable route etc. It’s just that the gap between policy and practice is a bit wider than the official position suggests.

A while back I helped put together a bid for some regeneration funding. Part of the submission was thirty-six pages of supporting information on how the scheme ticked all the right sustainability boxes.

When the deal came to be done, the guy signing off the application never once looked at the technical info. The project stacked up financially and that was enough.

Whatever our experiences however, sustainability has become as much as part of the Welsh fabric as renewable carrier bags.

This was apparent in something called the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Bill unveiled last week in Swansea. It’s what’s known as a ‘concept bill’ which basically means that it’s more bones than meat.

The fundamental thinking is that public bodies, including the Welsh government itself, should literally look to the future when planning services. Sensible enough I suppose although predicting the situation in 2050 so as to address “inter-generational challenges in a more joined up and integrated way” probably has its pitfalls.

Back in 1978, we thought that future generations would be flying around in hover cars, taking vacations on Mars and enjoying a two-day working week. Not exactly the financial austerity and rampant type 2 diabetes which is today’s reality.

The obligation to makes forecasts will be overseen by a Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. This has already sparked a series of Mystic Meg references.

For myself, I’m simply sceptical as to how this future-proofing idea fits into others plans.

Unfortunately, we saw last week’s resignations and recriminations overshadow the publication of “Devolution, Democracy and Delivery”, another Welsh government’s white paper which spells out how it wants to reform public services. That was a great pity.

There’s no doubt that public bodies are in the best position to promote the sustainability agenda the government wants. The problem is that they are also increasingly likely to be forced to react to situations rather than plan their way out.

You can’t always legislate for the future. Or as been said before, when you’re up to your backside in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the original idea was to drain the swamp.

What you can do however is get hold of the right tools to do the job. I just hope that this is remembered as work on reform continues. In my opinion, it is the outcome of this debate that will have the most telling effect on communities in the long run.


Aggressive expansion in south east Asia

I was recently invited to sit in on a fairly high-powered discussion on future investment patterns in Wales. When I say “sit in”, I mean I was told to find a chair at the back and keep quiet.

The gathered regional and national business folk were there to get a briefing of how the tiger economies of south-east Asia are gearing up to eat our lunch, commercially speaking.

Although the UK is steadily emerging from near meltdown, other countries, and especially in the south east Asian economic sphere are building their recovery from a less weakened starting point.

The stark message from a senior academic is that some of the firms we currently view as staple elements of the Welsh economy may well chose relocate to Malaysia, for example, who are currently boosting their public works programme.

Wales therefore needs to get its act together on key connections such as rail electrification and the M4 relief road.

It was a clear warning and one that registered with many in the room. I’m sure we will hear more soon.


Store Wars: Attack or retreat?

The wonderful thing about the world of research is that you can get two articles published on the same day covering the same subject and which come to quite different conclusions.

I won’t name names but the quandary in this instance was whether post-recession retail development is on the up. One author detected that the trend is toward expansion while the other talked about ‘sector consolidation’.

Both viewpoints made sense in that they highlighted the swings and roundabouts nature of the supermarket business. Profits for the big names are down while discount stores are making significant inroads.

The development industry seems to be the overall winner at the moment with both the larger names and smaller competitors planning to open more stores.

Pundits still insist however that on-line food shopping remains the most likely growth area, especially in places such as Swansea West where sites are at a premium.

For the moment, consumers look like they will benefit from a combination of falling prices and increased choice. It makes a nice change but will it last? I doubt it.

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