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  • Lawrence Bailey

The enterprise mission is on-going

It wouldn’t be proper Welsh politics unless someone somewhere was being called out over unwise or excessive government spending.

The issue under scrutiny lately has been whether the £221m heaped on Wales' eight enterprise zones since 2012 represents value for money.

Conservatives have dubbed the special economic zones "subsidy farms", claiming there’s a price tag of £20,656 for every job created or safeguarded.

As you’d expect, Labour dismiss the allegation and point out that some 10,700 jobs were protected over five years.

It’s possible to play the figures back and forth and validate both arguments. But maybe the issue is not just whether this cash, which includes infrastructure projects, is ‘acceptable’ but if it’s actually going to the right places.

The latest incarnation of Welsh enterprise zones is markedly different from the Thatcherite version that shook up Swansea’s economy in the late 1980s with land grabs, fast-track planning and zero business rates.

This is essentially the point made by Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies who highlights that the limited grants and business support on offer have produced mixed results.

Even so, figures for the period from 2012 to 2017 show areas such as Anglesey, Ebbw Vale, Milford Haven, Deeside and Port Talbot benefiting to varying degrees.

I suppose that occasionally spreading the wealth outside the usual economic hotspots is to be welcomed. That said, you have to wonder what financial imbalance was addressed by creating a ‘Cardiff Central’ enterprise zone and putting £62 million into its coffers.

There have been several calls over the years for a ‘rebalanced’ Welsh economy able to support jobs and growth.

However, the impression I get from speaking with several senior council figures in the Swansea Bay region is that they're getting distinctly tired of having to chase top-up money as a substitute for a lack of basic funding.

Moreover, calls from Cardiff Bay for council restraint sound a bit hollow coming from an Assembly that apparently plans to spend a couple of million pounds on refurbishing its own burgeoning waterside accommodation.

Meanwhile, the on-going enterprise mission continues – for the time being anyway


Building up a problem?

There are few things in life less welcome than a new tax. This definitely applies to the Welsh government idea of a "vacant land tax" to tackle the issue of so-called "land-banking".

This refers to circumstances whereby developers and house builders appear to be speculatively accumulating plots of land for future development.

It’s one of a series of revenue raising ideas currently being considered by ministers.

However, critics maintain that adding an extra land premium will put yet another burden on indigenous small house builders and thereby undermine a Welsh Government target of providing 20,000 affordable homes

They also point out that an effective deterrent against stashing away sites was introduced some time ago. Indeed, it’s no longer possible to renew planning consent on a piece of land unless you can show good reason why work has not already commenced.

This ‘use it or lose it’ approach was seen as useful stimulus for development at the time. People are understandably asking what's suddenly changed.

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