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Future prosperity and lessons from the past

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

It's only September but panto season, complete with hackneyed plots and staged audience participation, has already started up at Westminster.

Much of the shouty stuff in the chamber has been over the Internal Market Bill. This legislation is ostensibly about how the UK manages its post-Brexit business. Critics however say Boris Johnson is acting in bad faith and claim it represents an attempt to tear up the EU Withdrawal Agreement negotiated last year.

An added seasonal spice is that the Bill mentions giving the UK Government powers to directly spend money in Wales on projects such as the M4 relief road.

Welsh Secretary, Simon Hart, insists devolved nations will benefit from the move. As you’d expect, the Welsh government already has its own views on how to transfer infrastructure funding roles from the EU to a national body.

The question then is whether the best constitutionally equipped nation to make those decisions is Wales or the UK.

Although the promises of jam tomorrow are enticing, most everyone acknowledges that the idea of imposing economic priorities from outside Wales is not a workable proposition. Of course, that hasn’t stopped a few headlines erupting about outright independence being the only solution.

The serious players accept that devolution is too well established to subvert self-determination. While the idea of Whitehall-controlled cash going directly to Wales is not entirely without precedent - City Deal being a case in point – a key factor is that the money is channelled through the Welsh government.

Then again, there are some people, if asked, who will tell you that Cardiff Bay turned up a bit late for that party and then refused to dance to anyone’s tune but their own. Perhaps the Welsh Secretary has this inflexibility is mind as he touts a stronger role for Whitehall.

His problem though is that the UK government’s legacy in this part of Wales is also one of broken commitments like rail electrification and the tidal lagoon.

Back in August, transport secretary Grant Shapps also admitted that Wales would miss out on getting any proportional funding linked to the HS2 rail project.

But before anyone tries to paint Welsh government’s economic record as a comparative success story, a report due out this week will say something different.

In fact, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is recommending that the Welsh Government should reverse a decision made a decade and a half ago and bring back a development agency for Wales.

Sometimes, it seems that no matter how much you strive to go forward, the past is never far away. Or “Behind you!”, as they say in panto,


Getting spaced out over work distancing

There’s been some mixed economic messages coming across as to whether socially-distanced working can ever be viable

Last month, the head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned that city centres could become "ghost towns" if more was not done to encourage workers to go back to the office.

The impact on thousands of local businesses that rely on the passing trade is already obvious – but how do you resolve this and still keep the workforce safe and healthy?

Having just been shown one office layout, my immediate reaction is that I’d personally have problems working like a battery hen in a sentry box. Then again, when I was in my old day job I never thought I’d get used to an open-plan arrangement either. Yet after a few months, it felt wrong if someone closed the meeting room door.

As some businesses state that remote working could well be their future model, Welsh government is talking about a future figure of 30% of employees having that option.

I’m not sure though how this ambition can be reconciled with current city-centre regeneration thinking specifically intended to create new office space.

When it comes to increasing footfall, it feels like the steps are going in a different direction.



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