The sporting dream has crashed
Mike Hughes takes a personal look at how the game of Government is changing for Wales - and how we can survive
The quest for Welsh independence comes at a price – and our businesses are starting to pay.
There have been to many knocks in the last few days not to be concerned, headlined, of course by the reaction to Theresa May’s deal with the DUP amid a chorus of ‘where’s ours?’ from every other part of the country.
Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones led the charge: "It is outrageous that the prime minister believes she can secure her own political future by throwing money at Northern Ireland whilst completely ignoring the rest of the UK. It flies in the face of the commitment to build a more united country and further weakens the UK."
Assembly Member for Blaenau Gwent, Alun Davies said the deal “corrodes the fabric of a union based on fairness”.
But there was another blow that might be seen as more painful because it came from within – the new decision makers had to be ruthless as well.
This centred around the potentially stunning £425m Circuit of Wales – a racetrack and motorsport venture on an 830-acre site near Ebbw Vale, just north of Cardiff.
On the day the Welsh Government said it wasn’t worth the risk to back it, the circuit website was poignantly still buzzing with potential:
“The development is a new destination for Wales. It is a diverse facility that is an automotive centre of excellence and a vibrant location for business, sports, leisure, culture and the arts.
All £425m needed to bring the project forward is in place, all provided by the private sector. Our construction partners are ready to commence work within weeks of agreement being reached with the Welsh Government, with the first races planned for 2019.”
But it was not to be, and you could almost hear the regret in the words of Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure. Something had changed, not all our dreams were going to come true.
He said: “We have been working with the Circuit of Wales to support this project for a significant period of time as we recognised the stated potential positive economic impact it could have.
“I told the company that I would expect to see at least 50% of the project funded and 50% of the financial risk of the project to be undertaken by the private sector and for the project as a whole to provide Value for Money for Welsh Government and the public purse.
“Extensive and detailed due diligence by external experts employed by Welsh Government has shown that due to the way the deal is structured, the current proposal would see the Welsh Government exposed to more than 50% of the risk. As a result, following discussions with ONS and HM Treasury during the due diligence process, it is assessed that there is a very significant risk that the full £373m debt of the entire Circuit of Wales project would be classified against Welsh Government capital spending.”
This was not going to end well, and when Skates threw in a few tricky comparisons, the writing was on the wall.
“To give an indication of the scale of the impact, this represents the same cost as building, for example, the planned new Specialist and Critical Care Centre in Cwmbran, 10 schools similar to the new Ysgol Bae Baglan in Port Talbot, or the equivalent of 5,000 new affordable homes in communities right across Wales."
There was also a fairly harsh assessment of the Circuit’s own aspirations – would there really be that many permanent jobs, and how much future support would there need to be to support the development of the all-important automotive business cluster around the site?
And then some good news, but it would always seem like a poor swap. The Welsh Government committing itself to a new automotive technology business park in Ebbw Vale, with funding of £100m over 10 years, and the potential to support 1,500 new FTE jobs. And there would be work to explore the potential of locating a South Wales Metro depot in the Ebbw Vale Enterprise Zone, and introduce programmes to support new and existing employers in Blaenau Gwent on skills development within the local workforce.
There will be hunched shoulders and slumped figures around Wales as such deep wounds are opened up.
But this is a battling country and battle we must if we are to take our place among commercial superpowers. And never lose sight of the bright sports. As Carwyn Jones set out his government’s legislative priorities for the year ahead, he included direct support for business growth, like plans for 30 hours of free childcare a week for working parents of 3 and 4 year olds and a bill to establish a new relationship between the Welsh Government and local government.
He was on defiant form as he said he wanted a Wales that was “healthy and active, prosperous and secure, ambitious and learning and united and connected”.
Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns joined in this chorus of ‘always look on the bright side of life’ as he launched the Wales Export Guide to be sent out to 26,000 businesses here, saying: “I want Welsh businesses to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe. We want to help them to build their brand abroad as we continue to increase UK exports and encourage inward investment.”
There is a truth to be found here – to trust Governments to an extent. They really will help where they can, but no one will be better at winning their own fights than the Welsh themselves.
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