An Industrial Strategy for the UK : What it means for infrastructure in Wales?

When it comes to infrastructure in Wales we all know that we can’t simply look inwards, sort ourselves out and then expect the rest of the world to organise itself around us. Whether it’s our road and rail links which, as well as serving Wales’ internal needs, have to align with England to the east and Ireland, via our ports to the west, our air links to the wider world, our water resources, our energy sources and our digital and communication links, as a small nation, we have always had to align ourselves with what’s happening around us.

Last week Theresa May announced the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy. It’s based on “10 pillars” which roughly translate as :

  • Science, research and innovation
  • Developing skills
  • Upgrading infrastructure
  • Supporting starter and growing businesses
  • Improving procurement
  • Encouraging trade and inward investment
  • Affordable energy for clean growth
  • Developing leadership capabilities
  • Spreading growth
  • Local organisational structures

Nothing really surprising there, not much that many would disagree with and a number that relate directly to the infrastructure sector. And who wouldn’t want to see “Improvements to Procurement”?!

So, what is Wales’ economic strategy? Is it a case of “for Wales, see England”? Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary, Economy, Infrastructure and Skills is currently consulting on a cross-cutting economic strategy for Wales and CECA Wales are inputting to this process. The themes from the Cabinet Secretary, such as inequality of wealth, echo many of the points raised in the UK strategy but, inevitably, the focus in Wales will vary to reflect our specific issues. We all need to keep a close eye on how this develops as without a clear strategy we risk standing still or going into reverse whilst others plough ahead. Arguably, heading off in the wrong direction would be even worse.

And, of course, how do we shape our infrastructure strategy to support an economic or industrial strategy? The obvious thing to say is that we don’t have an infrastructure strategy for Wales at the moment but hopefully that will change soon when a National Infrastructure Commission for Wales is established. It was pleasing to hear the announcement last week that the UK National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) is to be established as an Executive Agency of HM Treasury, and that it will deliver the long-term strategy the UK needs. Closer to home we had the publication of the Report by the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee on National Infrastructure Commission for Wales. CECA Wales, along with a number of other partners and stakeholders, provided evidence to this committee in November with a view to strengthening the proposals for the Commission. This was part of a much wider campaign by CECA Wales and others across sectors to highlight the importance and value of infrastructure investment. Having read the report I am very pleased that so many of the issues that we raised have been taken on board by the Committee and are included as recommendations to the Welsh Government. There are 10 recommendations in all which reflect the issues raised by CECA Wales. There are also 3 areas where the Committee have specifically sought to strengthen the role and remit of the Commission : putting the Commission on a statutory footing as soon as possible, incorporating social infrastructure, specifically housing, into its remit, and embedding the Wellbeing of Future Generations into its work. We will obviously continue to work with the Welsh Government to ensure that these recommendations are incorporated in the role of the new Commission.

Inevitably, an Industrial Strategy for the UK will have a significant bearing on our economic performance in Wales. However, it’s important that we develop our own take on this, as soon as possible to reflect our particular strengths and needs. With a clear vision for economic prosperity for Wales we can then set about the task of delivering the 21st Century infrastructure to support this.