Tuesday, 3 May 2016

INVESTING IN OUR INFRASTRUCTURE

A Plaid Cymru government will embark upon the biggest programme of reconstruction our nation has seen since devolution. We will establish a new body, the National Infrastructure Commission Wales, (NICW), an independent public corporation that will be responsible for planning, funding and delivering the aspirations set out in the National Infrastructure Investment Plan.

NICW will develop as a centre of specialist knowledge in the procurement and project management of major infrastructure projects to achieve best value for money while maximizing opportunities for Welsh firms in partnership with the National Procurement Service together with sector-specific non-profit distributing organisations.

Projects in transport, for example, will involve substantial investment in new rolling stock, creating new economic opportunities for local manufacturers for innovation and collaboration. Similarly in energy generation we will seek to maximise the proportion of the new technology that is manufactured in Wales. In housing we will support the manufacture of public rental housing in German-style house factories.

NICW will seek to arrange for the funding of these projects in a variety of different ways, including from the European Investment Bank and other European institutions, UK sources like the Green Investment bank and Infrastructure UK, working with local authorities, pension funds and other institutional investors and using long term leasing arrangements to raise funds independently of the UK Government’s balance sheet, enabling it to borrow additional funding at historically low interest rates to invest in vital Welsh infrastructure projects, creating jobs in the Welsh economy.

Investing using these sources of finance, together with those of the Welsh Government will enable us to double the current capital investment totals with an additional £1.5 billion of investment per year. The borrowing would be for long periods (e.g. 25 years) and we anticipate that the debt service ratio would be some 2.2% after five years at the end of the first Senedd term, and it is not intended that the debt service for all outstanding debt would rise above 4.5% under a long term rolling investment programme.

Our broad priorities for investment, beyond those contained in current spending plans, would include:
  • housing where it would be possible for an additional 10,000 homes to be built beyond current targets, for local and affordable housing needs throughout Wales

  • a comprehensive programme to improve the energy efficiency of housing in Wales with a sustained programme over the next twenty years o creating a network of local energy grids for Wales. 

  • creating the south-east Metro as well as a similar Metro-style network for both north Wales and Swansea and the western valleys 

  • creating a national rail link from north to south along the west Wales coast.
The Party of Wales will also expand capital investment in health to include investing in new NHS medical care homes and patient hotels, plus modern residential care facilities to be leased by local SMEs and social enterprises and education, with universal upgrading of existing facilities, new school-community hubs, together with the development of new Welsh medium schools and 3-14 and 3-19 through-schools where there is local demand.

Monday, 2 May 2016

OUR RAILWAYS

Plaid Cymru supports public ownership of the railway, and so we will continue to seek full and unrestricted control over the awarding of future rail franchises. In the meantime, under the current Westminster legislation, we will investigate alternative models for the next Welsh franchise that deliver as much public control as possible.

The Party of Wales will ensure that dividends and profits are reinvested and redistributed back into Welsh rail services through the most appropriate model that can be implemented. Plaid will work to protect all current routes which start or terminate in Wales as part of the Welsh franchise area. Transport for Wales will specify and procure a rail franchise that the public can be proud of.

The rail operator we establish through this process will:
  • provide capacity for expected growth in passenger numbers
  • benefit from profits and surpluses being reinvested back into the railway
  • adopt one national visual brand
  • integrate with bus service timetables, with community rail, the new proposed light rail networks and with active travel (walking and cycling)
  • introduce measures to make rail fares more affordable, including a simplified fare structure with the option of an annual fee, paid via the National Smart Card, to cover all journeys throughout Wales
  • have passenger and workforce representatives in its governance structure
  • have a duty to improve communication with passengers through social media and station announcements.

 A Plaid Cymru government will endeavour to secure new trains for our country and are committed to investigating the different options for rolling stock ownership, including owning our own trains. We will secure improvements for the safety of the public on the railway network by improving lighting, CCTV and disabled access to stations, and consulting on an alcohol ban on late-night trains.

At present, rail infrastructure is currently reserved to Westminster, but a Plaid Cymru Government would actively work towards changing this and would aim to electrify all major rail lines by 2034. We will complete the planned electrification of the South Wales Valley Lines. The next line to be electrified should be the North Wales Coast Line.

Plaid will identify locations for new stations across the network.  and will  continue to invest in developing existing rail stations as hubs for wider commercial development and urban regeneration, including retail and co-working/office space.

The Party of Wales will also look to re-open railway lines across Wales to create new links between communities. As part of this Plaid will commission a full feasibility study on the re-opening of the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth line together with a second phase linking Bangor, Caernarfon and Afon Wen near Pwllheli. Other potential lines such as Gaerwen to Amlwch, and the Amman Valley to Swansea will be studied for viability. A full report will be prepared on railway re-openings and new lines, setting the tone for a long-term expansion of the Welsh railway,

We need the urgent development of a South-East Metro, which will be sympathetic to existing communities. The aim of the Metro is to simplify travel across the region and provide regeneration in some of Wales’ most underdeveloped communities. We will work with local authorities and business to ensure that jobs are created in Valleys communities and that commuting can go in both directions. We want to see a similarly innovative and integrated transport system for the Swansea city region, and for north Wales and will publish these proposals within a year of assuming office.

A prioritised number of rail schemes will be included in the new National Transport Plan that we will consult upon and publish in our first year of government. Plaid Cymru will produce an exciting vision of a Welsh National Railway service, uniting the nation, north and south, country and city, community-to-community.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

A NATIONAL BANK OF WALES

A Plaid Cymru government will seek to establish a National Bank of Wales (NBW), a publicly-owned bank similar to the German Landeskreditbanken, providing debt finance to Welsh businesses and taking longer-term equity stakes to help plug the estimated funding gap of £500m a year faced by Welsh SMEs. Finance Wales operations will be merged into new institution.

This institution will work with Welsh Government and the new WDA to grow Welsh Mittelstand companies; it will in particular offer succession and equity release planning specialists, involving the use of management buyouts and employee ownership trusts, and the adoption of long-term equity stakes as a public bank, providing a source of patient finance on the German model in successful Welsh companies in order to maintain Welsh ownership, preventing the ownership churn that has damaged so many successful Welsh companies, and therefore safeguarding jobs.

The term Mittelstand mostly applies to small to mid-sized firms in German speaking countries. Most importantly Mittelstand companies are characterized by a common set of values and management practices. What defines the Mittelstand, is a broad set of values such as: Family-like corporate culture; long-term focus; independence; nimbleness; emotional attachment, investment into the workforce; flexibility; innovativeness; customer focus; social responsibility; strong regional ties.

The owner or owners take the business decisions largely on their own – and assume the risks and liability. In these companies, the boss usually has close ties with the business and the employees and bears a particular responsibility for ensuring job security. Mittelstand companies are often hailed for providing the backbone of the world’s fourth-largest economy. They tend to be family-owned, tucked away in small towns and familiar only to the businesses that buy their specialised machinery and components.

The Mittelstand also appears to offer a solution to some of the biggest worries of the capitalist system. One being the centralisation of wealth and the other is unemployment. The combination of medium-sized companies with deep local roots and a strong apprenticeship system means that in Germany only 7.8% of those aged 25 or under are unemployed, compared with 22.1% in Sweden and 54% in Spain. Mittelstand firms inspire extraordinary loyalty in their workers: on average only 2.7% of them leave each year, compared with the 30% turnover at some big American companies.

Over time NBW will develop into a deposit taking institution, involved in mainstream business banking, and providing banking facilities to the Welsh public sector, allowing it to use fractional reserve banking to expand its lending capacity. It will separately create a series of sector specific and independently managed seed and risk capital funds for high-growth innovation-based businesses.

Plaid Cymru will also look to build on the work of the Sector Panels, Industry Wales and other existing industry fora to support the development of sector associations to help us develop strategies in every area of the economy. We will do everything we can to support the steel industry in Wales, pressing the UK Government and EU to take radical action to protects the industry from unfair competition, procuring Welsh steel wherever possible as part of our infrastructure investment programme and actively exploring the possibility of a joint venture investment to improve the long-term competitiveness of the Port Talbot steelworks.

Friday, 29 April 2016

GOING FOR A HOME WIN

When spending public money, it’s important to work it extremely hard and extract every single possible benefit. We need to take a fresh look public sector procurement of goods and services in Wales and ensure that an increasing percentage of our public sector spend is targeted towards local businesses and local suppliers. When taxpayers’ money is being spent, it is important that every single possible added value be squeezed out of it and it is vital that we spend as much of possible of it as we can to support Welsh businesses. 

At a very simple economic level a sustained and encouraged ‘buy local’ campaign is a real economic must, while this will necessitate legislation to improve public procurement, it is something that can provide real opportunities for Welsh based business within the procurement chain – potentially this could create some 50,000 new jobs. Significantly improved local procurement policy can create and secure jobs, boost employment levels and help small to medium sized enterprises in many of our communities. 

Again at a very basic level it comes down to maximising the local economic opportunities from the £ 4.3 billion pound public sector spend in Wales – which is used to procure and purchase goods and services.  There have been some real improvements when it comes to public procurement over the last ten years, but, there is still room for substantial improvements to be made.  The increase in Welsh procurement of goods and services from 34% in 2003 to 52%  (June 2012) something that follows extensive efforts by Plaid Cymru as part of the One Wales government (between 2007 and 2011).

A Plaid Cymru government will legislate to make it mandatory for public sector bodies to follow Welsh Government policy on procurement. Social, employment and environmental considerations will be given the same weight of consideration as price when choosing a supplier.

The Party of Wales will use the freedoms provided under the new Public Contracts Directive to achieve maximum social and environmental benefits, including payment of the Welsh Living Wage for all employees and the MacFarlane standard of a minimum of one year’s employment for a person from a disadvantaged background employed per £1 million expenditure. We will also seek to expand and extend the role of the social sector in the provision of public services and goods.

All public sector agencies will need to reach agreed standards of one procurement specialist, with appropriate professional accreditation, per £10 million expenditure by 2020. We will provide direct funding for an additional ten experienced public procurement managers to the National Procurement Service to increase our ability to achieve our goal of increasing local purchasing while continuing to improve quality of service.

All public authorities in Wales, under the aegis of the Welsh Government, will be required to provide comprehensive real-time supplier information so that we can operate a Open Contract system publishing the details of every public service supplier and buyer in Wales, including future pipelines, providing an accurate and up-to-date picture of the level of Welsh SME procurement while helping increase it.

We will set a target of keeping 75% of first-tier Welsh public procurement expenditure within Wales, with locally-owned or locally controlled firms, cooperatives and charities (defined on an independently agreed basis), to create in excess of 40,000 new private and social sector jobs, and develop a further target for 2nd tier and 3rd tier suppliers in larger contracts.

We will achieve this in part through ensuring appropriately sized contracts for small and medium sized companies and by providing direct support to Welsh firms seeking Welsh public contracts. The new WDA will work with the National Procurement Service to identify two to three initial priority areas for supply chain development e.g. construction and care services. Our Government will establish a digital currency for Wales – the first of its kind at a national scale – and use it on an experimental basis to procure services and accept payments to measure its potential for retaining the flow of money within the Welsh economy.

The bottom line has to be that if we are going to spend public money then it is only right that it be worked extremely hard and we need to maximise the economic impact every single penny and every single pound and to make sure that it works to help the Welsh economy. Back in 2013 for every £2 spent procuring goods and services, £1 of that ‘leaked’ out of Wales and the Welsh economy.  Value Wales suggested that for each 1% increase in goods or services procured from Wales, some 2,000 jobs are created.

So if we can achieve a local public spend of something close to 75% then potentially some 46,000 additional jobs can be created. The impact of a well thought out and implemented public procurement policy is something that could economically give and give again. This is the crux of the matter, it could be a real win win situation for Wales, potentially cutting unemployment by around a third or about the same number as the increase in unemployment that we have suffered since the recession began. 

Thursday, 28 April 2016

AFFORDABLE HOMES

Wales needs to have substantially more affordable housing otherwise an entire generation will miss out on the reasonable expectation of having a decent home.  Plaid Cymru believes that the supply of more affordable housing should be met through a combination of bringing empty properties back into use, and new developments of mixed housing in the social and private sectors. However, we also want local needs and environmental sustainability to be taken into account.

The Party of Wale will create a National Housing Company which will borrow against rents to build a new generation of public rental housing in Wales limited in number only by demand. We will also support Local Authorities wishing to build new Council Housing.

Local Authorities will be expected to agree targets for supplying affordable housing, including new social housing, with the Welsh Government, but will be given the flexibility to decide how they would achieve this based upon the needs of their area. Local Authorities will be able to develop joint plans with neighbouring local authorities, or work through housing associations or the National Housing Company, if they believed this was the best way to meet the needs of their areas.

A Plaid Cymru government will fund the development of new homes in small-scale housing developments in rural Wales on ‘exception sites’, whose land plots, not covered by general planning permission, will be capped at an affordable price designed to benefit those in local housing need with family and work ties to the area, and whose sale will be conditional on these houses continuing in local ownership in perpetuity.

Plaid Cymru has consistently opposed the Right to Buy scheme and we will take action to ensure the social housing stock remains intact in order to meet the demand for homes. We need to introduce a more rigorous system in the allocation of social housing to give priority to those in local housing need. And to support the release of public land as self-build plots for affordable homes, to buy and to lease, and allow housing associations to build their own high-quality prefabricated homes as the Accord Housing Association successfully does in Walsall.

Historically our communities have been ill-served by the planning system, by our local authorities (via the flawed system of Unitary Development Plans) and more recently by the Labour in Wales Welsh Government in Cardiff. With increasing pressure from over development community cohesion is under threat, along with increased demand on overstretched local amenities, our NHS and our green spaces.

Perhaps before constructing large numbers of new houses which fail to tackle local housing needs we should take a long hard look at the number of empty properties – something that remains largely unaddressed in many of our communities. We need a planning system that takes account of local housing needs, the environment (and seeks to create protected green belt land around and within our large and small urban communities) and also looks sustainability at the whole of Wales – and we will only get it with a Plaid Cymru government in Cardiff Bay.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

GROWING OUR SMALL BUSINESSES

A Plaid Cymru government will involve the private sector and its representative bodies in providing business support and advice aimed at small businesses (less than 10 employees) by strengthening the current Business Wales network. Plaid Cymru will also pass a Regulatory Reform Act to lower the bureaucratic burden on business.

Plaid will increase business rate relief so that more than 70,000 small and medium companies will pay no business rates at all. Any firm with a rateable value of less than £10,000 per year will pay no business rates and a Plaid government will introduce a tapered relief for another 20,000 firms whose rateable value is between £10,000 and £20,000. In order to enourage new startups Plaid will not charge any business rates due for the first year of operation.

The Party of Wales will review business rates every three years, so that they are kept up-to-date, and investigate the impact of premises investment so that businesses are not penalised for improvements that they make. We will subject small and large businesses to different multipliers as is the case in Scotland and England and will index rates to CPI not RPI.

Additionally targeted business rate reliefs will be offered for larger companies that agree to meet certain criteria on corporate social responsibility – including opportunities for local suppliers, the Welsh Living Wage, the minimisation of waste and the use of renewable energy. Businesses of all sizes that meet the criteria will be entitled to display a kitemark as responsible Welsh businesses.

Plaid Cymru in government will act immediately to set up a new fund to enable local authorities and community groups to offer two hours free car parking in towns throughout Wales, providing a vital boost to town centre regeneration across all of Wales. 

We will support social innovation, social enterprise, employee and consumer co-ops. We will establish a co-operative challenge fund to provide financial support for feasibility and market studies and early stage finance for groups exploring the option of establishing cooperatives. Plaid Cymru will support the establishment of a social business school to develop the skills of social entrepreneurs, and a social innovation park to incubate new ideas.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

THE CHANGE THAT WALES NEEDS

Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood
Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood has today said that her party offers the "only real hope" of brining about and end to 17 years of unbroken Labour rule in Wales. Latest poll shows Plaid closing gap with Labour by four points in just two weeks.

Speaking to Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Leanne Wood said that Plaid Cymru goes into the Welsh Assembly elections with the most ambitious, transformative and workable programme for government of any party in Wales, and is ready to lead the change Wales needs.

The last three opinion polls in Wales have put Plaid Cymru in second place, overtaking the Tories, in terms of the number of projected seats, setting up the party as the main challenger to the current Labour government before people in Wales go to the polls on May 5th 2016.

Speaking after the Today programme, Party of Wales leader Leanne Wood said:

"With just ten days remaining until people in Wales go to the polls, Plaid Cymru's message is one of hope.

"If you're fed up of growing waiting times, falling standards in our schools and a stagnant economy, use all your votes to elect a Plaid Cymru government on May 5th.

"The current administration's complacency and poverty of ambition is holding our country back, but it doesn't have to be this way.

"The Party of Wales represents the only real hope of ending 17 years of unbroken Labour rule. With the Tories slipping back to third place, we are the main challenger and have closed the gap with them on the regional list vote by four points in just two weeks.

"The momentum is firmly with Plaid Cymru. We are confident that we have the most ambitious, transformative and workable programme for government of any party in Wales, alongside the strong and united team required to deliver it.

"If people want change, they have to vote for it. This election is the greatest opportunity in the Assembly's history to chart a new course for our nation. I urge everyone in Wales to seize it."