Small businesses play a significant role at the heart of our communities; they create wealth and sustainable employment opportunities for local people. Profits and investments made by them tend to stay within the communities where they are based. For too many years economic development in Wales has been focused on large scale development of what can be best described a single egg solutions, which promise much and deliver significantly less, the focus should be on developing small to medium size local businesses, which are significantly less likely to up sticks and leave for perceived greener pastures and fresh applications of development grants.
This focus on attracting large scale single enterprises, which promise much but deliver significantly less than anticipated. The LG development near Newport, is a good example of an expensive disaster / fiasco [please take your pick] which promised the usual total of 6,000 jobs - accrued significant public funding - which was committed by the then Welsh Secretary, William Hague, yet never delivered anything like what was promised. While anyone (even a Tory) with half a brain or even half an understanding of the state of the Korean and the Far Eastern economies at the time that and a basic understanding of where technological developments in relation to PC monitor screens were going, would have put their hands up and said hang on a moment.
A combination of what can best be described as fantasy island economic assessments, a fatally flawed business case and a forthcoming Westminster election led to one of the spectacularly duller decisions of recent years being made, something that ended up costing us millions of pounds worth of public money. The old WDA has in truth not really consistently delivered anything like long term economic stability and much needed long term job opportunities to our communities that it should have done considering the amounts poured into it..
European funding opportunities have been seriously squandered, where are the physical assets, by which I mean the things you can literally put your hand on like improved communications (rail and road), broadband infrastructure, etc - that bring long term benefits to our communities. How much money has been scammed (and scammed may be the key word) into dubious training programmes and questionable educations programmes that fail to deliver the necessary skills that workers and potential workers need to make a decent living in the modern economy?
The Plaid driven One Wales Government has made significant efforts and attempts to think and act differently when it comes to economic development and support for small to medium sized enterprises, which are the only real thing that will put wealth into our communities, and develop and sustain longer term employment possibilities. Attracting branch factory operations of a relative short term duration does not help develop our economy - we really do need to think differently and focus economic development priorities on smaller local businesses who will be rooted in our communities and offer more flexible employment opportunities.
Over the last twenty years the commercial hearts of many of our communities have been seriously damaged as a result of a combination of aggressive policies pursued by the larger retail chains and exceptionally poor decision making on the part of local government and central government indifference. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have noted that the UK loses 2,000 local shops every year and that of this rate of loss continues then by 2015, less than 4 years hence, there will be potentially few independent retailers left in business, something that will badly hit both consumers and our communities hard as they lose any real choice in the marketplace and lose potential job opportunities.
When this decline is combined with the rapid growth of unsustainable out of town and edge of town retail developments which leave next to no place for the smaller local businesses and retailers and deprive consumers of real choice - then it is clear that we have a real problem on our hands. Factor in parking charges, business rates and the effect of the closure of high street banks and post offices in many of our communities and you begin to see why many of our smaller businesses and local shopping centres are up against it.
Local small businesses as well as trading with us the consumers, also trade with each other - so the community gets twice the benefit. Money spent by and in local businesses spends on average three times longer in the local economy than that spent with chain stores which is instantly lost to the local economy which in times of recession our communities can ill afford.
The Welsh Government needs to have the power to vary business taxes in order to help boost our businesses, as well as encourage investment in skills and the tools of their businesses and their workers. If we are going to make Wales a nation of aspiring entrepreneurs and to encourage and enable them, our communities and our economy to flourish we need to encourage the development of community owned social enterprises.
The Rowlands review into the provision of growth capital was most welcome; it recognised that an economical vibrant SME sector is vital for economic growth. There has been a lack of provision for companies in Wales who are looking for between £2 and £10 million pounds in capital, this has to change if we are to encourage sustainable economic growth and development.
It’s pretty clear that the present financial market and its institutions have failed over recent years to supply sufficient venture capital for the SME sector in Wales. We need our own venture capital fund for Wales, which should be established by, but independent of the Welsh Government. Such an independent venture capital fund could raise capital and deliver investment through a co-investment model, with approved private sector partners to our SME sector, where such investment would make a real difference.
More of the same old twaddle from Whitehall and Cathays won't do at all, vastly expensive one egg, one basket schemes to generate the seemingly standard 6,000 jobs, just won't do. And speaking of twaddle, which was all that we were offered by the Wales based branches of the London based political parties, what we need is fresh thinking and action - more than just talk, we need some concrete steps to encourage growth, boost manufacturing industry, support our small to medium sized enterprises and an end to the business rates and that's just to start with... otherwise it will just be a case of same old, same old with ill thought out out public sector cuts which will do nothing to boost our communities and our economy.