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Post  Admin on Wed 1 Oct 2008 - 15:02

Apart from farming and mineral extraction, there are not many industries in Wales that are location specific. Provided there are good transport, energy and communication links for people and goods, we can set up industry and employment just about anywhere. We can take it as read that every country wants to encourage business and industry to start up and invest with them rather than their neighbours, and for those enterprises to grow and flourish. The question is how best to do it.

At the most basic level we need to ask what sort of nation Wales wants to be. One model is for us to aim to produce as much of what we need for our own needs and wants as possible. The emphasis would be on sustainability, not just in terms of environmental issues, but in terms of helping to maintain full employment. In contrast another model would be for us to concentrate on providing goods and services of the highest value, while at the same time relying on importing as many goods and basic services as we can from abroad at a lower price, measuring our prosperity by the cost difference between the two.

Now of course each of those are extremes, and the actual position we would adopt is likely to be somewhere between the two. But although, perhaps only a little while ago, we might have unhesitatingly leaned towards the latter, the recent crisis in the monetary system might remind us that the "value" of something on paper can be fragile, and that we might be putting ourselves in a dangerous situation if we forget primary production and manufacturing in favour of a more service-based economy. So what balance does Wales need to strike?

The second factor is to do with the financial levers at the government's disposal that can help create an economic climate that would encourage businesses to flourish. Again there are two ends to the spectrum. At one end nearly everyone would agree that we need to encourage small businesses to start up and grow; and at the other end we are concerned that large companies tend to abuse their position. Do we look to solve this by a regulatory framework, or should we instead weight the tax system to encourage small and medium businesses? Or is any attempt to interfere in the operation of the market misguided?

Another aspect of this might be reflected in the obligations we place on large companies in relation to their customers and employees. According to one union, here, to lay off a French car worker with 25 years of experience would cost about £130,000, but it would cost a UK employer only £5,000. Would an independent Wales move away from the so-called "Anglo-Saxon" model to one that is closer to that of mainstream Europe? Do we want to create a business climate where the rights of workers, including trades unions, statutory flexibility of hours and a high minimum wage are held as fundamental, or are these the very things that will stop people investing in Wales and result in fewer jobs?

A final factor is the level of economic activity and unemployment. Obviously it is a good thing to get people who are able to work off benefits and into suitable jobs. But much depends on the type of job. Should we have strategies in favour of particular types of business, or let the market decide? How should the burden of training or retraining for different sorts of work be balanced between the employer, the individual and the state? What should be the balance between attracting companies to locations and encouraging people to move to find work?

This is a huge, multi-faceted subject, and we can use this forum to exchange ideas about how to ensure Wales is a prosperous and successful country.

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