Chris Sutton, lead director, Jones Lang LaSalle – Cardiff
As I take over the role of Chair of CBI Wales, it is good to report that the economy has now moved into a period of recovery, with a more positive picture both in terms of employment and business investment.
The CBI has continued to deliver results for business through effective lobbying and campaigning.
At a UK level, the CBI has helped set the agenda in recent months through authoritative reports such as ‘Our Global Future’, the business vision for a reformed EU.
In 2014, CBI will seek to increase public confidence in business and seek acceptance that business friendly rhetoric and policies are the best route to securing growth.
There is also an important piece of work to be undertaken on gender diversity, which director-general John Cridland has asked our Wales director, Emma Watkins, to lead, aimed at improving female representation and participation amongst CBI members
CBI Wales can assist the recovery by seeking to provide a stable business environment in Wales; one that will generate the confidence required to set business free to deliver growth.
We already have a strong working relationship with both UK and Welsh governments and this has helped to mould emerging policies in devolved areas such as planning, skills and issues of taxation arising from The Silk Commission.
During my term as chair, I see a number of key challenges where, with the right outcome, we can make a real difference to Wales.
- Infrastructure – the unlocking of key infrastructure projects in Wales can provide both a short term boost in terms of construction activity and create a more resilient business environment for the long term. Indeed, the single biggest priority for CBI members is the delivery of the M4 Relief Road.
We have heard the right ambition expressed by Ministers on this and other key projects such as North Wales rail electrification and the South Wales Metro. On The Metro it is not an ‘either or’ with the M4 Relief Road, they provide two very different services. The Metro is about travel within the region rather than to external markets. We now need to ensure action on all of these projects.
- Positive Planning – with the publication of the Draft Planning (Wales) Bill, we have started a journey that should lead to Wales securing a more attractive planning environment than England by 2016. Key to this is the ‘wider perspective’ afforded by the proposed Strategic Development Frameworks and National Development Plan, which will provide a clear focus in terms of economic development and economies of scale in terms of delivery.
With this draft Bill, Wales stands at a cross-road. Our planning system is currently on a par with the English system and how Wales implements this Bill will determine whether the system becomes either a structural dis-incentive for investment or is transformed into a national asset.
- Skills – CBI Wales supports a renewed skills strategy with action to encourage apprenticeships and build a more robust, and credible, Wales-only qualification system. The economy should be placed at the forefront of skills needs, with funding increasingly in the hands of business.
- Inward Investment – I have witnessed, at first hand, a return of inward investment in Wales and we must build upon this with a refreshed offer to FDI projects. In my opinion, we will find such ‘re-shored industries’ to be more sustainable and here for the long term.
- Devolved Taxes – the devolution of minor taxes, including business rates and stamp duty, allows Wales to be different. However, different should mean better and any variation to these taxes should be used to incentivise investment rather than to prescribe cost of development and investment. If we take this approach then we can secure a more attractive business environment which will lead to growth for the long term.
- Reform of Local Government – this is an uncertain time for local government in Wales however the Williams Commission has set out a blueprint to streamline services. How councils buy goods and the way in which they help and manage procurement processes means they help deliver the investment, innovation and jobs on which we all depend. The key point is that, combined with planning reform and infrastructure planning, re-organisation can provide a wider perspective and not a narrow focus upon one local authority. This is the way for Wales to focus limited resources to best effect for the purposes of economic development whilst capturing economies of scale in terms of delivery.
Talk of austerity needs to be replaced by a vision of what will follow. Working with the CBI Wales team led by Emma Watkins, and the Wales Council, I believe we can help set out that vision and make Wales an even stronger place to do business.
This can only help create a better business environment, which will provide our members with the confidence to invest for the future.