Thursday, 17 March 2011

Build for Wales!

Plaid Cymru have a habit of having at least one policy in every manifesto that is "fanciful" and as Betsan Powys puts it "leaves the party wide open attack - and even ridicule".

There were signs that Ieuan Wyn Jones announced "one of those" policies yesterday. On closer examination though, things get interesting.

Plaid want to raise capital funds for Welsh infrastructure investment - a "Build for Wales" fund - via a city bond issue. Public borrowing is outside of the Welsh Government's remit, so on the surface, it appears to be a complete non-starter. Foolish even. A similar (sounding) proposal put forward by the Scottish Government has already been rejected.

The three other parties in Wales have (predictably) pounced on the idea.

However, in this case, the talks with HM Treasury are at an advanced stage. I doubt that they would go into discussions just to humour Plaid when public borrowing is frowned upon. The fact Plaid have decided to sound out their idea with the Treasury beforehand shouldn't raise eyebrows. If anything, it shows a responsible side to Plaid. I think that's what unnerved the other parties more than anything.

The other parties have been wrong footed and they know it. How often do we hear that "only" Labour can deliver for Wales? How often will we hear about Lib Dems and Conservatives "delivering" at UK level in the coming election campaign? Are Plaid the only party in Wales that shouldn't be allowed to approach Whitehall in this way?

Betsan Powys later expands on Plaid's idea, saying that the borrowing would be done via an arms-length company, not the WAG itself. What Plaid are talking about is the creation of a pseudo infrastructure bank. Glas Cymru are proof this model can, and does, work.

Presumably the money could only be used to fund infrastructure that would provide some sort of return. That means big projects like the recently proposed "metro system" (I'll be posting my own ideas on this in the coming days/weeks), improvements to the M4 and A55 and the Cardiff PDR completion. Big bang-for-buck projects that we need to take Wales forward economically but are under threat/review due to unavoidable reductions in capital expenditure.

There is an issue surrounding what "assets" could be borrowed against. Well, there's the trunk road network in Wales for a start, there's WAG-owned and former WDA land (including some prime real estate like Porth Teigr in Cardiff), there's the Finance Wales stake in companies, there are also things with a significant WAG or WDA stake such as the Ebbw Vale railway.

Could EU funding be channeled through this model? Would the regional Trunk Road Agencies become an arm of the "new" company/bank for example? Sort of like the National Roads Authority in the Irish Republic.

I believe these are the key details Plaid need to work out to give the proposal/policy more credence. I'm merely speculating here.

I still have reservations about Plaid as a whole (Welsh nationalists don't have to be Plaid supporters or members), but I have to say this policy is interesting and one worth exploring in further detail. The more you look at it, the less it seems "pie in the sky" and the more it looks like a creative and grown-up initiative in straightened times, with an important willingness to take responsibility.

Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems........the ball's now in your court. Let's see what you've got.


The Welsh Lib Dems announced today that they will give 5000 grants a year worth £2000 to businesses that take on unemployed young workers. Wow. That's ambitious long-term thinking. Plaid talks £500million, Lib Dems talk £10million.


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