Wales: Companies must play a part in shaping future

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Oct 4 14:14:09 UTC 2007


*Companies must play a part in shaping future*

Oct 3 2007

**

by David Rosser, Western Mail

  I HAVE spent most of the past fortnight in and out of the Assembly talking
to a range of politicians and officials about various proposals which are
likely to impact on Wales' business community. Whilst each meeting has
focussed on different areas of policy there have been some consistent
features of the discussions which have left an overall impression. And the
overall impression is that devolution has taken a significant step along the
journey referred to by then Secretary of State Ron Davies as "a process, not
an event".

We have a definite increase in political enthusiasm. Ministers with new
portfolios, a new party-sharing power, and new backbenchers, all determined
to make their mark and achieve something. And, at the same time, we are
starting to see the impact of the Government of Wales Act, with a raft of
announcements from the Welsh Assembly Government about new powers they
intend seeking and the start of the legislative process in some areas.
Yesterday the CBI gave oral evidence to the committee established to
scrutinise the new Environmental Protection and Waste Management
legislation.

The Assembly Government has announced its intention to seek or pass new
legislation in areas including building regulations, carbon neutral
development for houses, commercial and industrial buildings, Welsh language
usage by the private sector, environment and waste management and climate
change. In the first two Assembly terms its policy making, for the business
community, was mainly focussed on issues that affect the broad public realm
within which companies operate. It took decisions on transport, on skills
and education policy, on the planning system – issues that make a real
difference to the climate in which most businesses operate, but do not
affect the day to day running of an enterprise.

We are now moving into a different place, and increasingly the Assembly will
have the powers to affect more directly the actual running of a company,
whether its manufacturing processes through environment and waste
regulation, or its customer interaction through language legislation. And
this will require a level of interaction with the political processes of
government in Wales that many companies have avoided so far.

Most companies in Wales have so far interacted with the Assembly through one
of its agencies – typically the WDA. Even after the absorption of the WDA
into the Assembly, that interaction has generally not changed much. So the
majority of businesses have had little real need to engage with the policy
or political processes of the Assembly to date, leaving it to representative
organisations such as the CBI and others.

My firm belief is that this hands-off relationship will no longer be good
enough. Whether directly, or through representative bodies, companies have
to step up and play their part in shaping the future business environment in
Wales. And the good news lies in the other distinct impression I have gained
from my recent Assembly meetings – the game is still on and everything is to
play for. For whilst it is possible to identify the clear direction of
travel of policy making, and the broad aims of the Welsh Assembly Government
– they are set out in the One Wales document and in political speeches to
conferences – the detail has clearly not been thought through. The practical
implications have, in most cases, not been identified, and the
implementation is still uncertain.

This is where the business community must play its part. By sitting down
with the Assembly and outlining why some plans will not work, better ways of
achieving the broad aims, and providing real-world solutions, we can help it
to achieve its goals whilst building a great place to run a company.
Businesses know what works in practice, in a market economy, far better than
civil servants. This will take a degree of maturity on both sides.
Businesses will have to recognise that devolution is about making things
different in Wales and that those differences may not always be convenient.

And the politicians will have to agree that in many cases the voluntary
approach is more likely to achieve the best balance between achieving policy
objectives and avoiding adverse consequences, and that wielding the
legislative stick is not the right option. But the broad business community
in Wales has to engage positively. If we do not then we will have no cause
to complain if, in a few years, we wake up and find that Wales has changed
around us in ways we do not like.

David Rosser is director of CBI Wales




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