Time to Spread the Good News about the Economy; Economic Development Minister ANDREW DAVIES Looks Back at the Welsh Economy over the Past Year, and Ahead to the Opportunities and Challenges in 2003
Byline: ANDREW DAVIES
THE New Year is a good time for reflection on an eventful year for Welsh business, as well as looking forward to the challenges ahead.
We have achieved a great deal this year in Wales. Competition has never been fiercer, but I believe we are in a strong position to meet the challenges of today and those of omorrow.
During 2002, we have seen a remarkably robust performance from the Welsh economy. Despite well-publicised difficulties, employment is higher and unemployment lower than they have been for a generation - an outstanding achievement.
It is worth quoting the numbers. In the three months to October, employment in Wales was 25,000 higher than it was in the same period of 2001; the number of people claiming unemployment benefits was down by 5.7%; and the number of people who had joined the workforce was up by 27,000.
In all cases, the changes for Wales were better than those for the UK as a whole.
But the good news hasn't filtered through to everyone. The media's favourite myth of last year - that manufacturing in Wales is in ``meltdown'' - seems to have become part of folklore .
As in the rest of the world, manufacturing in Wales is going through a difficult period; that is undeniable. High-profile job losses - at Corus, Dewhirst and ASW for example - have given many people the impression of a sector in serious decline.
This is just plain wrong. Yes, 30,000 jobs have been lost in manufacturing in the past 15 months. But far less publicity has been given by the media, academics and others to the 25,000 jobs created in the sector - many in the top-end ``value added'' jobs that we need to create prosper i t y.
This constant job ``churn'' - though painful to the individuals concerned - is what happens in a modern, healthy economy. It is part of the on-going transformation of the increasingly diversified Welsh economy.
The service sector has seen remarkable growth. For example, large banks such as Lloyds TSB - which pay well - now employ more people in Wales than traditional big employers such as Corus.
Our policy, as set out in the pounds 15bn, 10-year programme called A Winning Wales, is to help create 135,000 extra jobs; more people to set up their own businesses; more existing businesses to grow and be more competitive, and more people to join the workforce.
But it is all very well having a strategy. What really counts is what we deliver.
As Economic Development Minister, I have recently launched two ambitious action plans which set out what we will deliver for Wales: # ``Broadband Wales'' is a pounds 115m programme to encourage the takeup of broadband technology - a tool that takes Wales to the world, and brings the world to Wales. In many ways Wales now leads much of the world; # ``Wales for Innovation'' will invest pounds 260m over the next three years. This will harness the knowledge in our universities, colleges and industrial research facilities for the benefit of business and challenge each and every business in Wales to raise its game and to modernise our economy.
The Technium programme - which has also benefited from Objective One funding - is the most tangible sign of this innovation strategy in action. …