The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales
Together with Jeff Cuthbert, Deputy Minister for Skills, I attended the eighteenth Summit of the British-Irish Council (BIC) in Stirling on Friday 22 June. The meeting was chaired by the First Minister of the Scottish Government and attended by lead Ministers from the other BIC Member Administrations including;
• An Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny TD, of the Irish Government
• Secretary of State for Scotland, Rt. Hon Michael Moore MP, of the UK Government,
• First Minister, the Rt. Hon. Peter Robinson MLA and deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness MP MLA of the Northern Ireland Executive,
• Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst, of the Government of Jersey,
• Chief Minister, Deputy Peter Harwood, of the Government of Guernsey,
• Chief Minister, Hon. Allan Bell MHK of the Government of the Isle of Man.
The BIC continues to play a unique and important role in furthering, promoting and developing links between its Member Administrations and in providing a forum for consultation and co-operation. On this occasion, the Summit provided an opportunity for Member Administrations to discuss two substantive items; the economy with specific focus on youth unemployment; and recovery approaches to address misuse of drugs across the British Islands and Ireland.
On the economy, I set out the economic challenges facing the Welsh economy in the context of wider influences from the UK, Euro zone and global economies and how these factors have consequently impacted upon the labour market in Wales. If economic recovery is to occur, assistance to the private sector must be improved. I emphasised that in order to plan for economic growth the right tools are needed including the necessary fiscal powers such as borrowing powers, which presently puts Wales at a disadvantage. However, I highlighted the support Welsh Government is providing to businesses in Wales by investing for future growth and jobs through the Wales Economic Growth Fund, the Wales SME Investment Fund and the Micro-Business Loan Fund. We have also targeted specific growth sectors with additional access to finance help, such as the Welsh Life Science Fund with an immediate £25m fund.
The Deputy Minister for Skills outlined how the Welsh Government is increasing opportunities for young people to address youth unemployment in Wales. The Deputy Minister highlighted the improved resources for Apprenticeships, through the Pathways to Apprenticeships programmes that provide 2,000 opportunities per year; and how Welsh Government has capitalised on ‘latent demand’ particularly within small and medium sized businesses by extending our Young Recruits Programme by a further 2,000 places. This programme will provide financial support to employers to recruit and support apprentices. The Deputy Minister outlined the Jobs Growth Wales programme launched in April this year that will create 4,000 real job opportunities per year for the next three years aimed at unemployed young people aged between 16 and 24. Those job opportunities created through this programme will be in addition to the existing workforce of the business. He also emphasised how Jobs Growth Wales was integrated with our suite of Welsh Government programmes to offer a route-way to work through pre-employment training, progression and apprenticeships. He welcomed the encouraging progress to date on the delivery of Jobs Growth Wales and the level and diversity of job opportunities being created by employers.
On marine renewable energy I emphasised how our 1200km of coastline, deep sea ports and accessible grid infrastructure makes Wales ideally suited for this industry. However I underlined the unacceptable position whereby we do not having the necessary powers to make the most of the opportunities this industry represents for the economy and sustainability in Wales. I outlined our Marine Energy Strategic Framework and our £1m investment to understand the environmental and socio-economic impacts of capturing this practical energy from our seas. I also drew attention to our world class academic research including the Low Carbon Research Institute and highlighted the significant contribution the low carbon and renewable energy sector already makes to Wales and the potential the tidal range of the Severn could add to this sector.
The key discussion points of the eighteenth Summit were published in a joint Communiqué, which is attached. The next BIC Summit will be hosted by Wales in the autumn of this year.