The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales
On the 26 November, I chaired the nineteenth Summit of the British-Irish Council (BIC) in Cardiff. The meeting was attended by Edwina Hart, Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science, and Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills; and by lead Ministers from the other BIC Member Administrations including:
- An Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny TD, of the Irish Government,
- Secretary of State for Wales, Rt. Hon David Jones 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,
- Deputy First Minister, Ms. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, of the Scottish Government,
- 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 a specific focus on infrastructure developments as a means to promote economic growth; and early years policy across the British Islands and Ireland.
On the economy, I set out how the Welsh economy is inextricably linked to the UK and global economies and is influenced by the monetary and fiscal policies set by the UK Government. I emphasised that jobs and the economy remain the Welsh Government’s over-riding priorities and although the labour market situation in Wales is improving, many of the jobs created over the past year remain part-time. I highlighted the recent conclusions reported by the Silk Commission that a range of new taxes should be devolved to Wales. This would open the door to a new financial settlement for Wales that includes both borrowing powers and some devolved taxes, which is essential if we are to be given the tools to boost the economy in Wales and provide a new lever to support economic growth.
The Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science emphasised how Wales needs a modern, sustainable infrastructure to underpin economic growth. The Minister set out Welsh Government priorities contained within the Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan, including improving telecommunication networks and the development of Enterprise Zones in Wales. The Minister welcomed the electrification of the Great Western Main Line to Swansea and the Valley Lines network, which would both strengthen transport corridors and provide economic benefits during the construction phase. The Minister stressed that the Welsh Government does not have control over all energy related infrastructure spend within Wales, but where it does, the Welsh Government is committed to working with the private sector to maximise the investment opportunities. The Minister also highlighted concerns raised by manufacturers regarding the high price of energy in the UK, particularly for those industries producing internationally traded goods. Energy intensive industries are key contributors to the Welsh economy and high energy prices are impacting on their ability to remain competitive.
On early years policy, the Minister for Education and Skills drew attention to the fact that Wales is one of only a few Countries in the world to put the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law with the Rights of Children and Young Persons Measure which places a duty on the Welsh Ministers to consider the UNCRC in all their work. The Minister set out how improving key outcomes for children and young people is a priority for the Welsh Government and this is supported through increased funding for early years intervention programmes including Flying Start and the Foundation Phase. The Minister emphasised that the quality of the workforce is important and ways to invest in the skills of the workforce and development of childcare enterprises are being considered. The Minister outlined the commitment to seeing the Welsh Language thrive and how this is underpinned by Welsh-medium Education and Welsh Language Strategies which provide great emphasis on supporting children to learn and use the Welsh language at a young age within formal education, and socially through play. The Minister also highlighted the impact of poverty on our children and, through the Tackling Poverty Action Plan, how the Welsh Government is keeping a strong focus on child poverty.
The key discussion points of the nineteenth Summit were published in a joint Communiqué, which is attached.