The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales
On the 15 November, together with Ken Skates, Deputy Minister for Skills & Technology, I attended the twenty-first Summit of the British-Irish Council (BIC) in Jersey. The Summit was chaired by Jersey’s Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst. The Summit was 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 Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP of the UK Government,
- Northern Ireland Executive First Minister, the Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA, and the deputy First Minister, Mr Martin McGuinness MLA
- Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney MSP of the Scottish Government,
- 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 British-Irish Council continues to play a significant 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 the economy, with a specific focus on youth employment; and the creation of a new BIC Creative Industries work sector.
On the economy, I emphasised that although there were signs of improvement across the UK, incomes are still being squeezed and economic circumstances are still difficult for too many of our people. Although unemployment is now declining and employment is increasing, improvement is occurring from an exceptionally weak base. Manufacturing is improving in Wales, with the steel industry doing well, and investment from large companies such as Aerospace of great importance. I also stressed that membership of the European Union is crucial to Wales and that anything that would impinge on our access to the European market would be of great detriment to the Welsh economy. Our experience is that being a part of the EU is also an incentive for investment from other parts of the world.
On youth employment, the Deputy Minister for Skills & Technology highlighted the success of the Welsh Government’s flagship scheme Jobs Growth Wales. As at October 2013, the programme has created almost 9000 job opportunities for young people and got over 7000 into jobs. The early progression figures are very promising: around 80% of the young people who complete the 6 month opportunity are moving into sustainable employment, an apprenticeship or higher learning. Our draft Budget makes provision to increase the funding to enable a further 4,000 jobs, on top of the 12,000 originally planned, to get 16,000 young people into work by 2016. The Deputy Minister also reported on our Traineeship programme, with 63% making a positive progression to employment or further learning, and our Apprenticeship scheme, which has seen an 85% success rate. He also mentioned our recently published implementation plan for the Youth Engagement and Progression Framework, with a view to full implementation within 2 years.
On the creative industries, I outlined the Welsh Government’s support for this new BIC work stream as this is one of the fastest growing sectors in Wales. We hosted WOMEX in Cardiff a few weeks ago, and we are the home of Dr Who, Torchwood and Da Vinci’s Demons. We are prioritising support to those businesses which exploit creative content digitally and to those which can respond to the opportunities of the global digital creative economy. Superfast fibre broadband will cover 96% of the nation by 2016, enhancing the infrastructure for digital business. I outlined the success of our Digital Development Fund, which has been extended until 2016, as well as the Wales Screen Commission location service which has encouraged numerous international film and TV productions to make use of our natural landscapes, heritage buildings and city locations. Finally, I set out how the nations of the British-Irish Council can use the new creative industries work stream to collaborate in offering packages so that the full process of film-making is based within our countries.
The key discussion points of the twenty-first Summit were published in a joint Communiqué, which can be seen below.