Making the most of public investment

The announcement that a new prison is to be built on the site of the old Ferodo factory just outside Caernarfon is welcome news after months of job losses and company closures.

With a thousand jobs being created and estimates that it will pump around £17 million into the area every year, the development will be a timely boost for the local economy. It may even go some way in assuaging the concerns of those in the region who believe that all the best public sector projects go to South Wales!

Now that this critical decision has been made, politicians should do everything in their power to ensure that local building companies get a fair hearing for the contracts to build the prison.

The last thing we need is for building firms in North Wales to continue to lose out on millions of pounds worth of work because of the practice of ensuring contracts are only within the reach of larger firms.

In a wider context, many will be asking whether such spending on large infrastructure projects is possibly the last weapon left in the Government’s armoury to revitalise the UK economy given that cuts in VAT and interest rates have done little to boost both business and consumer confidence.

If that is the case, then there is an imperative for both the Welsh and the UK Governments to press ahead urgently with other building projects although, apart from the prison announcement, there seems to be little evidence that either Government has brought forward any major capital projects during the last few months.

With regard to the Assembly Government, I am sure that many are disappointed that, despite the much vaunted promise to build 6,500 affordable homes, there has been little impetus by Cardiff Bay to turn this promise into a reality, with ministers now resorting to buying empty properties on existing building sites to try and meet this electoral pledge.

There have also been considerable delays in spending the £2 billion of European funds awarded to Wales as one of the poorest nations in Europe.

At the very least, one would have thought that civil servants would have prioritised and fast tracked those projects that involve any capital build so as to get the construction sector, which has been hit hardest during the recent downturn, back to work and to ensure that the money is spent quickly.

In such a context, the recent announcement that Anglesey is in the running to gain a second (and possibly a third) nuclear power station is critical to ensuring thousands of well paying jobs within the local economy.

With the future of Anglesey Aluminium hanging in the balance, it is critical that a positive decision is made quickly over this massive project and that the Assembly Government offers its full support. However, the anti-nuclear stance of some Assembly ministers may result in civil servants having their hands tied over discussing potential developments with power companies.

Of course, the decision over whether the power station will go ahead is not a devolved matter and is in the hands of the UK Government. Nevertheless, the economic development of the region is the responsibility of the Assembly Government and there are many business prospects that can emerge from the establishment of a new nuclear power station in the region.

However, Assembly officials must now be given carte blanche in not only securing a future power supply for Anglesey Aluminium but in developing any further business opportunities to create thousands more jobs on the island. With jobs become scarcer on Anglesey, such a development cannot come soon enough in changing the fortunes of the poorest county in the UK.

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