THE WELSH LABOUR LEADERSHIP CONTEST
And the campaigns for the Labour leadership by Mark Drakeford, Vaughan Gething and Eluned Morgan have generated many new policies that hopefully will not just be left on the campaign trail but will be considered for potential implementation during the remainder of this Assembly term.
Unfortunately, this column will not do justice to all of the ideas that have emanated from all three campaigns so I will instead try to examine succinctly some of the big ideas from each of the candidates.
The Finance Minister Mark Drakeford passionately believes that the creation of worthwhile, properly rewarded employment is the most effective way out of poverty, the best route to fulfilled lives, and has a positive impact on health and well-being.
Not surprisingly, he thinks that government should only step in to create prosperity where markets have failed, especially in providing digital and physical infrastructure as well as skills and training.
In his view, if business is to be supported, then then it must be done on the basis of a something-for-something relationship in which direct financial support is predicated on a wider societal return on that investment such as health in the workplace, investment in skills, progress in reducing carbon footprints and promotion of fair work.
But perhaps the most radical element of his manifesto is how he places the fourth industrial revolution, most notably automation and artificial intelligence, at the very heart of his policies for both the public and private sector. In doing so, he is recognising that Wales must have a digital strategy that is not only fit for purpose now but for the economic future of the nation.
For Vaughan Gethin, ensuring that Wales has good work, fair work for a strong economy is at the heart of his campaign. The Health Secretary wants to be radical and ambitious about the future of work, believing that one of the key reasons that so many people in Wales wanted to leave the EU was that they didn’t have a stake in their country because of the quality of jobs on offer.
Another major pledge is a commitment to make significant progress on the living wage and ensure that not only is it progressively implemented across the public sector in Wales but there will also be focus to deliver the living wage in the private sector, especially with those firms who bid Welsh Government public sector procurement contracts.
Given that a lack of skills is constantly noted by industry as being one of their key priorities, his pledge to deliver apprenticeships to all that want them will be welcomed by the business community.
Not only is he promising more financial support but, more critically, he wanta to review the provision to ensure that it is easier for businesses to get involved and that the skills acquired meet the actual needs of employers.
Finally, Eluned Morgan has stated from the beginning of her campaign that her number one priority as First Minister would be to drive a radical new approach to the economy in Wales to provide not just good quality jobs, but also to ensure the sustainability of Welsh public services.
There are certaiNly some quite ambitious and radical ideas within her manifesto, including the World’s first upscale fund to support the top fifty firms in Wales that have the potential to grow and become world leaders.
Many Welsh firms will also welcome the fact that she wants to reform public procurement processes to ensure that smaller firms win more public-sector contracts and that more public funding stays here to benefit the Welsh economy.
Her promise to make Wales the best place in the UK to be self-employed is something that would normally appear on many labour manifestos but given that this group now accounts for 14 per cent of the workforce in Wales, it is time for the Welsh Government, as this column has pointed out on several occasions to deliver a series of specific policies on this issue.
Finally, her pledge to appoint a productivity and skills minister will be welcomed by many given that an article in last week’s Sunday Times reiterated the statistic that Wales has the worst productivity record of any part of the UK. Certainly, a focus on this issue must be at the core of any industrial policy to be pursued by the next First Minister and his or her government.
Therefore, as with the other leadership campaigns for the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru, this contest has created a renaissance in policy development that many will have welcomed, with ideas being put forward that, frankly, have been largely missing from the day to day debates within the National Assembly for Wales
Certainly, with so many ideas being put forward, one can only hope that our democratic representatives will become more radical and relevant than many would suggest it has been over the last few years.