FMQs: The Riddle of The Missing Middle

Wales’s Missing Mittelstand

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) brought up a recent CBI conference where the First Minister discussed the “Missing Mittelstand” problem in the Welsh economy (more here) – where small companies in Wales are often sold off before becoming independent medium-sized companies.

Adam listed a number of sizable Welsh companies which have been recently bought by foreign multinationals: Alun Griffiths (civil engineering), Princes Gate (mineral water), Harris Pye (engineering) and Aircraft Maintenance Services. With talk of the missing middle, “at this rate, we’ll have nothing left”. What was the First Minister’s assessment of the issue?

The First Minister has made no assessment as such, but spoke of the need for a cultural change in Welsh business:

“Culture change is the thing for me, to ensure that more businesses from Wales think, ‘Right, we want to grow and we want to stay where we are and not think always of selling out to larger companies. This is not true in Ireland, and neither is it true to some extent in Scotland. So, a change of culture is what’s important.”
– First Minister, Carwyn Jones (Lab, Bridgend)

Adam blamed in part the Welsh Government’s focus on inward investment; the Public Accounts Committee heard yesterday that Pinewood Wales only generated 20% of its proposed economic impact. To that, the First Minister accepted there were issues, but international companies were vital to the mix and the Development Bank was there to help Welsh companies grow.

Catching Up?

AMs love an awareness day or awareness week and this week is International Stress Awareness Week. Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) said that 63% of Welsh adults and 55% of children were waiting longer than four weeks to access mental health treatment.

He challenged the First Minister to follow England’s lead:

“Now, First Minister, I know you like talking about England, so, as a result of the Chancellor’s announcement last week, the UK Government is implementing a new mental health crisis service, with comprehensive mental health support available in every major A&E. It’s introducing children and young people’s crisis teams….it’s introducing more mental health ambulances; it’s introducing more safe havens in the community; it’s introducing a 24-hour mental health crisis hotline. All of this, but not on this side of the border….Will you now be exploring some of these measures and looking to implement them here in Wales?”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

Carwyn thought this was merely suggesting what the Welsh Government were already doing and data showed improvements were there, in crisis care, primary mental health services and preventative services – all backed by additional funds. A new three-year mental health campaign will start next April and he was, “glad that the party opposite has decided to catch up”.

Incinerator Buffer Zones

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) raised the issue of waste incinerators; there were planning rules which state opencast mines need to be at least 500m away from residential areas, but there were no such guidelines for incinerators. Could planning rules be changes to introduce such a buffer zone?

The First Minister told him there would have to be a “scientific basis” to set a minimum distance from incinerators, though they’re subject to strict emissions limits. Planning permission can also be refused on environmental grounds.

Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) followed up by asking why the Welsh Government haven’t ordered developers of an incinerator in Barry to do an environmental impact assessment despite saying they would have to. Carwyn said a decision would be “taken shortly”.

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