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Cairns: Government will miss Welsh growth target

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"This is not the first time that I have tabled such an amendment, and its purpose is to gain the Minister's recognition that 'A Winning Wales' and the targets contained in it will not be achieved.

Pretending otherwise makes the Assembly—or, should I say, the Assembly Government, or even, given the vote earlier, the Minister—look foolish.

Any objective analysis would recognise that, if current policies are pursued with the same levels of funding, the ultimate target—the one that really matters—of reaching 90 per cent of UK GDP per capita by 2010 will not be achieved.

When Labour came to power, Wales's GDP per capita as a proportion of the UK per capita was 81.6 per cent. The latest figure available, for 2002, shows a dramatic decline to 78.8 per cent over that short period. It is expected that the new figures, which will be published within the next few weeks, will show a further decline because the key indices, such as activity, have certainly not been tackled in the intervening time.

The business community laughed at the target when the document was written, and now that the wealth gap between Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom has widened, the previously unattainable target is now impossible under the resources available.

It was deemed impossible to close the 8.4 per cent gap in 10 years, so what hope do we have to close a 12.2 per cent gap in the five to six years remaining? Furthermore, the Assembly's key economic development agencies, the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales Tourist Board, are about to embark on a major reorganisation.

No matter how smooth the unwanted transition to the civil service will be, it will be impossible to maintain the same focus on economic development objectives.

To deny that fact will make the Minister look even more foolish than he already does. Anyone involved in the merger of two or three large organisations would recognise the short-term cost in performance before they can be in any position to realise any long-term gain—even if that were to be the case, which I do not think it will be.

While the Minister continues to abandon policies of equal opportunities, including a fair and open appointment system, we cannot be sure that the best person has got the job as chief executive.

I am sure that the Members who are always the first to rightly champion the causes and benefits of equal opportunities will be as angry as I am about the prejudices and interference shown by the Minister.

A better woman or man may have applied for that job had it been advertised and had an open and fair selection process been followed.

He or she may have done a better job of giving the Minister the chance of closing the prosperity gap.

I am grateful for the Minister's comments because this is the first time that he has sought to answer these questions.

Until now he has merely passed the blame and the responsibility to the Welsh Development Agency. What of the answers that he did not give to those written questions that were tabled a fortnight ago on the communications that took place between his office or himself and Welsh Development Agency officials?

Is he calling the board member who has contacted me and told me about these communications a liar? I will happily give way if the Minister wants to intervene.

The other question that was not asked at the time was: what appointment process was followed when Graham Hawker was given the role of chief executive?

Was the same appointment process followed for Gareth Hall as that for Graham Hawker? The Minister needs to answer those questions and not just abdicate responsibility to the Welsh Development Agency. This is an example of the hypocrisy of the administration and of the First Minister. This Minister has a veto on that appointment.

The Minister has been inconsistent in this policy, as have the supporting backbenchers. They are always happy to champion the causes of equal opportunities, but when it comes to appointing a chief executive of the Welsh Development Agency, they do not seem to be as critical."

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