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Skates makes case for rail

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Rail investment inequitable: Ken Skates demands action

TRANSPORT S​ECRETARY Ken Skates has cited slow speeds, manual Victorian signalling and level crossings bringing traffic to a standstill up to 200 times a day in his call on the UK Government to make available an equitable level of funding for rail infrastructure enhancements in Wales.

In May, Ken Skates announced Cardiff University’s Professor Mark Barry would lead on the case for investment in rail infrastructure in Wales, against the backdrop of the UK Government’s £50bn investment in HS2.

The Transport Secretary summarised the case in the Senedd on Tuesday​ (Jul 17)​.

Ken Skates told Assembly Members: “The initial findings of this work are stark. Wales has not received an equitable share of UK rail investment over a sustained period, denying us the economic benefits enjoyed elsewhere in the UK.

“Network Rail’s Wales Route, which makes up 11% of the network, has received little more than 1% of total spend on enhancements in England and Wales.

“This has resulted in low lines speed on the South Wales Mainline, capacity and speed constraints along the North Wales Coast, infrequent commuter services for the Swansea Bay city region, and inadequate cross-border services in both North and South Wales.

“I continue to support HS2, but call once again on the UK Government to make the right choices to benefit north Wales, and exert pressure on them to mitigate against the probable impact of HS2 on the economy in South Wales.”

The work carried out by Professor Barry highlights the use of old, inefficient, and unreliable infrastructure constraining the number, speed, and quality of services.

“These constraints dampen demand, restrict economic growth, and increase costs to passengers and tax-payers.

“I will continue to set out a broader vision for a successful rail network. One that helps us meet our obligations to the environment, responsibilities for Well-being and Future Generations, delivers the goals of the Economic Action Plan, and meets the UK Government’s commitment to rebalance the economy.

“The work undertaken has identified direct transport user benefits of at least £2bn, generated by reducing journey times for rail passengers. Additional benefits also arise from reduced road congestion leading to environmental and safety improvements.”

James Price, Chief Executive, Transport for Wales said: “The success of the Wales and Borders rail service relies on efficient and reliable infrastructure with the ability to transport more people more efficiently. We look forward to working with the Welsh and UK governments to deliver improvements that meet the needs of passengers in Wales and across the border.”

Cardiff University Professor of Practice in Connectivity, Mark Barry said: “Wales’ railways are stuck in second gear. Long-term under-investment compared to the UK as a whole has left them unfit for purpose.

“It’s no great surprise fewer people in Wales choose to use the train than in the rest of the UK, leading to less efficient rail operations, higher subsidies per passenger and more road congestion. This is a brake on our economic growth, improvement of air quality and carbon reduction.”

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WG to exceed apprentice target

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Ken Skates: Apprentices make a significant contribution to economy

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT is on course to exceed its target of providing 100,000 all-age, high-quality apprenticeships across Wales during this Assembly term, Economy Minister Ken Skates has said at the beginning of Apprenticeship Week.
Since the target was introduced, more than 74,000 individuals have embarked on an apprenticeship allowing them to learn whilst earning a wage and boost their career prospects.
Apprenticeship Week 2020 is a week-long celebration of the hard work and dedication of apprentices as well as the support and commitment shown by their employers. Events are taking place across Wales to mark the occasion.
The Welsh Government’s Apprenticeship Skills policy is aimed at aligning apprenticeships to meet the needs for a flourishing Welsh economy so Wales can compete globally with a highly skilled workforce.
The Apprenticeship Programme in Wales is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.
Speaking as Apprenticeship Week gets underway, Economy Minister Ken Skates said: “In my role, I have met apprentices in all parts of Wales and it’s fantastic to see how they have grasped the opportunity to learn new skills, develop their knowledge and build confidence.
“It’s clear that apprenticeships make a significant contribution to the Welsh economy and drive our vision for a prosperous Wales.
“As a government, we are committed to seeing our workforce grow and our investment in apprenticeships is a great example of that.
“I want to see Wales lead the way and be a prime example to nations around the globe of how investing in apprenticeships can reap major benefits.
“With unemployment in Wales at a record low and our manifesto target of creating 100,000 apprenticeships in this assembly set to be exceeded, the Welsh Government can be rightly proud of the actions we’re taking to supercharge our economy.
“Apprenticeship Week offers us a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the tangible and very real difference apprentices and their employers make.
“Our ‘make a genius decision’ apprenticeship campaign is also playing a key role in encouraging businesses to recruit an apprentice and realise the positive difference they can make to the workplace.”
Mohammad Asghar AM/AC, the Shadow Minister for Further Education said: “Apprenticeships offer a different education and career path for many people, and such opportunities expand and enhance the range of provision available – and across the age range.
“Gone are the days when an apprenticeship was solely for young school leavers. The most recent figures from StatsWales indicate nearly 59,000 apprentices, ranging in age from the under-16s to later-life learners of over 65.”
Mr Asghar added that it is not only the age range that so impresses him, but also the breadth of the courses offered.
He continued: “We see also a very large range – from the agricultural sector to media, and from engineering to business – of industries covered. It is interesting to note, too, is that around 60 percent of all apprentices in Wales are female.
“I, and my Welsh Conservative colleagues, strongly believe that apprenticeships offer in many cases what a degree cannot, and that is the ability to ‘earn as you learn’, and this is one of the reasons why we back apprenticeships, and National Apprenticeship Week 2020.”

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Welsh businesses increase in number

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Philip Winterborne: Chair of Wales' insolvency and restructuring body, R3

THE NUMBER of active businesses in Wales rose by over 4,400 between January 2019 and January 2020, according to new figures from the Welsh branch of insolvency and restructuring trade body R3.
There were over 110,000 active companies registered in Wales in January of this year, compared to just under 106,000 12 months ago – a rise of 4.2%. The growth in active business numbers across 2019 was around two and a half times higher than the increase seen over 2018, with the number of active Welsh-headquartered businesses growing by around 1,800 (equivalent to 1.7%) between January 2018 and January 2019.
Wales’s growth in active company numbers in 2019 was slightly higher than the rate for the UK as a whole (3.8%), and Wales is currently home to around 3% of all active companies registered in the UK. Of all 12 UK regions, London has by far the highest percentage of registered company headquarters, with 25.3% of the total.
Commenting on the research, R3 Wales’s Chair Philip Winterborne, a partner at Temple Bright solicitors, said: “It’s really encouraging that, against a backdrop of subdued economic growth and considerable uncertainty, the net increase in Wales-based businesses has been so strong across 2019.
“The fact that 2019 saw two and a half times as many new businesses created as 2018 is also heartening, while all the newly-created companies should give a boost to the Welsh economy as we prepare for a year of significant change.
“Launching a new venture is always nerve-wracking, and everyone who takes the plunge should be applauded for their initiative. In many cases, entrepreneurs take out loans with personal guarantees attached – this is something we are seeing more and more, and anyone in this position should be alive to the consequent risks to their own financial standing if business isn’t as good as anticipated.
“New businesses are often less robust than more established ones, for obvious reasons, and it takes a lot to make a venture a success. If a company hits a bump in the road, unbiased third-party advice from a qualified and accredited business expert, such as an insolvency practitioner, can be a crucial ingredient in averting more trouble. The sooner directors seek help, the more options they have for turnaround and subsequent success.”
The figures are compiled by R3 using Bureau van Dijk’s ‘Fame’ database of UK companies.

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Migrant salary threshold lowered

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£30,000 salary threshold: Government committee recommends reduction

THE GOVERNMENT’s Migration Advisory Committee recommended lowering the minimum salary threshold for migrant workers to the UK to £25,600 in a report presented to the Home Secretary last week.
However, despite the report’s authors acknowledging the large regional variation in average salaries, it does not recommend any adjustments for lower-paid areas.
That decision potentially has interlocking effects. Firstly, in higher-paid urban areas in the south of England migrant labour will be cheaper than elsewhere. Secondly, skills shortages in sectors in which migrants work are likely to increase in the English regions and devolved countries where wages are on average lower than £25,600. The Committee said temporary workers should be admitted where shortages would adversely affect the economy.
Mike Cherry, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said: “The recommendation to lower the proposed minimum salary threshold to £25,600 is a welcome, pro-business proposal, which would widen the scope for employing those beyond highly-paid professions.
“It is vital that the workers and skills needed for the UK’s economy to grow are not locked out by a future immigration system which is unresponsive to business needs.
“One in five small employers in the UK have at least one staff member from the EU.
“FSB research shows that four-in-five small employers that hire staff into jobs classed as mid-skilled do so into roles with salaries less than £30,000. This includes positions in sectors such as engineering and IT.
“The recommendation for a route to the UK without a job offer is also positive, but this must be open to mid-skilled workers and not restricted to highly-paid professionals. It should allow for smaller businesses across all regions, nations and sectors to recruit the people with the skills they need.
“It is pleasing to see that the committee has listened to FSB’s arguments for a salary threshold below £30,000, as well as an unsponsored route, which selects migrants based on their personal characteristics and allows for regional variation.
“The challenge now for the government will be to have a new, employer-responsive immigration system in place in time for the end of the transition period eleven months from now, and allowing sufficient time for small business employers to prepare. FSB looks forward to working with the government on this.”

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