Tonight I joined 150 small business owners to hear FSB Wales launch their manifesto for the next Welsh Assembly term 2016-21. One could argue that the five year period ahead for Wales is the most critical there’s been since devolution – the world economy in turmoil, the environment remains under severe threat, global populations are in transit, and inequality is rising – I could go on. It’s fair to say, the world of the next five and a half years will be unpredictable, at best.
Five politicians were there to debate the manifesto. Rhun Ap Iorwerth, Plaid economy spokesperson; Mark Isherwood, a late replacement for the Conservative’s spokesperson
William Graham; Eluned Parrot holding the brief for the Lib Dems; Mark Reckless, onetime UKIP MP; and Ken Skates, a deputy minister and the architect of the Labour Manifesto for the election in May.
To set the scene for tonight’s debate the FSB Wales team commissioned a report ‘What Wales Could Be‘ by Manchester based academics, CRESC. Although criticised by some vested interests, many (including me) think that the report represented a significant, evidence based body of work that should be considered by the political parties. Although often critical of current and historic Welsh economic policy, this was far from a negative report. More so, it offered fresh thinking on a number of key areas, including, importantly, how we should do more to support grounded, locally created mid-cap businesses rather than this preoccupation with encouraging foreign direct investment into Wales – the profits of which get spent in some far flung part of the globe – anywhere but here in Wales.
The report isn’t that long, yet only one of the five politicians on the stage tonight had even bothered to read it (Mark Reckless had read it). Organisations, like the FSB are trying to influence Welsh policy makers not because they enjoy the sound of their own voice – they do it because they represent a body of people whose voice is valid, and have something to say. In this case it’s those of us running small and medium sized businesses. Current economic policy generally isn’t working for this bunch – and we had some suggestions to improve things, but the politicians wouldn’t know, because they hadn’t read the suggestions.
The audience tonight was hoping for more. We hoped that when the panel opted for generalisations rather than forensic specifics, there would be some true inspiration and ideas. Instead we listened to bland and banal soundbites – thank goodness for the wine.
The Welsh economy deserves better than the scant regard these politicians showed towards the FSB this evening. The FSB deserve support in this endeavour, which is one reason I, and Indycube will be joining them tomorrow morning.