Holyhead in particular was severely hit by the recession -- two of its largest employers, both of which had been operating in Holyhead for well over 35 years -- closed within three months of each other at the end of 2009:
- Anglesey Aluminium started smelting in 1971 and continued production all the way through the 80s and 90s, only closing with a loss of 450 jobs in September 2009
- The Eaton Electric plant in Holyhead opened in 1960 under the name Midland Electric Manufacturing Company, it operated all through the 80s and 90s and closed in December 2009 with a loss of 250 jobs
Between them they directly accounted for 700 jobs, not including all the other jobs in small suppliers, support industries, and shops which depended on their trade.
Large companies like Anglesey Aluminium and Eaton Electric cannot be replaced overnight, and it is for that reason that the economic wellbeing of Holyhead and Anglesey must rest with its indigenous small businesses -- a point explicitly addressed in the People's Manifesto:
"the Council needs to recognise that the Island’s economic future rests on promoting and supporting multitudes of small businesses - not just one or two large employers. Accordingly the Council must: (a) avoid supporting developments which merely contribute to the cannibalisation of sales from existing small businesses and shops; (b) prioritise reducing the bureaucracy and costs involved in running small businesses on the Island; (c) provide meaningful and high-quality support to encourage both the growth of existing small businesses and the establishment of new ventures."
Not only does this make good common-sense, it is also backed up by research: for example studies show that nearly two-thirds of all net new jobs in the United States in 2007 were created by companies less than five years old. Therefore it is clear that a country such as Wales which suffers from an under-developed private sector should strategically focus on providing support to its small businesses as a way of growing the number of private sector jobs.
Unfortunately the economic development policies currently being pursued by the Welsh Assembly Government -- Ieuan Wyn Jones's "Economic Renewal Programme" -- do the exact opposite: i.e. they support a few large employers in Wales at the expense of the multitudes of small businesses. It has done this by limiting the amount of economic support available and then restricted it only to companies operating in six "key sectors":
- Creative industries
- Information Communication Technologies
- Energy and Environment
- Advanced material and manufacturing
- Life Sciences
- Financial and Professional services
How were these sectors chosen? Nobody knows. The majority of companies operating in these sectors are not small companies. And most importantly to us, none of them (with the possible exception of energy companies) are well represented on Ynys Môn as is clear from the following breakdown of workplace employment sectors in Anglesey and North Wales:
As you can see: Anglesey has a large distribution and transport sector thanks to Holyhead port, fair sized construction and production industries (although this data was collated before the closure of AAM and Eaton, etc.), and the largest proportion of people in North Wales working in areas related to agriculture and food production. None of these sectors are supported by the Economic Renewal Programme and therefore do not qualify for any support. Financial services are supported but, as you can see, Anglesey has the lowest proportion of these companies in the whole of North Wales.
As Anglesey has the highest proportion of people working in Agriculture sector in North Wales it is also important to note that there are severe problems here also. Single Farm payments are denominated in Euros, whose value is falling against sterling because of economic turmoil in Europe. Furthermore the current existing WAG agri-environmental schemes (Tir Gofal, Tir Mynydd, Tir Cynnal, and the Organic farming Scheme) are in the process of being phased out and replaced by the over complicated and widely derided Glastir scheme. Indeed at a meeting I recently attended of the Anglesey Grassland Society, out of approximately 40 farmers present, only one said he was applying for Glastir. There is trouble ahead.
So what can be done to help the situation in Holyhead and the rest of Ynys Môn?
- WAG needs to change its focus to supporting our small indigenous Welsh businesses. It can do this by reviewing the focus of the Economic Renewal Programme and also by reviewing Business Rates -- which are currently higher in Wales than anywhere else in the UK. (the Welsh Conservatives plan to take all small companies with a rateable value of less than £12,000 out of paying business rates all together).
- More needs to be done to ensure that European funds like JEREMIE (of which Anglesey firms have so far only received 0.1% of the funds available in Wales) are better advertised and taken up by Anglesey companies.
- Closer to home, Anglesey County Council needs to recognise the dangerous effect which expanding the number of pay and display car parks will have on struggling town centre businesses. Gwynedd Council has made all car parks free during the Xmas period to help their small businesses -- why can't we do the same here? I will be pushing the Council to reconsider parking charges entirely.
- Noting the importance of Agricultural and food-based businesses in particular to Anglesey, WAG needs to consider the effectiveness of Glastir. Closer to home we need to look at how we can promote Anglesey produce better.
- Tourism will become more and more important to the Island. I have already discussed here what can be done to help the industry on Anglesey.
- And finally, Planning policies on the island needs to become more business friendly. Present policies are based on the adopted Ynys Môn Local Plan (1996) and the stopped Unitary Development Plan (2005) -- both of these documents are seriously outdated in all areas. Accordingly we need to ensure there is sufficient consultation into the new Local Development Plan (currently being jointly produced with Gwynedd Council) to make sure that planning represents Anglesey's modern needs.
If you have any more ideas or suggestions, please do let me know.