|Croeso i 2011|
Making predictions is a perilous business -- however in order to understand what problems potentially lie ahead and to plan effectively to counter them we need to have a view of what to look out for over the year ahead. Accordingly I'm happy to stick my neck out and share with you what I think 2011 has in store for Ynys Môn:
Anglesey County Council
Wales's highest paid civil servant, David Bowles - the Assembly Government appointed Interim MD to IoACC - will certainly leave the council this year. His two year contract will end in September -- though he may very well leave even earlier in order to save costs. There will be no direct replacement; instead in all likelihood Gwynedd's Chief Executive Harry Thomas will take over the running of both Anglesey and Gwynedd with an Anglesey-based Deputy appointed from within IoACC. There will no doubt be a pruning of heads of departments as several functions are shared between Gwynedd and Anglesey.
Politically 2011 will be an unpredictable year for the Council. The departure of David Bowles will no doubt have a large impact on Councillors and it will be interesting to see if the contentious Terms of Engagement will survive him -- or whether Harry Thomas will be as keen to enforce them. It is also likely that 2011 will see the two Councillors reported to the Ombudsman have their day before Adjudication Panel for Wales -- leading to untold consequences inside the council chamber whatever the judgement.
The ruling Alliance, made up of Plaid Cymru, Labour, and two groups of Independents, is already suffering from a number of stress-fractures and it is difficult to see it surviving the year -- particularly considering that in addition to the changes outlined above it will also be forced to push through unpopular cuts. The local council elections in 2012 will begin to weigh ever heavier on Councillors minds as the year unfolds.
The Island Economy
2011 will be a very difficult year for the UK as the government begins to implement policies designed to reduce the national deficit, forcing us to come to terms with the systematic overspending of the past decade. Despite its status as the poorest place in the UK, Ynys Môn will not be immune to this process and will be affected by the VAT and fuel duty rises, changes to welfare payments, and reduced council services amongst others.
Fortunately there should be some light on the 'horizon' for the Island. Following the coalition government's quick action to both approve Wylfa as a 'preferred' nuclear location and introduce measures to ensure the profitability of low-carbon energy sources such as nuclear, 2011 should be the year when Horizon officially indicates it will proceed to build Wylfa B. This will provide a huge boost to Ynys Môn's ailing economy by providing in the short-term huge numbers of construction jobs -- hopefully coming in time to take the strain caused by job losses elsewhere. The construction phase will take several years and bring with it a large influx of workers which will boost Anglesey's retail and housing sectors in addition to other small businesses.
The other major employers on the Island -- the port of Holyhead and RAF Valley -- will hopefully not see any major changes in 2011. The Search and Rescue function will certainly be retained at Valley, whilst announcements regarding the future of the T Mk 1 Hawks are not expected until 2012. With regards to Holyhead, with traffic through the port anyway down since the collapse of building boom in Ireland, people who I have spoken to at the port don't believe that passenger numbers will be further affected by the current economic turmoil in Ireland -- which is cautiously good news.
However, in the long term, the most important sector for the Island economy in 2011 will be its small and medium sized indigenous businesses. In addition to the benefits they will accrue from the construction of Wylfa B, they will also be helped by the reduction in April 2011 of corporation tax for small businesses from 21% to 20% and the ongoing National Insurance holiday for new qualifying businesses outside of the South East. Unfortunately they will receive little help from the Welsh Assembly Government itself. Small businesses in Wales already pay higher business rates than anywhere else in the UK (in this context it should be noted that the Welsh Conservatives pledge to remove all small businesses with a rateable value below £10,000 out of business rates altogether -- benefitting approx. 19,000 North Wales small firms) and Ieuan Wyn Jones's misdirected Economic Renewal Programme has removed any support from Anglesey's small businesses through halving the total budget and then limiting all economic support to certain sectors only. Furthermore Ieuan Wyn Jones recent calls to delay income tax bills for small firms would do nothing but modify cash flow -- instead of an overall reduction in outflow, like a business rate reduction would do. We need to find ways of reducing bills for small businesses not simply moving the problem until later.
Môn Mam Cymru
Proportionately more people are employed in fields related to farming and agriculture on Anglesey than anywhere else in North Wales. Accordingly we need a healthy and profitable farming industry -- however Anglesey's farms will begin to come under great pressure towards the end of 2011. Single Farm Payments, worth around £10 million per annum to Ynys Môn, are denominated in Euros (at an exchange rate set on 30th September each year) and are therefore vulnerable to the current Euro crisis being played out on the continent. Should other Eurozone countries join Greece and Ireland then it is possible that the sterling value of Single Farm Payments scheduled for December 2011 will be much reduced. On top of this WAG's new agri-environment scheme 'Glastir' -- which will eventually replace the existing four schemes (Tir Mynydd, Tir Cynnal, Tir Gofal, and the Organic Farming Scheme) -- has been lambasted by farmers for offering too little financial incentive compared to the amount of work required to qualify. So few farmers have applied that WAG has been forced to U-turn on its proposals to begin phasing out Tir Mynydd payments (received by 420 Anglesey farms) this year. However without major changes to Glastir in 2011 farmers will see their incomes further reduced in coming years.
Tourism brings in approx. £215m per annum for Ynys Môn and has become increasingly more and more important to the Island economy. The Royal Wedding and presence on Anglesey of William and Kate in 2011 will provide us with an unrivalled window of opportunity to boost tourism for a generation -- but only if we make the right decisions early in 2011. The council needs to recognise this opportunity and implement a short-term tourism strategy designed to 'sell' the island globally over the next 12 months. Furthermore council plans to offload the various tourist attractions it currently runs should be suspended until 2012 at least unless suitable and stable partners can be found with the means and desire to run them well. My recommendations in full are here.
Island House Prices
According to the latest Halifax Country House Price survey the average house price in Anglesey in 2010 fell from £164,300 to £145,147 -- the equivalent of a 11.7% drop. As far as I am concerned this is good news for the Island as it brings the house price to earnings ratio marginally down from 6.7x to 5.6x.
The media is suggesting that the presence of William and Kate will make property on the island attractive to certain second home hunters thus pushing up prices in 2011. The probable beginning of an influx of workers for Wylfa B will also lead to house price inflation -- making it absolutely imperative that the joint LDP between Anglesey and Gwynedd frees up enough land for the building of new houses to keep prices stable. The whole issue of Affordable Homes on Ynys Môn is something I intend to return to shortly.
Elections and Referendums
There will the two referendums held in 2011: the vote on extra powers for the Welsh Assembly will be won, the nationwide poll on changing the first-past-the-post election system to AV will be lost. The Welsh Assembly election in May on Ynys Môn will be very, very close. I will do everything I can to provide a local, Welsh, energetic alternative to a tired Ieuan Wyn Jones. Whatever the result, I promise to make sure that the issues of jobs and the Island economy will be at the very top of the agenda -- ensuring that whoever succeeds at the polls, Ynys Môn will be the winner.
I would be very interested in hearing your predictions for 2011...