I watched Rhodri Morgan addressing the world's media (Well Lucy Owen of BBC Wales) earlier tonight. I'll watch him again on Dragon's Eye. The First Minister was informing the world what had been decided at today's Welsh Economic Summit, which had been called to discuss ways of putting the Welsh economy back into forward gear.
He told us that the National Assembly for Wales intends to pay its bills a bit quicker. Odd this. I seem to remember being told a few years ago that this was going to happen. He also told us that his Government intends to secure maximum benefit from European funding. Odd this too. Weren't we doing that yesterday! And then there's the creation of a 'forum' for banking and the financial sector. Fair enough. But what does Finance Wales do? Anyway its just the sort of thing that the WDA used to do so well - before the First Minister abolished it. Rhodri Morgan's Government is also going to co-operate closely with the other devolved Governments in Scotland and N Ireland - something else we all thought was already being done. This is all sensible stuff. Nothing wrong with it, but it hardly warrants the First Minister's hubristic statements, describing the summit as 'remarkable' and Wales as 'stepping up to the plate'.
The one feature of the 'communique' which did catch my approving eye was a commitment to bring forward Assembly construction programmes. This is interesting, but means nothing of course, unless its backed up by an increased budget. Must admit that I'm a touch surprised by this aspect of the package (but pleasantly so) because I thought that the budget cupboard was bare. This is a key area. I do think that freeing up opportunities for the construction industry could make a real difference. Which is why its so unacceptable that everyone involved in the construction process, certainly in Powys (and probably elsewhere) is tearing their hair out because of the problems faced in securing planning permission. I'm told that there are millions of pounds worth of construction just sitting in the 'in trays' of the Planning Department. I believe the construction industry is putting together a dossier of complaint with the intention of forwarding it to Ieuan Wyn Jones. Now this is an area where the summit, and future summits can make a real difference.