Cardiff Castle hosts British-Irish council talks

The British-Irish Council met last week at Cardiff Castle to discuss the economy and infrastructure. Politics Editor Rachel Victoria Lewis reports

Cardiff Castle played host to the annual British-Irish council summit last week, facilitating talks on the economy and infrastructure. The body was set up as part of the Northern Ireland peace process in 1998, and this was the third time the Welsh Government had held talks. Ministers attending came from the UK government, Scottish government, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland.

The key focus of the talks was a call for more investment in capital projects in order to increase ecnomic activity. Welsh Minister Carwyn Jones said “The main principle of the debate was the need to use infrastructure as an enabler and driver of economic development”.

However this topic of discussion was placed amid unfortunate news for the Welsh economy. The major steel industry player Tata announced that it would be cutting 900 jobs in Wales. This is not encouraging for Wales with unemployment figures hovering around 5000 as of September. 12 sites will be closed under plans to improve competitiveness. The majority of job losses will be at the Port Talbot plant, through  a severe reconstruction of the management hierarchy causing 500 job losses. There are currently 3500 employed at the site. There are even plans to close sites at Crosskeys and Tafarneubach which will cause even more job losses.

The talks at the castle surrounding infrastructure were in relation to the £40bn government grant for ‘shovel-ready’ projects. The Welsh ministers emphasised that more devolution and allowance for borrowing will allow them to come forward with more good projects to encourage capital growth. They have already voiced their support for more borrowing powers to be granted to Wales in the wake of the publication of the Silk Commission, however Carwyn Jones did express his cautious attitude to further spending, and believes there shoud be more focus on reducing the deficit. “We have to keep reminding them [the devolved administrations] how we inherited a very serious economic legacy and need to reduce the deficit and continue with that programme”. He admits that even if they receive criticism for this attitude, they have a responsibility to balance the books .

Another topic of discussion  at the conference was  the EU. Carwyn Jones implied a differring attitude in Wales compared to England: “if we define euroscepticism as the desire to leave the EU, it’s right to say that strand of thought exists more strongly in England. Of course, Wales is not entirely free from that strand of thought”.

The policies discussed at the conference will  be continued at the next summit in Derry in 2013, where Prime Minister Enda Kenny will promote wind power imports to Britain. It is believed that the autumn budget statement on December 5th will be an opportunity to discuss further capital stimulus.

Rachel Victoria Lewis