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Departmental Achievements

Volume 171: debated on Tuesday 1 May 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will give details of the main achievements of his Department since June 1987.

Unemployment in Wales has fallen for 46 consecutive months (to March 1990), currently standing at 83,900 (6·4 per cent.), compared to 152,700 (12·3 per cent.) in May 1987—a drop of 68,800 (5·9 percentage points). The current rate of 6·4 per cent. is lower than the EC average and many of the UK's main European competitors. It is also the lowest rate since May 1980. The current total of 83,900 is the lowest since July 1980. At December 1989, the civilian work force in employment in Wales stood at 1,215,000, the highest ever.Over 50,622 people have started training on employment training since the programme was launched in September 1988. A total of 53,972 young people have entered YTS since May 1987. We continue to provide a YTS place for every young person who seeks one.The White Paper, "Training for Employment", published in December 1988 set out a framework for modernising and developing our training system. To assist me in meeting this challenge I set up the training, enterprise and education advisory group. One of its main tasks has been to advise on the establishment of training and enterprise councils in Wales. TECs are an exciting development which offer the prospect of a move to a locally planned and delivered training strategy. We now have a complete network of TECs in development covering the whole of Wales and I expect these to be operational by the end of the year.Development funding has been awarded to compacts in south Glamorgan, mid and west Glamorgan and Clwyd.Since 1 June 1987, a total of 295 inward investment projects have been secured for Wales promising some 25,000 new jobs and involving a capital investment of some £1·75 billion. Among the largest projects are those announced by Ford, Bosch, TSB and National Provident Institution. As part of the inward investment effort, I and the Minister of State have between us undertaken 11 visits overseas.Since my appointment in June 1987, nearly 3,500 offers of grant assistance have been made to businesses in Wales. Payments of nearly £97 million have been made with related additional/safeguarded employment of over 20,000. It is expected that over 72,000 jobs will actually be created or safeguarded by projects which have been grant-aided under regional incentive schemes.In recent weeks a co-operation agreement has been signed with Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany's most dynamic region. This will enable a great deal of activity to take place in the fields of company collaboration, inward investment and joint research which will bring considerable benefit to Wales in the years to come.Since I became Secretary of State, the Welsh Office has greatly increased its emphasis on helping business in Wales to export. This initiative has been highlighted by three successful export missions led by myself and by the Minister of State to the Soviet Union (1988), Spain and Portugal (1989) and Saudi Arabia (1990). The last of these alone netted orders worth £7·5 million for the Welsh companies participating.At £150 million the Welsh Development Agency's budget for 1990–91 is the highest ever in both cash and real terms and is over 50 per cent. above the 1987 level.Nearly £99 million at today's prices has been committed to the land reclamation programme in Wales over the past three years. The programme is one of the largest and most sustained in Europe and will see the eradication of almost all visually intrusive dereliction in Wales by the mid-1990s.Expenditure on the Welsh Development Agency's property development activities has also more than doubled since 1987 to £72 million in 1990–91. Over 1 million sq ft of new factory floor space has been provided in each of the last three years capable of accommodating up to 9,000 jobs. Factory lettings have also been at record levels with over 2 million sq ft let each year. Over the same period the private sector has also provided 715,000 sq ft of development on agency sites.Welsh businesses have responded extremely well to Enterprise Wales, since its launch in January 1988. The consultancy grants available under the initiative have proved particularly popular with nearly 1,800 projects commissioned so far.In addition, a number of other initiatives have been taken to strengthen Welsh industry. These include the craft initiative and the "Wales Land of Quality" emblem to promote a coherent image of Wales and its products at home and abroad. To date more than 100 companies have adopted the emblem.Since Cardiff Bay development corporation was established in 1987 to regenerate the former commercial centre of the city the Government have made available, or have announced, over £150 million of grant in aid to enable the corporation to achieve its task. To date the corporation has acquired over 500 acres of land; completed detailed area planning briefs for key locations; commissioned detailed design of the barrage across the harbour mouth; made available a prestigious 120 acre site for business, industrial and leisure-related development and undertaken a large number of environmental, infrastructure and community schemes.In June 1988 I launched a massive three-year programme of action designed to improve economic, environmental and social conditions in the south Wales valleys. Expenditure in key activities involving the promotion of investment, the creation of jobs and environmental improvement in the valleys is expected to total some £500 million over the first three years of the programme. This is expected to stimulate private sector investment of up to £1 billion. I can confirm that unemployment in the valleys fell by some 10,600 between June 1988 and March 1990, at a faster rate than in Wales or the United Kingdom as a whole. In June 1989 I announced the extension of the valleys programme for a further two years until the end of 1992–93.As work progresses in completing the £550 million project to dual the A55 from Bangor to Chester, major opportunities for growth and development are emerging. I highlighted this in the document "A55—The Road of Opportunity", published in December 1989, which set out the framework for a whole range of policies and proposals that will further benefit north Wales. The Government will continue to encourage a positive response from the public and private sectors to ensure that the development opportunities are taken to enhance economic, social and cultural life in north Wales.Since 1987–88 there have been 34 approvals totalling £14·123 million of urban development grant throughout Wales. This represents some £66·309 million of private investment and is expected to create a total of 2,300 permanent and 1,180 temporary jobs. In addition, around 448 residential units will be provided.Since April 1989 there have been 14 urban investment grant approvals totalling £7·631 million of grant. This represents some £24·065 million of private investment and is expected to create 935 new permanent jobs together with 455 temporary construction jobs. Some 200 residential units will also be provided.The £29·187 million allocated under the urban programme for the current financial year represents a 26 per cent. increase over that allocated in 1987–88 (£23·1 million) and 19 per cent. above the £24·5 million allocated in 1988–89.A £33 million European regional development fund (ERDF) programme for mid-Glamorgan has been successfully completed and another worth £108 million for Dyfed, Gwynedd and Powys is well under way. Two further integrated development operation programmes (ERDF and European social fund) for Clwyd and industrial south Wales worth £23 million and £59 million respectively have recently been approved by the Commission and are now being implemented.Recently, 11 areas in south Wales were accepted by the European Commission as eligible for the RECHAR initiative, which is to provide £225 million across the Community over four years to aid areas with recent large numbers of job losses in coal mining. The list of eligible areas, which was announced on 19 April, includes the majority of the Welsh candidate areas the Department initially proposed.Grants totalling some £1·4 million have been awarded to firms in Wales for the marketing and processing of agricultural produce under European Community regulations 355/77.On 1 January 1988 the designated Cambrian mountains environmentally sensitive area (ESA) was extended by some 80,000 hectares and some 39,700 hectares of the Lleyn peninsula was designated as an ESA. The scheme aims to promote the co-existence of conservation and efficient farming in areas of national environmental significance perceived to be at risk from increasingly intensive methods of production.The reform of the sheepmeat regime agreed at the July 1989 Agricultural Council represented a good deal for Welsh sheep producers. The new regime provides them with a clear basis for the future and improves their competitive position with their continental counterparts and prospects for exporting.In 1989 we took full advantage of devaluation of the green pound and paid the suckler cow premium at the highest permissible rate, including the maximum top-up from national funds. As a result, the rate was increased from £33·40 to £47·43 per cow (42 per cent.). This was worth £7·7 million to producers in Wales in the 1989–90 scheme year.Over 50,300 home improvement grant schemes for private sector dwellings have been completed since June 1987 with a value of £160 million. In the same period £246 million has been spent on the renovation of local authority housing stock.Since June 1987 more than 7,800 dwellings in Wales have been improved under enveloping schemes at a cost in excess of £62 million.Since the valleys action programme was launched in June 1988 targets for the number of homes in enveloping and block schemes have been exceeded—2,656 in 1988–89 against a target of 2,000 and 2,749 in 1989–90 against a target of 2,500.The new renovation grant regime arrangements which I have introduced will ensure that assistance goes to those in greatest need. To get the new system off to a good start I have already announced that £75 million has been allocated and that additional resources will be made available to district councils in Wales should that be necessary.I have now incorporated our very successful priority estates programme in our new housing options Wales (HOW) programme which was announced in January. It is a package of measures designed to support improvements in local authority housing management, to focus upon service improvement and customer care, and to provide new opportunities for tenants' groups. It includes a new small grants scheme to fund people and projects developing better service delivery; a training and information service, and, prospectively, the reestablishment, with a new remit and better support, of the housing management advisory panel for Wales.At the end of last year I launched, through the Development Board for Rural Wales, an experimental flexi-ownership scheme, which enables the board's tenants to buy their homes at a weekly outlay broadly the same as their existing rent. On 11 April the first two families in Wales bought their homes under this scheme.

Tenants' choice is now in force in Wales, providing an important new right for council tenants. Housing for Wales will work to ensure that those who wish to exercise this right have every opportunity to do so.

The National Health Service in Wales is treating more patients than ever before. The successful introduction of general management into the National Health Service in Wales has now been completed and effective mechanisms for manpower resource planning, education, training and management have been established.

In 1988 a corporate management programme for the National Health Service in Wales was produced and published and the Welsh health planning forum was set up. The forum has produced a "Statement of Strategic Intent and Direction for the National Health Service in Wales".

Two treatment centres have been established to shorten hospital waiting times; one at Bridgend for hernias and varicose veins, and one near Cardiff for hip and knee replacements.

The new Prince Philip hospital, Llanelli, has been completed along with major development schemes at the Llandough, Morriston, and Royal Gwent hospitals, at a capital cost of £55 million (cash prices).

Improvements in regional services have included a new bone marrow tissue typing laboratory in Cardiff; a new paediatric cardiac unit at the University Hospital of Wales (to be completed this year); two new subsidiary renal units at Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil; and the provision of computerised tomography scanners in various locations throughout Wales.

Substantial progress has been made under the all-Wales strategy for the development of services for people with a mental handicap, supported by significant increases in funding.

In June 1989 the mental illness strategy was launched to promote a more responsive, locally and community-based service for treating and supporting mental illness sufferers.

Significant progress has also been made under the initiative on the care of the elderly in Wales in stimulating service providers to review their methods. Approval has been given for the funding of 60 demonstration projects, a number of which involve partnership between the statutory and voluntary sectors.

Current expenditure on education, excluding school meals and milk, was 13·6 per cent. more in real terms in 1987–88 than in 1979–80. In the same period pupil numbers fell by 14·6 per cent. and the pupil: teacher ratio improved by 5·7 per cent.

Expenditure per pupil thus rose overall from £910 to £1,216·34 per cent. Local authority capital expenditure on education has increased in real terms by 18·9 per cent. This is a significant increase at a time when pupil numbers have been falling and thus the basic need for new schools has been at a very low level.

I have strengthened financial support for the Welsh language. Direct Government financial support has increased by 75 per cent. since 1987 to £5·9 million. In 1988 I established the Welsh Language Board to find practical solutions to the everyday problems facing Welsh speakers.

The Welsh language now has, for the first time, a firm statutory place in the school curriculum for pupils from five to 16 in Wales within the national curriculum. I believe that the decision to include Welsh as part of the national curriculum will have a significant impact on the language for many years to come.

The national curriculum is being introduced progressively into the schools of Wales. Mathematics, science and English have already begun. Welsh and technology will be introduced from September 1990; other subjects in 1991 and 1992.

I have undertaken that the national curriculum should be responsive to the distinctive history and culture of Wales. All national curriculum documentation is being provided in Welsh and English. Separate orders will be made to ensure that children in Wales study Welsh as well as British history.

I have developed an initiative to introduce the teaching of the Japanese language into secondary schools in Wales.

I have had meetings with local education authorities in the valleys programme area to discuss ways of improving links between schools and industry, to ensure that pupils learn about the wide range of employment opportunities available to them.

Schemes for the local management of schools have been formally approved for each of the LEAs in Wales.

The number of students on courses of higher education in the Welsh public sector institutions has risen by 5 per cent. from 14,700 in 1987 to 15,500 today. During the same period the number of students on courses of initial teacher training in Wales rose by 20 per cent. from 2,621 in 1987 to 3,140 today.

I have initiated measures to simplify and improve the planning system and to speed up its operation. while ensuring that it continues to protect and enhance the environment. These have brought about reductions in the time taken for handling inspectors' appeals of nine weeks (inquiries) and five weeks (written representations).

Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments has increased revenue by 41 per cent. and attendance by 8·5 per cent. at ancient monuments in my care during the three-year period ending March 1990.

"Roads in Wales 1989—Progress and Plans for the 1990s", which I published in April, demonstrates that a high level of investment is continuing in roads in Wales. Thirteen trunk road schemes have been completed since June 1987, totalling over 28 miles. Work is in progress on a further 11 schemes comprising about 25 miles. Work has started on four new schemes under transport grant arrangements; three new schemes, all in west Glamorgan, were accepted for start in 1989–90 and the Newbridge/ Maesycymmer improvement in Gwent has been approved for start in 1990–91.