Thursday, 10 November 2011
Fiddling While Rome Burns
From the Assembly's Record of Proceedings: 9th November 2011.
Plaid Cymru debate on the economic crisis:
"I am sure that everyone listening to this debate is familiar with the effects of the economic crisis and, as Assembly Members, I am sure that we are all well-versed, not just with the fast-moving news events, but also with the way in which the crisis is impacting upon people’s lives, by the very nature of the cases that are coming to our attention.
In Plaid Cymru, we are deeply disappointed with the lack of ambition and visible action from this Government on the economy. Our economy needs urgent, vast and long-term intervention. No longer can we sit back and cross our fingers, hoping that circumstances are going to change, because all indications are that things are not going to change, and that, if anything, things are going to get a lot worse.
The First Minister tells us that his door is open and that he is willing to listen to ideas. I have some ideas that I hope that the Government will now start to take seriously. We have no need whatsoever to reinvent the wheel. In a paper that went to the former Enterprise and Learning Committee on 15 July 2010 from the Co-operatives and Mutuals Wales, two international examples were given, which, if we could do the same in Wales, could transform our economy, particularly the worst performing areas of our economy. Clearly, all businesses need finance and we all know that, despite two rounds of quantitative easing, businesses are struggling to access finance.
The Enterprise and Learning Committee paper refers to the Capital régional et coopératif Desjardins in Quebec, which is an investment fund that was started in 2001. This fund raises development capital for co-operatives to invest in the 'resource’, or the less-developed regions of Quebec. In the first five years, the fund grew from $79 million to $587 million. By 2010, $905 million, raised from individuals and the private sector, was supporting, through loans, 225 co-operative enterprises. What is stopping us from setting up a dedicated fund, along the Quebec lines, to support the expansion of co-operatives and social enterprises in Wales?
The second international example cited in that paper, which could be considered in Wales, is the vast network of manufacturing co-operatives in the Basque Country. The Mondragon Corporation was formed with a technical training college in 1956 by a Catholic priest. It now employs over 90,000 people in 256 co-operatives. Within its structure, there are now two banks and a university, and its supermarket chain is the third largest in the Spanish state. It operates a maximum-wage policy, with a ratio of 5:1, so that the highest earner cannot earn more than five times the lowest-paid worker, which then assists with equality.
If our current precarious economic situation does not warrant bold and ambitious action on this scale, then what will it take? The Government has financially supported co-operatives, but where do they sit in the overall economic strategy? What outcomes does the Government hope to see as a result of that support? Why do we not make the growth of co-operatives a strategic economic objective? Why not pull together all the various interested parties to set up a co-operative growth fund, along the lines of the Quebec model, and why not pay a visit to the Basque Country to meet the people there and to discuss how we could set up something similar to their manufacturing co-operative network in Wales?
The First Minister has asked for ideas. It is a real shame that he is not here to listen to them this afternoon, but they are on the record and, hopefully, we will see some action on the co-operative front in Wales soon."