Monima O’Connor sits on the Advisory Board of the Centre for Welsh Studies.
How would a post Brexit Wales thrive? With the right policies, especially in the rural areas, it would boom like never before.
A couple of months ago, Theresa May announced her Industrial Strategy, ‘Building a Britain fit for the Future’, which sets out unashamedly ambitious plans to boost future economic growth and employment across our nation, including a stated aim of tackling regional disparities.
To speed it all up, what about a unified air transport policy that rebuilds and renews the forgotten former World War Two airfields? Light aircraft can carry businessmen between different parts of the UK much faster than road or rail.
Once the UK is finally liberated from the suffocating EU acquis straitjacket of regulation, one of the first laws to be reviewed might be the Civil Aviation Working Time Regulations 2004 (known as CAWTR) which is tightly bound with the costly and restrictive practices of health and safety.
Our British countryside is littered with deserted airfields, some with derelict hangars and outbuildings. In rebuilding and renewing facilities for the 21st Century, under British laws made for British based companies, the cost of making them viable for businesses would surely be a comparable shilling to the billions normally associated with new railway lines such as HS2, need far less time than a major new road, and arguably considerably less aggravation from local residents than either.
Here in rural, coastal West Wales we are blessed not only with Aberystwyth University in Ceredigion at one end, Fishguard Harbour in Pembrokeshire at the other, and our Cardigan Bay dolphins in the middle, but also West Wales Airport, which was a former Ministry of Defence site known as the Royal Aircraft Establishment. It is situated in the popular tourist destination of Aberporth, Ceredigion, more recently famed for being the first village in the UK to ban plastic.
Further east is the Mid Wales Airport in Welshpool, to the north Hawarden airport in Flintshire and Llanbedr airport in Snowdonia. All of them are a few miles from the English border and major local companies.
In Aberporth, the French aerospace company Thales maintains a busy unit for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems. The company announced only in September an increased investment in the UK of £7 million divided between £1 million for a facility in Plymouth and £6 million specifically to our West Wales Airport, which the company says is central its growth (the BBC would of course say “Despite Brexit”).
The company’s British HQ is in Sussex. The company flies its staff from Biggin Hill for meetings with their Welsh colleagues on a short flight of under an hour, avoiding what would otherwise be a four-to-five hour road journey.
However, these small airports are effectively prevented from developing business-related traffic, not only due to small population density, but from heavy bureaucracy and mountainous regulation, as well asvthe governing Welsh Labour Party’s indifference to small businesses and spending any serious money north of the Valleys. It is utter madness that many other airfields dotted around the UK, some with proud military histories, should be left to rot away as go-karting attractions.
When we regain control of our coastal waters, fishing executives could fly from Lerwick in the Shetland Isles to West Wales Airfield in about a couple of hours, versus 23 hours by car or a 26 hour journey by ferry and train overnight. The boost to our rural economy would be tremendous. It would also strengthen our precious Union.
In Ceredigion, we have space. Lots of it. Small specialist craftsmen, boatbuilders, cabinet makers, a museum conservationist who undertakes repairs for the British Museum, Rolls Royce trained mechanics, a specialist pharmaceuticals manufacturing plant amongst many others, all of whom have enormous workshops up farm tracks nearby.
In addition, keeping the pound competitive for a few years pos- Brexit is also vital for our future prosperity as was laid out in Labour Leave’s powerful video: Britain’s Achilles Heel
In Spring 2016, Sir James Dyson acquired the former Ministry of Defence airfield of Hullavington in Wiltshire, close to his Malmesbury HQ. I hope he left a small part of the runway intact as he might wish to fly by light aircraft to Ceredigion in less than an hour and scout our local area for vacant farm outbuildings as a suitable site for another training tech campus, at a fraction of the cost of Wiltshire.
The Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP) in the United States was introduced specifically for the rural areas to benefit from commercial traffic through grants.
Whilst our First Minister Carwyn Jones still seems stunned by the decisive Leave vote here in Wales, he should have reckoned on the knockout punch for Leave delivered by our small and micro business sectors in Wales, which form the vast bulk of our highly skilled workforce.
The majority of us here in Wales do not export to the EU, yet have to abide by the suffocating and ever-changing pettifogging rules of the Single Market. In addition to this, the annual assessment procedure, which necessitates voluminous pointless paperwork throughout the year, takes up so many of our working hours.
For this yearly review, the assessor sits in our office for a full day and a morning box-ticking our paperwork against the software on his laptop. Only one afternoon is spent physically inspecting a chosen installation or two.
On one such memorable occasion a few years’ back, an assessor at ground level looked up at a new roofing project “looks OK from here”. When invited to ascend the ladder we’d placed for him to forensically inspect our workmanship, the response was “I’m not allowed to go up ladders”. Such a monstrous waste of time, better spent meeting new customers, increasing turnover and contributing more to the Exchequer.
The Federation of Small Businesses states that more than 90 per cent of businesses in the UK are SMEs, and according to ONS/Numis’s official labour market statistics the highest percentage of SMEs is in Harlow, Essex at 92.4 per cent (Leave 68.1 per cent vs Remain 31.9 per cent) followed closely in Wales with Powys at 89.6 per cent (Leave 53.7 per cent/Remain 46.3 per cent). This is another reason why Wales voted Leave.