There has been a lot of debate lately about procurement policies in Wales. (One discussion was here.) At its simplest, this means ensuring that the Welsh Management, local government and other agencies give contracts to Welsh firms. Doing this obviously maximises the benefits to Wales in terms of jobs, but it also ensures that more money stays in the country, enabling Welsh firms to grow, and circulating in the local economy. So simple, and so obvious, that we shouldn’t really need to discuss it. But we do, because too many contracts – big and small – are still going to companies from outside Wales. Stuck in traffic at road works yesterday I saw, laid out before me, a good example of this problem.
Anyone who travels the A487, Bangor to Fishguard trunk road, will know about the major road works being undertaken at Glandyfi, between Aberystwyth and Machynlleth. This stretch of road was totally unfit for twenty-first century traffic, having blind bends and a carriageway too narrow for vehicles to pass. (Geologists among you may find this of interest.) The problem at Glandyfi was due to the road being squeezed between the Dyfi estuary and the railway line on the one side, and the walls of Glandyfi castle on the other. Glandyfi castle which, its website tells us, “lies just 12 miles from Aberystwyth on the Welsh coast”. At 12 miles from Aber’ where else it would it be – the Côte de bloody Azur! The website also informs us that guests can go “walking in the Welsh hills”. Fancy that – Welsh hills in Wales! Glandyfi Castle seems to be the worst type of colonio-tourism: ‘Come and enjoy the scenery . . . sorry about the natives’. Makes me wonder how much loot this place has milked from the Welsh public purse over the years. But I digress. Let us return to the road below the castle.
The main contract for this £10m project was granted to English firm Carillion Construction Ltd, which has its HQ in Wolverhapton, some 12 miles from Birmingham, an English city, in the English Midlands, which is in England. A company that does not enjoy an unsullied reputation in civil engineering. Since the work started I must have driven along this stretch of road some 20 or 30 times, and I have always been struck by the fact that most of the sub-contractors seem to be English firms, based in places like Manchester, Coventry; or else I see vehicles showing telephone numbers I know are not Welsh. Though the real giveaway at Glandyfi is the transit camp of portakabins to house the workers. Which is not to say that local firms haven’t seen a few crumbs. For example, when I drove through yesterday I saw a Brodyr Evans of Dolgellau roadsweeper being used . . . which won’t make a big dent in £10m.
So why was the contract given to Carillion? Other big projects in this area have gone to Jones Bros of Ruthin, Alun Griffiths of Abergavenny and Watkin Jones of Bangor. And there are other Welsh companies. Did none of them tender for the Glandyfi project? Let’s give the Welsh Management the benefit of the doubt and assume that Carillion’s was the only, or the only acceptable, tender. Even if that were the case, then the Welsh Management could still have insisted that Carillion use Welsh sub-contractors. So why didn’t they? How can our AMs lecture our councils and others about local procurement when they don’t practice what they preach?
Some sources say the work was scheduled for completion in July 2012, others say “late 2012”. Whatever the date, it’s well behind schedule. Are we to believe that Welsh companies couldn’t have done a better job? Whether they could or not, the fact remains that millions of pounds have left Wales; a few hundred jobs have been denied to Welsh people; plus, tens of thousands of Welsh people have driven through Glandyfi encouraged to think, ‘How could we manage without the English?’ And all due to the incompetence of those buffoons down Cardiff docks.