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AMs say jury’s out on EZ value for money

Words: Roger Milne
The National Assembly for Wales / Shutterstock_689501662

Assembly Members (AMs) have complained that a lack of evidence has made it difficult for them to assess the contribution made to the Welsh economy by enterprise zones (EZs).

That’s the conclusion of a report by the Welsh Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee.

The committee insisted that there wasn’t enough evidence to fully assess the value of the EZs, on which the government has spent £220 million over the past five years.

The AMs said the evidence presented to their inquiry painted a mixed picture of the performance of the eight zones established by the government.

The committee has called for more information to be published by the Welsh administration, a return to annual reporting for the EZs with clear data provided on the support provided to each zone, and details of the direct and indirect assistance provided to them.

The AMs also recommended that the priorities and annual targets for the performance of each zone should be published.

Committee chair Russell George said: “We have concluded that on the whole, the enterprise zone concept has not proved itself to date in Wales despite the government spending over £200 million on them. The lack of available evidence has made it challenging for us to fully analyse their contribution to the Welsh economy.

"The committee recognises the good work of the EZ Boards and the expertise and commitment of those involved to deliver their work locally. We also believe that there is merit in a regional approach to economic development and that focusing on deprived areas is a good thing.

"However, any future regional approaches to economic development will require clear and realistic goals accompanied by detailed, transparent and appropriate data for monitoring."

The committee heard evidence that suggested that the zones that have achieved the government's stated aims were those that were already best placed to do so, and that the incentives provided to them played only a minor part in their success.

The committee recommended that the government should:

  • take a strategic look at the availability of commercial and industrial units and work with local government to ensure that money is available in areas of need to develop suitable units;
  • reconsider its proposed merger of the Anglesey and Snowdonia Boards; and
  • set a clear direction of what it expects the Port Talbot Enterprise Zone to achieve, and a clear timetable to achieve it, so that the board can be wound up once its work is completed.

The government said it would formally respond to the report in due course. A government spokesperson insisted: “Collectively our EZs supported over 10,700 jobs to the end of the last financial year.

“All eight zones have made significant progress, and are continuing to deliver value for money by laying the foundation for future prosperity and creating the right environment to support the development of sustainable job opportunities in communities right across Wales, both in the short and longer term.”

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