Follow our example, Welsh Government tells chancellor

Ken Skates AM Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Looking to the future or virtual reality? Ken Skates at the announcement of the advanced manufacturing research institute.

"We have delivered," said the Welsh economy secretary. "We expect UK government to deliver as well."

If you're reading this after a lengthy, congested commute home, you may want to know that Ken Skates was talking about infrastructure in north-east Wales.

He was speaking at the announcement of a £20m Welsh Government investment to establish an "advanced manufacturing and research institute" at Deeside.

The announcement came 48 hours before the chancellor's Autumn Statement - and Mr Skates used the opportunity - "a critical and key moment in the history of our regional economy" - to challenge Philip Hammond ahead of Wednesday's statement to MPs.

He told guests at Airbus on Monday: "We are determined to build and build wherever we can to fuel economic growth and as we approach the autumn statement.

"I wish our example would be taken on board by UK government, that their words of investment, a desire to invest in infrastructure and skills and research will be honoured and that their warm words about the north Wales growth potential will be realised with support for this region, for the Mersey-Dee area and for the northern powerhouse."

The UK government, which largely funds the Welsh Government through taxpayers' cash, has decided not to respond to the challenge, although it has already announced that Wales will get a share of extra cash earmarked for transport in England.

This is the point in the process when the Welsh Government is at its strongest. It can demand money for chosen schemes and then express anger when they are refused or claim the credit when they are delivered.

I'm told that demands for the devolution of air passenger duty will again fall on deaf ears. On the Swansea city region deal, ministers at Westminster say they won't sign it off until it's ready (there's talk the Cardiff one was signed off too soon) and the Swansea tidal lagoon decision does not appear imminent.

'Difference'

The key to understanding this Autumn Statement seems to be to understand the difference between Mr Hammond and his predecessor.

According to the Treasury, the new chancellor "is expected to take a different approach to the Autumn Statement, by announcing top level spending decisions rather than announcing full details of individual projects".

It added: "He believes the Treasury should be focussed on its core job of economic policy, managing the public finances, and not doing spending departments' jobs for them."

As a minister told me recently, it's not a Christmas tree - even if Mr Hammond has unwrapped a few "gifts" before the big day.

I have tried but failed to find a photograph of him in hi-vis jacket and hard hat but at Westminster they went out of fashion with George Osborne.

Instead, it is Ken Skates who appears to have borrowed the Osborne mantra of "we are the builders now" chiding President-elect Trump for being "late to the party" on infrastructure.

A long drive from Airbus in the north-east, the much-delayed M4 relief road in the south-east could be open by 2021. You can probably find a bookie who'll give you odds on which project will be finished first - the M4 or Mr Trump's Mexican wall.

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