Wales politics

Tricky decisions stacking up for Economy Secretary Ken Skates

Ken Skates Image copyright Welsh Government

To govern is to choose, so they say.

Economy Secretary Ken Skates is rapidly discovering that the cliché is true.

A growing list of difficult decisions is competing for his attention.

Whatever he decides to do, he is bound to disappoint someone.

He has already given us a glimpse of his willingness to take unpopular decisions.

Mr Skates wrote Labour's manifesto for May's assembly election - a manifesto that promised to determine whether Wales should bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games.

By the end of July, he'd already delivered on that promise... and determined it was not feasible to bid for the Games.

That experience should stand him in good stead as he grapples with a growing workload.

Yr Egin

Image copyright University of Wales Trinity Saint David

The University of Wales Trinity St David has asked him for money to help build Yr Egin - the new home for S4C in Carmarthen, announced with fanfare in 2014.

Back then, no-one knew the Welsh Government would need to fetch its chequebook, which is "disappointing", according to Mr Skates.

I can think of other adjectives I would use if I was the minister being asked to decide whether the taxpayer should plug a funding gap worth between £4m and £6m.

The Metro

Four foreign-owned consortiums will soon submit their final bids for a new rail system serving Cardiff and the Valleys.

There is a lot riding on the Metro, which has the potential to be one of the biggest infrastructure projects seen in Wales in recent years.

And it will be Mr Skates - assisted by a new not-for-profit company set up by the Welsh Government - who must choose which of those four competitors builds and runs it.

The Circuit of Wales

Image copyright Circuit of Wales

Hopes are high in Blaenau Gwent that this motor racing track will rev-up the economy in some of Wales's most deprived communities.

Guess who has to decide whether it is viable without the taxpayer?

In July, Mr Skates said he was not yet convinced that the Welsh Government should take the risk of underwriting the project.

But sooner or later, he will have to make a final decision.

Development Bank for Wales

Image copyright Thinkstock

Another inheritance from Mr Skates's predecessor, Edwina Hart, who, as economy minister, commissioned research into creating a Development Bank to foster home-grown businesses.

Finance Wales, the Welsh Government's own investment agency, has a plan to create the bank.

Before deciding whether to give it the go-ahead, Plaid Cymru says Mr Skates should publish the plan for all AMs to see, especially as Finance Wales has a subsidiary that is bidding for work in England's Northern Powerhouse.

Historic Wales

Image copyright NMW
Image caption The 17th Century Kennixton farmhouse, from the Gower peninsular, rebuilt at St Fagans National History Museum

Politicians love tinkering with institutions.

Institutions hate meddling politicians.

Mr Skates wants to merge the commercial functions of the National Museum with the monuments agency, Cadw, creating a new body called Historic Wales.

Early next year, he will be presented with recommendations on how to proceed.

But the proposals outlined so far have already upset senior figures in the industry.

The M4 Relief Road

Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Artist's impression of the M4 relief road

By now, a public inquiry was supposed to be examining plans for a new stretch of motorway around the south of Newport.

At the 11th hour, it was postponed when the Welsh Government was presented with new traffic forecasts from Whitehall

Mr Skates says this hiccup will not delay building work, but there's a telling sentence on the Welsh Government webpage that explains how the planning inspector will use the inquiry to weigh up all the options.

"This will inform the final decision on whether to go ahead with construction."

The Steel Industry

Image copyright Getty Images

Mr Skates has £60m to help persuade Tata - or a new owner - to continue making steel in Wales.

With rumours swirling that Port Talbot could be scaled back as part of a merger with German giant ThyssenKrupp, he has said the Welsh Government will only cough up if both of the town's two blast furnaces are kept burning for at least five years.

There is only so much the Welsh Government can do to secure the jobs of the 7,000 Tata employees in Wales if the company's bosses in Mumbai decide to walk away.

But nothing on Ken Skates's portfolio will have such direct and immediate consequences for so many people as the fate of the steel industry.

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