Give more power to people of North Wales after Brexit, says former top civil servant

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A former top civil servant says that an elected mayor or a regional assembly are potential solutions to the challenges facing North Wales in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

Lord Michael Bichard, a crossbench peer, will tell a meeting of business leaders in Wrexham that extending devolution is the best way forward in North Wales and other parts of the UK.

He will be joined as a guest speaker by the First Minister for Wales, the Right Hon. Mark Drakeford AM, at the breakfast session of Wrexham Business Professionals at the town’s Ramada Hotel on Friday, May 17.

The group is made up of successful businesses and highly skilled professional firms of solicitors, accountants and other business professionals working together to raise the profile of enterprise and expertise that exists in the region and beyond

Between 1995 and 2001 Lord Bichard, was Permanent Secretary of the Department for Employment and in 2004 he was appointed by the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to chair an inquiry into the Soham murders of two 10 year old girls.

Appointed as Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 1999 Birthday Honours list, Lord Bichard said: “The crux of what I will be talking about to the audience will be centred on Brexit.

“Firstly, we need to reflect on what we do about the consequences of bringing all this legislation and law making powers back from Brussels. What do we do to control the law and how we handle the law-making process?

“People think power will rest in Westminster, Cardiff or wherever but it can’t, there simply has to be an element of devolution.

“Voters need to have someone to hold to account, someone locally elected, with a new regional assembly or an elected mayor being possible options.

“I don’t know enough about the politics of Wales to favour one option over another but I do favour local communities having as much say as possible over the things that matter to them and for responsibility for local decisions to be visible and accountable.

Lord Bichard believes the whole Brexit process has been hugely damaging to the UK’s standing in the world.

He said: “We had a reputation for competent and good government whichever political party was in power. But that illusion has been shattered due to the whole Brexit process and it’s going to take a long time to heal those deep wounds.

“The damage to our reputation around the world is enormous. I’m not a fan of referendums and I think what we saw were people in different regions who wanted to take control locally coming to the fore.

“People wanted more power without necessarily knowing what decisions they wanted to have control over.

“One issue is that the referendum disrupted parliamentary democracy. The referendum was designed to solve deep problems surrounding one political party and not necessarily the country.”

He added: “Secondly we have to look urgently at what we can do to improve productivity.

“We don’t compare well with our European neighbours or for that matter with much of the rest of the developed world when it comes to productivity.

“Our output per hour is now 15.1 per cent below the average for the rest of the G7 countries.

“We’re nine per cent  behind Italy, 22 per cent behind the US and France and 25.6 per cent behind Germany.

“Put another way, as Deloitte’s report on global human capital published did, it takes a British worker five days to produce what a German or French one can in four.

“I have never been able to fathom out why our productivity is so low, but we have to improve it particularly post Brexit. The question has to be how?

Gill Kreft, chair of Wrexham Business Professionals was delighted to have the opportunity to welcome Lord Bichard and the First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford to Wrexham.

She said: “I think it shows just where we are in terms Wrexham’s importance to the region’s business offer and economy that we can attract speakers of the calibre of Lord Bichard and the First Minister Mark Drakeford to one of our breakfast meetings.

“I think both Lord Bichard and the First Minister will have plenty to say and I’m keen to hear how they see Wrexham and North East Wales growing and adding to our successes.”

She added: “We do face uncertain times as the Brexit process is finally completed and businesses need clarity and to know where we are going. To hear from experts such as Lord Bichard and the First Minister will give us all a great deal of insight.”

To find out more about Wrexham Business Professionals visit www.wrexhambuisinessprofessionals.com