A social care leader will be helping to steer the Welsh economy after being appointed to an influential new panel of advisers.
Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales and the proprietor of the Pendine Park care organisation, has been appointed to sit on the new Ministerial Advisory Board set up by Economy Secretary Ken Skates.
Mr Kreft is one of 10 members of the new body that will be chaired by Adrian Webb, a Non-Exec Director at Gocompare.com who was previously the head of marketing and communications at the esure.
According to Mr Kreft, it was an historic appointment because this was the first time that a representative of the social care sector had been placed “right at the heart of the economic decision making of the Welsh Government”.
The importance of the sector care having a seat at the top table was underlined by a new report revealing that adult social care contributed more than £2 billion to the Welsh economy and creates jobs for more than 127,000 people.
The survey was commissioned by Skills for Care and Development on behalf of a group of organisations from across the UK, including Social Care Wales, the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) Cymru and Care Forum Wales.
It showed that social care was the seventh largest contributor to the Welsh economy, with residential care adding £329 million annually.
Social care leaders in other parts of the UK were already putting pressure on the Westminster Government to follow the Welsh lead so that they too could have a similar opportunity to influence policy.
Mr Kreft was made an MBE in 2010 for his services to social care.
His day job is running Pendine Park which has eight care homes in Wrexham and Caernarfon which between them employ more than 800 people.
He is also a founder member of Care Forum Wales and established the Wales Care Awards, recognised as the Oscars of social care.
In appointing him, Mr Skates said: “I am delighted that you have agreed to be a member of my new Ministerial Advisory Board.
“I know that you will bring a high degree of knowledge and expertise to the board and will make a significant contribution to its aims and functions. I look forward to working with you moving forward.”
The board will meet six times a year with the aim of providing Mr Skates with “good quality, timely and relevant external advice” to inform the Welsh Government’s policy making in relation to economy and transport issues.
Mr Kreft said: “I was delighted to be appointed so I can make a contribution to promote prosperity through a vibrant economy and particularly as a representative of the social care sector.
“This has come about because the Welsh Government have now recognised social care as a foundation sector and a real cornerstone of the Welsh economy as borne out by the figures in the new report about the massive economic contribution of social care.
“Wales is certainly the first of the home countries where social care has been put at the heart of economic thinking and this is a great credit to the Welsh Government.
“In fairness to the Welsh Government, this has been the direction of travel for some time because the last Labour manifesto recognised social care as a sector of national strategic importance.
“For one thing, social care underpins our beloved NHS here in Wales and beyond.
“We now have recognition that social care is central to strong communities and, as a foundation sector, will now attract Welsh Government support as we strive to create prosperity for all by improving well-being and the wealth of our nation.
“We need to focus on long-term sustainable growth by giving people the right skills and supporting those who drive prosperity.
“This is a hugely significant moment because we know there are huge pressures on services and the demographics are inescapable with recent statistics pointing out that in the next less than 20 years, the over 85 population in Wales is going to increase by 120 per cent.
“We therefore need new and innovative services otherwise the whole nation would grind to a halt because of the NHS.
“The timing of this appointment is also hugely significant because Care Forum Wales is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
“We started in 1993 and from day one of our key purposes has been championing the value and the work of the social care sector, the workforce in Wales.
“That’s why we set up the Wales Care Awards and why we have been working with our partners as part of the Five Nations Groups with includes social care leaders from the home nations and Eire.
“This is a UK first and I will certainly be encouraging my counterparts from the other Five Nation countries to follow the Welsh lead and seek a place at the top table.
“One thing that I am hoping we can achieve is recognition to the army of heroes who work in social care across Wales.
“We have to recognise that the skills these people have and enabling them to provide good care is very, very complex. These skills are not easily learnt.
“Training is vital, but you can’t train people who don’t have innate skills and I have a personal goal – and I know it’s shared by many of my colleagues in the sector – which is to see social care workers valued and their work valued at least as much as somebody working in a supermarket or a call centre.
“They do a fantastic job. They don’t always have the academic qualifications that economics would recognise but the best have something you cannot teach, kindness and compassion.”