This autumn we have witnessed both Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru having leadership elections. Beyond applauding the maturity of debate and dialogue amongst our senior politicians in Wales involved in these contests, Circular Economy Wales would like to congratulate Mark Drakeford on becoming Welsh Labour leader and First Minister. His agenda marks a gear change in Wales’ efforts to be totally sustainable.
Mark Drakeford has said that ‘our most radical days lay ahead of us’. His commitment to a Circular Economy, one in which Wales closes the loop on resources and wealth, could not be clearer. Three paragraphs into his leadership manifesto he states:
"We have to use infrastructure and skills to raise productivity, just as we have to move away from the ‘take, make, dispose’ linear economy model towards a circular economy – and my ambitions set out for the environment show just how urgent that need has become. A circular economy minimises the share of the world’s resources we take by reducing waste and emissions. Reuse, repair, recycle.
A circular economy is not predicated on a reduction in the living standards of today’s citizens, nor on loss of revenue or extra costs for today’s manufacturers. It does require a change in thinking and action for both, but those are all achievable"
Circular Economy Wales wholeheartedly agrees that the dual goal of safeguarding living standards whilst transitioning to a 100% sustainable future in terms of resources, energy and food, is achievable and should be our priority. and eliminating waste is an essential first step.
We’re also excited that his agenda sets out to ‘redesign the way in which government invests in economic growth, so that public investment has a social purpose’. Whilst there has been some progress made towards social clauses within procurement of contracts and services across Wales, the change has been slow: more often than not an optional extra and at worst ignored all together. Mark Drakeford has been very clear that the full and lasting benefits of government spend should be felt right at the coalface in our communities.
It’s encouraging that throughout his manifesto, his goals aren’t just slogans. In terms of social procurement, he proposes to ‘invest in a new pan-Wales public sector training programme for ethical procurement, making sure that skill levels of existing staff meet today’s needs and creating the professionals of the future’.
Once rolled out, we very much hope that the growing social enterprise sector in Wales will be recognised across the board for its strengths; of solving problems left unsolved by others and helping Wales move forward towards its sustainable goals. Antur Waunfawr, Crest Cooperative, Pembrokeshire Frame and Newport Wastesavers are just a handful of successful examples amongst many in the Social Economy in Wales who are helping pioneer a new future for us all. Priorities and goals that support their growth is to be welcomed 100%.
There is a glue of course that allows us the luxury of exploring and adapting to a totally sustainable society and socially focused spending. Mark Drakeford has outlined his commitment to the ‘foundational economy’, that is, all of the basic services on which every citizen relies upon which keep us safe, sound and civilised. His commitment to the expansion of community owned energy, anchors a key part of this economy to each and every one of us. This again is a fundamental part of our journey towards a global standard circular economy. The manifesto focus upon ‘wind, water and waves’ providing the cornerstone for Wales’ future economy is very exciting, not least because it will help remove, once and for all, the idea that burning expensive finite resources to create energy is good value. Tapping into the heat bi-product of the manufacturing industry is a totally different proposition however, circular thinking yet again from Mark Drakeford.
One of the only water companies in the UK to balance its books and not raise prices is our largest mutual, Welsh Water of course. A mutually run energy company for the people of Wales is long overdue. Mark Drakeford’s radical proposal is the game changer of the century. A Wales forever in control of its own energy needs.
Wales is surrounded by water, and it falls down our mountains and valleys, yet we consume imported water in plastic bottles; a phenomena that contributes to the crisis our sea life is now facing globally. Drinking fountains in all of our communities where we can fill bottles during our travel, work and leisure, is a very simple solution, yet radical in its impact. The plurality of impact is to be welcomed: enhancing communities, making money go further, pushing our Zero Waste goals even further and all based upon a natural and accessible product. Welsh water, our water.
From cover to cover, the Drakeford agenda is ram-packed with commitments that are long overdue: ‘halting and reversing the damage already caused to our natural environment’ gets to the very root of our unsustainable extractive system, backing up circular economy commitments. A new National Forest for Wales in the model of Attlee’s 1945 government offering national parks to the people and a commitment to ensure that fracking doesn’t ever happen on Welsh soil are also welcome.
Creating the industry capacity to provide modular housing through to a Clean Air Act, more innovations that will have huge knock on effects for the ways in which we live, manufacture and employ. As Clement Attlee rose to the challenge of moving beyond a Britain on its knees after the war, Mark Drakeford has risen to the challenge imposed upon Wales today, that of austerity and missed opportunities. Circular Economy Wales welcomes the agenda set out by Mark Drakeford and looks forward to collaborating with him and his government on this exciting journey.