Money-go-round

The Welsh Government has provided a £10 million loan fund for regenerating the town centres of Haverfordwest, Milford Haven, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock.

First out of the traps was Milford Haven Port Authority which put in a bid for a £1 million interest free loan to renovate the semi-derelict Quay Stores building opposite the entrance to Milford Docks.

Not unreasonably, traders in the town point out that this is not what most people think of as the town centre.

It seems that council leader Jamie Adams might agree with them because even he couldn’t suppress a wry grin (see cabinet webcast at 1hr 59 mins) when Cllr Keith Lewis told cabinet that the council had identified a suitable candidate for a loan: “The Quay Stores building which is just outside the Marina area and is adjacent to The Torch although at a lower level, but is a very valuable link towards the town centre.”

In fact there are two possible routes between Quay Stores and The Torch – one involves scaling a 100 foot cliff and the other a long uphill walk via Dartmouth Street.

A classic example of the PCC tactic of massaging the facts to support the desired conclusion.

Cllr Lewis was on stronger ground when he said that the building was “an eyesore” though it was not easy to understand why he should be “grateful” that the Port Authority had “entered into this discussion with enthusiasm” .

Hasn’t he heard that old one about never looking a gift horse in the mouth.

And the speed with which this was carried out was certainly impressive because, if I understood what was said at cabinet correctly, the council only submitted its bid to the Welsh Government the previous Friday and here we were just three days later (including the weekend) with an oven-ready project for cabinet approval.

This is all part of MHPA’s £90 million plan to redevelop Milford Docks into a leisure and retail centre that will be the envy of the world.

West Wales’ answer to Disneyland was how a very senior MHPA bod put it to me.

It is not obvious to me how setting up a rival retail area on the Docks is supposed to benefit the already struggling shopping centre in Charles Street.

Still, we mustn’t be negative because the Quay Stores site is to be occupied by Costa Coffee with the “creation” of nine jobs.

As I have said in the past, if all the jobs supposedly created by these grant schemes actually existed, we would all have three each.

But the simple fact is that, unless we all decide to increase our consumption of coffee, these jobs will lead to the destruction of jobs elsewhere.

If you want to “create” employment rather than just rearranging the deckchairs you have to attract new industries, though, as Cllr Lewis well knows, even then there is no guarantee that the new jobs will materialise.

And, while on the subject, things seem to have gone quiet on the Egnedol front.

For a more comprehensive history of the county council’s job-creating efforts see here and here.

More promising in that it passes the new jobs test is the £4 million grant awarded by Welsh Government to Wave-tricity Ltd – a company that, as its name suggests, aims to generate electricity from wave power.

The company is fronted by Matthew Fairclough-Kay whose Linkedin profile can be found here.

It kicks off: A strong leader and outstanding manager, thoroughly experienced at working in high pressured, fast-paced operational environments. Commercially astute, intellectually driven, results orientated professional, able to rapidly adapt to changing employment arenas.

That last bit about adapting to “rapidly changing employment arenas” seems to be true because he has had twelve different jobs since 1999.

So what are the prospects for this wave energy business about which Welsh Minister Mark Drakeford says: “It’s very encouraging that this scheme, which has such potential is being developed in Wales, particularly as it will lead to good employment and business opportunities in the local area.”

The amount of wave energy striking British shores in the average week is enough to power the UK for a year.

OK, so I made that up, but it is probably an understatement.

And the same could probably be said about wind, solar and tidal.

The problem arises when you try to turn it into electricity and send it down a wire to our homes.

The Scottish Government has some expensively-acquired expertise in this subject and as its website says:

The inherent challenge for the wave energy sector is to convert the high force provided by low velocity waves into appropriate motions required to generate electricity. This is coupled with the requirement for devices to survive extreme conditions whilst still requiring to be cost-competitive with other forms of offshore renewable energy.

The reason the Scots know about this is that they have poured large amounts of public money into wave energy research in the Orkneys.

This article from The Guardian dated September 2011 gives a flavour.

However reality turned out to be somewhat different and by December 2014 the Guardian was reporting that both the Orkneys’ wave energy companies had gone belly-up after the Scottish Government turned off the taxpayer-funded tap.
The Scottish Government is now taking a rather more cautious line.

Instead of giving money to start-up companies it is now funding research into specific problem areas one of which is the production of materials that can withstand the rigours of life on the ocean waves.

Of course, if the power of the wind, sun and sea could be harnessed to produce cheap reliable electricity it would be a boon to mankind, but we are a long way from realising that dream.

Considering the fantastic technological progress during my lifetime it would be a brave man who would bet against human ingenuity solving the problems of intermittency and storage that bedevil renewable energy.

However, I would point out that we have understood the principles of nuclear fusion for well over 50 years but, apart from the H-bomb, we still haven’t discovered a way to use the vast amounts of energy available from this process.

As someone said: Controlling nuclear fusion is ten years in the future and it is likely to stay that way.

And, while all this publicly-funded grant money is being thrown around, PCC’s spending cuts mean that it can’t find a measly twenty grand to keep open Hubberston and Hakin Community Centre.