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OPINION - COUNTING OUR EURO BLESSINGS

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With a final chorus of 'If you ever go across the sea to Ireland' we toasted the New Year in one of those Kerry bar...
With a final chorus of 'If you ever go across the sea to Ireland' we toasted the New Year in one of those Kerry bars where licensing hours do not apply.

A heated argument raged about our shiny new euros and whether the demise of the punt or the pound would see the end of civilisation as we knew it.

Peace broke out only when we played a silly game of trying to count the number of European flags we'd seen on the way from the airport. We agreed Ireland - with Objective One support - had transformed its economy.

In Wales we are attempting the same transformation. The Welsh Assembly's economic development strategy, A Winning Wales, sets a target of lifting GDP per head from 80% to 90% of the UK average within 10 years.

A£1.6 bn investment will help create 135,000 jobs and skills levels will be boosted to equip people for those new jobs.

But critics of the strategy think the targets are weak and the budget does not appear to include any new funding.

Local government would have liked more emphasis on under-16 education, transport, the management of regeneration and the role of councils in delivering an environment in which businesses can flourish.

If jobs are to be created in Wales we need a massive investment in infrastructure.

The Assembly is to be applauded for its recent initiative in broadband investment, but the state of real highways in Wales is desperate. Do we have the right links between Wales and major export markets? Are our trunkroads and motorways, railfreight links, ports and airports up to the job?

Soft investment in skills, environment and community development must be matched by hard investment in infra-structure if the Welsh dragon is to match the Celtic tiger.

When the M4 stops outside Swansea and we have no high-speed rail services, it is hard to see how west Wales will achieve the vision of Winning Wales.

Objective One priorities marginalise infrastructure investment with only£130m of the£1.14bn total allocated to infrastructure development.

The Irish development plan recognises transport as key to further economic prosperity and, with Wales as the main land carrier between Ireland and the rest of Europe, we should too.

Meanwhile if you live in an Objective One area my advice is to buy shares in paint - every house between Cork and Killarney has been tastefully colour-washed the blue and gold of Europe.

Viv Sugar

Chief executive,

City & County of Swansea Council

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