‘This report is the most comprehensive record of Welsh Government progress ever produced and sets out clearly what actions we are taking to deliver on our promises.
‘My government is committed to being open and transparent. By publishing for the first time the progress we have made across all areas we can be judged by our record and our ability to deliver on our commitments. This report provides the hard evidence we need to help make a difference to the people of Wales.’ So said our First Minister when launching his annual report.
‘Comprehensive’ well it’s certainly long and contains lots and lots of statistics. But it takes an anorak to work through them all
What is clear if you delve behind the figures is that Wales is under performing when it comes to the economy. And it doesn’t all come down to the Westminster government. If that was the case all the devolved countries would be in the same boat, they’re not.
Now the government can rightly point out that it could do more with more powers. It wants borrowing powers. With such powers a programme of infrastructure work could be embarked on. And as Northern Ireland and Scotland are able to borrow it does seem unfair that Wales doesn’t have the same powers.
It is a fact that Wales is underfunded – that’s the infamous Barnett formula to you and me. Yes, Wales could do with the extra cash. But it’s a bit rich that the Welsh Government is complaining about the lack of action by the coalition government in Westminster when the last Labour government did absolutely nothing about it and even now the shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls does not regard it as important.
On four important indicators, gross disposable household income (GDHI), income, and gross value added (GVA) and employment rate Wales is failing.
On GDHI the gap between Wales and England is a massive 14 per cent there is even a 10 per cent gap between Wales and Scotland. GDHI is important as it can be seen as the amount of money people have available to spend – or save. Clearly Welsh people have less to spend than those in England and Scotland. Less to spend means less going into Welsh businesses and of course less people in work.
And the affect of this can be seen in both GVA and employment. GVA measures the value of all goods and services that are produced. It is the main indicator of economic performance. If the average for the UK is a 100, Wales of all the four countries in the UK is bottom of the league with 74. England is on102, Scotland 99 and even Northern Ireland produce more than us with 76. If this was a school Wales would have to wear the dunce’s hat.
No production means no jobs and then high unemployment.That’s why employment rates in Wales have lagged behind those of the UK average.
So whats to be done?
Well, if you listen to government they’ve been hyperactive.
A £40 million Wales SME Investment Fund to provide loans for small businesses to help them expand. A £75 million Jobs Growth Wales pilot to create 4000 opportunities annually for 16 ’“ 24 year olds. A Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan outlining how more than £3.5 billion will be spent on capital projects ranging from hospitals to schools to roads. Support to 4000 individuals between April 2011 and March 2012 through our Business Start Up Service resulting in the creation of 660 enterprises and 1752 jobs. Five Enterprise Zones operational across Wales and a further two announced.An 80% success rate in the number of apprentices who complete each step of their training with companies compared to 54% five years ago. And it goes on.
But by the facts they’ll be judged.
Valuable though these schemes are one gets the feeling they’ve been drawn up like a sticking plaster to stop a major hemorrhage. Well meaning but ineffective.
Government should concentrate on just two factors. The first is to dramatically improve the transport infrastructure. The transport network is more akin to that of a third world country than a modern European country.
Secondly, the First Minister should up the ante in education.
An international study, which aimed at evaluating education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in participating countries. The Welsh results were significantly lower than the OECD average and the other UK nations and ranked 38th compared to other participant countries. For us to succeed economically an educated work force is necessary.
Politics is about choice. With public expenditure cuts there is less money to spread around so choices have to be made. Let them back priorities that help make Wales more prosperous.
So Cheryl Gillan is proposing to change the electoral system for future Assembly elections. Her suggestions are that there should be 30 constituency seats and 30 elected in the regions. At the moment there are 40 constituency and 20 regional Assembly Members.
What Mrs Gillian wants is Assembly constituencies to mirror those of Westminster. Her view is that the poor voter could not cope with living in different constituencies to vote for the two different democratic bodies.
In order to stem the criticism that Westminster is changing a system that effects the Welsh Assembly they have made the proposals in the form of Green paper. Thus allowing all those confused voters to write in with their views. As if.
And whose decision will it be in the end? Well, Mrs Gillan’s, of course.
Not only is she asking about the constituencies but she’s also posing other questions.
Now do you want the length of an Assembly term to be extended permanently to five years. It has been extended to five years next time round to prevent the election falling on the same day as the general election, then it will revert back to the original four year cycle.
Another vexed issue to be consulted on is should all candidates be allowed to stand both in constituencies and on regional lists. Vexed because it agitates politicians, most others just shrug their shoulders and say so what.
If you’re a political anorak you’ll remember that at first, Assembly candidates could put there names forward for both a constituency and a region. If they were elected for a constituency they would come off the regional list.
Labour were very unhappy with this ’˜cos they were winning constituencies and often a political opponent would be elected on the regional vote and open an office in the same constituency and use it as a base to win support.
Peter Hain when Secretary of State axed the system. At the time the Conservatives said that they would reintroduce it when back in power. So now it’s in the Green Paper.
Finally, it will consider whether AMs should be barred from also sitting as MPs and members of the House of the Lords. At present, this would only affect one AM ’“ former Presiding Officer Lord Elis-Thomas.
The change would act as a real disincentive for Westminster politicians deciding on a career in Wales if the effect of them seeking a seat in the Assembly was a Westminster by-election.
When Rhodri Morgan, Ron Davies, Ieuan Wyn Jones and Dafydd Wigley decided to become Assembly Members, they held on to their Westminster seats until the next general election. Then stood down. Under this proposal they would all have had to stand down as did Cynog Dafis, resign their seats and cause an immediate by-election.
Party whips would be most unhappy if this were to happen. You can imagine the arm twisting to prevent MPs making the move.
The green paper misses a trick in not addressing the issue recently raised by Rosemary Butler, Presiding Officer of the the Assembly about increasing the size of the Assembly to that of eighty members.
A number suggested not only by her but also by Lord Richard in his forensic analysis on the needs of the Assembly. Eighty, according to him is the number required of Assembly Members to do the job ‘proper’ . Passing laws, committees that really scrutinise and hold real inquiries and sufficient backbenchers to hold the government properly to account. But that’s bye the bye.
Perhaps, a more fundamental question needs addressing. Should it be Westminster’s business at all. Yes, they have the legal powers but should they not pass these to the Assembly.
Surely how the people of Wales elect their own Assembly should be decided in Wales. Appropriately by the Assembly. Westminster politicians should keep their collective noses out.
After all two referendums have shown that the people of Wales more and more want decisions relating to Wales to be made in Wales.
In Barcelona on Tuesday an estimated 20,000 young people took to the streets. The complaint – cuts to education.
They attached the blame to austerity measures forced on them by the EC. More specifically they blame Angela Merkel. All their woes they blame on an outsider.
Now here in Wales the cause of much unhappiness stems from a decision taken in June 2010, to be specific from George Osborne’s first budget. At the time he had a strategy.
The strategy? To cut the public sector dramatically and reduce the country’s debt. But not to worry the private sector would step in and as the song goes ‘none would be a penny the worst.’
Oh yes, this activity would be based on the economy growing by 2.3% in 2011. And then the throttle would really be down for growth of 2.8% in 2012.
But woe upon woe, the economy didn’t share our dear chancellor’s optimism. The consensus is now of growth of about 0.5% in the economy. Even this look’s optimistic. Yesterday figures show that the economy contracted again. Yes, shrank by 0.3%.
The reasons as to why could fill an economic text book. But put simply and biblically, successive UK governments have been like the five unwise virgins and not made adequate provision for the future.
An over dependent on the financial sector. Manufacturing and production have been allowed to shrink to almost nothing. The country’s skill base is low and to top it all proper investment in infrastructure has been extremely limited.
If the economy was a family, social workers would describe it as dysfunctional.
And the medicine? George’s answer, bleed the patient more. Wrong choice, Mr Osborne.
To squeeze incomes so that consumers can’t spend is wrong on so many levels. But on the simplest of levels no spending means companies won’t invest. Despite many sitting on large cash balances they’re not going to do anything unless there is hope of growth.
So what’s to be done. The agenda should be the same as that demanded by the young of Barcelona. Stop the cuts. Invest in education and skills and much higher investment in infrastructure. Bring hope back.
It’s an agenda for Wales, the UK and Europe as a whole. Mrs Merkel and Mr Cameron had better take their blinkers off and embrace a proper plan for growth.