‘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.