Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Wales Suffers under British Suzerainty

Euro-handout is Wales’ last chance
Jun 3 2008 by Staff Reporter, Western Mail

THINGS were supposed to get better, but if the bare economic figures for a decade of Labour rule are anything to go by, Wales has failed to close the wealth gap with the rest of the UK. As we report today, Wales had the lowest growth rate of any part of the UK between 1997 and 2006. £1bn of EU economic aid does not seem to have narrowed the lead that English regions and Scotland have over us.

It’s a gloomy conclusion, and one that has an implied warning buried within it. If these are the results from what the Governor of the Bank of England recently called “the Nice decade”, the overall slowdown that is now happening is something that should worry us a great deal. Growth figures are not everything, of course. Other indicators tell a better story; unemployment is down, and incapacity benefit claims are also down – although not by anything like enough. Disposable income and house prices (until this year, at least) have also been on the rise. Parts of east Wales and the M4 corridor have been doing well.

Ministers in Cardiff Bay and Westminster can argue that the important measure is whether people are in work and feeling better off – rather than whether people somewhere else might be feeling even better off. But the growth figures are important. If Wales doesn’t close the gap, the remaining problems in the Welsh economy will never be ironed out. The Assembly Government used to claim it wanted to see Wales’ GVA figures reach 90% of the European Union average; it is stuck at 77% and the target has long since been ditched.

The Assembly Government now argues that the next round of EU funding will give it the opportunity to drive forward economic growth, and this aid – worth £1.8bn and surely the last major Brussels hand-out for Wales – feels more and more like the last chance for the Welsh economy. The fact that it is coming at all is a confirmation that there is still much to be done – “major challenges” as WAG says today.

So what should they be doing? Vocational courses in universities should be better matched to what Welsh business needs. Westminster plans for regional pay, the best way to institutionalise a poverty gap, should be resisted at all costs. Handouts for failing companies should be replaced with more support for incubator schemes for new small businesses and better investment in training and infrastructure. The EU money is there to do it. Policymakers have had a decade of UK economic growth to get the basics right; the next decade is unlikely to be as ‘nice’ as the last. Wales has the chance to pull itself up by its bootstraps and become a different, dynamic sort of economy. But do we have the political leadership to make sure we take that chance?

Independence Cymru thinks that political leadership is in the hands of the wrong politicians. Labour has lost its mandate to rule as a snap election would confirm.

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