This week (22nd May), I led a debate on the performance of the Welsh economy over the last 20 years since devolution.
Devolution was intended to significantly improve the economic performance of Wales, but by any measure, the economic data irrefutably indicates that the Welsh economy has under-performed over the past two decades and has comprehensively failed to catch up to the UK economy as a whole. The gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country are a national embarrassment.
There is a real necessity to end this regional inequality across Wales, and in turn see a boost in living standards and properly planned and funded health, education and local government services in all parts of Wales.
Of the three economic plans that have been launched since devolution, not one has succeeded in improving earnings or economic output, and the Welsh economy is still the weakest economy and has the lowest productivity in the UK.
The Welsh Government’s economic strategy over the past 20 years has primarily focused on attracting foreign direct investment, and while I of course welcome countries from across the world investing in Wales, the raw economic data shows that the Welsh Government hasn’t made the most of this opportunity and I would like to see new overseas offices to boot Welsh trade, particularly Mid Wales trade, and connect a strong Welsh economy with the world.
That said, the Welsh Government’s latest Economic Action Plan marks a shift away from the failed approach which has characterised the Welsh Government’s approach over the last 20 years since the advent of devolution. There is much to be applauded about the Welsh Government’s latest Economic Action Plan but it lacks detail and needs to have more ambition if we are to deliver a better deal for Welsh businesses, their employees and the country’s taxpayers.
The UK Government’s Industrial Strategy will ensure that jobs and opportunity are spread across the whole of Wales. This is helping the whole country get ready for economic change by investing in our infrastructure, driving up research spending and boosting the skills of our workforce. It is therefore important that Welsh Government policy is aligned with the UK Government’s Industrial strategy if the true potential of devolution is to be realised in Wales and so that we shake off our place at the bottom of the UK league tables.
I want to see a simplification and improvement in access to business support; reform of public procurement to support SMEs in Wales; a strong, forward-thinking and diverse economy by focussing on adult learning, upskilling and re-skilling; and improving our infrastructure through the delivery of a robust and future-proof transport network.
For example, the Newtown Bypass has the potential to transform the economy of towns such as Newtown, Llanidloes and Machynlleth, and I firmly believe that the Newtown Bypass will serve to resolve local traffic congestion issues, improve school safety, and improve response times of the emergency services and support tourism and the wider Mid Wales economy. It is good news that it has come in on budget but it has to be said that this is the exception rather than the rule and too many major transport projects in Wales are delivered late and over budget.
Finally, it is crucial we see the strengthening of the country’s growth deals. These deals have a strong regional focus and are centred on building collaboration and partnership between neighbouring local authorities in order to raise regional growth and prosperity.
Fulfilling the Mid Wales Growth deal will enable us to take advantage of the investment and export opportunities which arise in boosting trading links with other partners from all over the world.
If all of these measures are combined, I believe we will see an improved and more ambitious Welsh Economic Action Plan which will deliver real economic outcomes for the people of Mid Wales.