5 things the UK Government could do in 2018 to help reverse Wales’ decline

Picture: National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Leanne Wood

As we mark the beginning of a new year, we have reached the point where half of the world’s wealth lies in the hands of 1% of the global population.

Possibly not the most cheerful new year’s message but it is nonetheless a striking fact which lays bare the need to tackle this gross inequality.

While it is one of the wealthiest states on earth, the UK is not immune from this scourge of deep income inequality which sees poverty and privilege living side by side.

Our all-Wales agenda provides a vision for spreading prosperity and opportunity. We know we can be different to this – we don’t have to be a country where rural and urban communities are pitted against each other as services are cut and town centres stripped of vital facilities.

So, what can be done?

While all attention in Whitehall focuses on all matters related to Brexit, we will not allow the UK Government to shy away from its day to day duties when it comes to providing meaningful employment to fuel a strong economy.

Stagnant wages and slumping productivity rates pre-date Brexit and will outlast it too unless radical action is taken to rebalance the economy and prompt a much-needed rise in living standards.

Here are five things the Prime Minister and her Cabinet could do in 2018 to help overturn a decade of decline in Wales:

  1. Commit to the single market and customs union

The benefits of single market and customs union membership for Wales are unquestionable. 200,000 Welsh jobs are linked to the European single market while no other nation in these islands sends more of their exports to the EU.

As negotiations move to their second phase set to focus on trade, now is the time for her to make a firm commitment to the thousands of workers and businesses in Wales and beyond who would lose out should the UK sever its most important economic ties with the EU.

If the most ardent right-wing Tories get their way we will career towards an extreme Tory Brexit that will see workers even worse off than now, while trade deals are designed to line the pockets of City fat cats.

  1. Invest in infrastructure

Wales’s transport network is outdated and in urgent need of an upgrade. Our roads and railways are wholly inadequate and unable to cope with increasing commuter numbers.

Plaid Cymru has long made the case for extra capital investment in Welsh infrastructure of 1% of UK GDP, equating to around £20bn. This would mean an additional £1bn a year for Wales to invest in properly connecting our country with transport links fit for the 21st century.

The Westminster government is not only guilty of chronic underinvestment in Wales but also of backtracking on promised proposals.

Be it cancelling the electrification of the main line to Swansea or going cold on the Tidal Lagoon, the Prime Minister must right these wrongs and deliver these long overdue projects for Wales.

  1. Prioritise deprived areas for investment

The ‘boom and bust’ economic model pursued by Labour and Tory governments in Westminster has seen the wealth gap between the nations and regions of the UK grow.

The Chancellor should bring in an Economic Fairness Bill to proritise deprived areas for investment to rebalance the economy – a principle applied successfully in Germany during the 1990s.

At present, a disproportionate amount of money is ploughed into London and the south east of England leading to the economies of these areas overheating while Wales is left behind.

  1. Deliver tax justice

The blight of tax avoidance and evasion has seen the Treasury lose out on at least £2bn a year for nearly the past decade.

However, the tax gap i.e. uncollected taxes is far higher at around £34bn in 2015/16 – more than double the entire annual Welsh budget.

The Prime Minister should make it a priority to get to grips with a more robust and transparent tax system where those with the most bear the greatest burden.

A Financial Transaction Tax on bankers’ trading transactions, for example, would raise around £20bn a year.

  1. Empower employees

Much noise was made about then Chancellor Osborne’s ‘National Living Wage’ announced in the 2015 UK Budget.

While the Tory spin machine was in overdrive, it didn’t go unnoticed that this rebranding exercise fell short of the ‘real living wage’ of £8.75 an hour, as defined by the Living Wage Foundation.

People who are paid properly are more productive and have more money to spend in their local economies.

With so many people forced to rely on working tax credits to top up poverty pay, a real living wage is matter of economic sense and something the UK Government should adopt without delay.

Another powerful move, in principle and in practice, would be to appoint workers to remuneration committees.

This would give lower paid workers a greater say over decisions which affect their employment conditions and ensure better scrutiny of chief executives’ pay.

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