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Opinion

There’s a new group that quite rightly is putting economic growth at the centre of Welsh democracy

30 Jul 2023 9 minute read
Former Welsh Economy Minister Ken Skates

Martin Shipton

Within the last few weeks I’ve become aware of a recently formed campaign organisation called Britain Remade.

At first I was suspicious of it. In Wales, wherever you stand on the unionist v nationalist debate, the inclusion of the word “Britain” in the name of a campaigning body often signifies an association with the far right.

There have, it seems, been countless racist and fascist groups that have sought to attract followers by appealing to their base instincts, and especially to the idea that Britain is somehow superior to other states and races. These days it’s true that “England” is coming into its own for the same discreditable reasons, but there have been too many British National Parties and Britain Firsts to dilute such a first impression.

I became aware of Britain Remade when I received a press release about a poll it had commissioned on the issue of the Welsh Government’s policy of having a presumption against the building of new roads. I immediately wondered whether Andrew RT Davies had had a hand in the poll, which showed a clear majority opposed to the new roads “ban”. I’ve read so many press releases and tweets from the Welsh Tory Senedd group leader about the scrapping of the M4 relief road that any mention of the issue immediately brought him to mind.

It was, nevertheless, heartening to see that the poll figures were the result of a bona fide survey run by polling professionals rather than merely a straw poll of anyone who fancied participating.

Boris Johnson

I then looked at the website of Britain Remade to see whether my suspicions about the group’s political leanings were correct. I looked at the individuals involved and noted that some of them had been Tory special advisers for Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. That didn’t endear them to me. But my response became more positive when I looked at the organisation’s messaging. It’s about the need for economic growth, with practical suggestions about how to achieve it.

I actually found this refreshing. These days there are so many single issue campaigns competing for attention that it’s easy for the issue with the greatest potency of all to get lost in the crowd.

If there is one thing that Wales needs, it’s surely economic growth. Barely a week goes by without some new piece of research being published that lays bare the serious shortcomings of the Welsh economy. It may be about the shockingly high levels of child poverty, the increasing prevalence of zero hours contracts or the proportion of people falling into debt because their income is too small. Academic studies about the evidence of multi-deprivation evident in the south Wales Valleys have become virtually a cottage industry in their own right.

Yet such reports are almost invariably at their strongest when they diagnose the problems and at their weakest when they posit any solutions. Depending on the ideological bent of the author, the blame for Wales’ relative poverty can be placed on unconstrained capitalism, misguided socialism, the inevitable drawbacks of unionism or the naivety of nationalism. Too often the research ignores or skates over the issue that could help make large numbers of lives better: the attainment of economic growth.

It’s not difficult to work out why that’s so. In recent decades it’s become fashionable in many quarters to deride the concept of growth as something damaging to humans or the environment. At its worst it’s portrayed as the reason why campaigners wanting to save the Amazonian rainforest get murdered or why we are facing a climate crisis.

Yet if we are really committed to improving the plight of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens who are currently sinking in poverty, we should confront the reality that growth is the most effective means of doing so.

Spending power

Wales could not be said to be overburdened with multimillionaires ripe to be squeezed dry of their fortunes. Increasing income tax for the relatively wealthy would not raise anywhere near the funds required to crack poverty. There needs to be a general strengthening of spending power – and that can only come through growing the economy. That’s not the end of the story, of course. A nation’s economy can grow even though the benefits of growth are grabbed by a tiny minority, leaving the bulk of the population no better off. But the starting point has to be growth.

In Wales, however, our political class tends to emphasise the need for change that is not focused on growth, but on factors that could, if interpreted narrowly, militate against it.

Britain Remade appears to be a campaigning organisation that is prepared to move away from the previous political affiliations of its founders, who insist that they are going out of their way to engage across the political spectrum.

My one reservation is that they won’t touch the Brexit issue, despite the fact that there is a consensus of sensible economists who believe that rejoining the European single market would boost the UK economy.

Funding

Nevertheless, it’s to Britain Remade’s credit that they are not opaque about their funding, as so many propaganda outfits posing as think tanks are (I don’t place them in that category).

They tell me they have three main sources of revenue, the first of which is the Quadrature Climate Foundation, a charity offshoot of a sustainable investment company which acknowledges we are in a climate emergency and states: “We are focused on helping get global emissions of greenhouse gases onto a rapidly declining pathway. We support work on the main sources of the problem, and are happy funding a wide range of ideas and ways of working that can trigger positive change.”

The second source of funding is the European Climate Foundation, which describes itself as “a major philanthropic initiative working to help tackle the climate crisis by fostering the development of a net-zero emission society at the national, European, and global level”, adding: “The ECF supports over 700 partner organisations to carry out activities that drive urgent and ambitious policy in support of the objectives of the Paris Agreement, contribute to the public debate on climate action, and help deliver a socially responsible transition to a net-zero economy and sustainable society in Europe and around the world.”

The third source of funding is the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, founded in 1904 by a businessman and philanthropist from York, whose guiding mission was to tackle impoverishment. Its website states: “For us, ending poverty in the UK is a moral cause: to ensure dignity and respect for everyone, and to address exclusion and powerlessness.”

None of these funding organisations has a whiff of right wing opportunism about them, which leads me to the position that I believe Britain Remade to be a bona fide and sincere campaign group that has no ulterior motive and is straightforward about what it is trying to achieve.

Road building

It’s currently mounting a campaign against the Welsh Government’s quasi new road building ban and in favour of a third road bridge to Anglesey, claiming that such initiatives would trigger growth.

As if to prove that it’s serious about being a cross-party group, Britain Remade has enlisted support for its roads campaign from both Ynys Mon MP Virginia Crosbie and former Welsh Labour Economy and Transport Minister Ken Skates.

Mr Skates, the MS for Clwyd South, said: “The need for the UK and every other nation to be Net Zero by 2050 is beyond contention. We must do it while also solving the problems of a terribly unequal economy, sluggish growth and low productivity.

“If we are willing to be radical, we can lead the race to Net Zero in road construction, while also turbocharging the economy and levelling up the UK. Denmark is spending €22bn on new roads, China is predicted to be spending $8 trillion. We should be equally ambitious in investing in infrastructure to address inequality, but with a determination to lead the world in low carbon innovation that reduces embedded carbon.

“Effectively banning road improvements won’t lead to lower emissions, regardless of how virtuous such a declaration appears. In fact, it will worsen emissions in many of the most deprived communities we serve, further poison children who face many other disadvantages and widen the gaps in life expectancy and employment opportunities. We cannot walk away from the problems of environmental injustice and social injustice. We must instead seek to lead in providing solutions to both.”

Prosperity

Growth, says Britain Remade, is about creating the conditions that lead to well-paid jobs that put money in the pockets of ordinary people that they can spend in their local communities, making them more prosperous.

There will, of course, be disagreements about the means to achieve such positive outcomes. But the ambition articulated by this new campaign group seems to me to pose a long overdue challenge to the Welsh Government. In the early years of devolution, it had a target that the economic value of Wales per head would be 90% that of the whole UK. When it became clear that the target was regarded as unachievable, it was downgraded to an aspiration and then ditched altogether.

The Welsh Government likes setting targets to be achieved in decades, when none of the present ministers will be around to be held accountable. I conclude by stating that there’s surely a good case now for setting economic growth targets.


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Dai Rob
Dai Rob
6 months ago

Excellent article Ships…don’t agree with it all, but struggling to come with arguments against it! Da iawn!!!

Alwyn Evans
Alwyn Evans
6 months ago

Martin Shipyon, as always, writes a good deal of sense. Isn’t it about time that Welsh Labour and Plaid forgot dogma, and started to take some positive action to improve prosperity and foster growrth in all parts of Wales? Commitment to a third Menai crossing MUST be one of the first steps.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
6 months ago
Reply to  Alwyn Evans

The 1st step is being able to take positive action without the UK government taking their share of our efforts.
We need to take over all our taxation and use that collected to benefit the Welsh economy.
No fancy loss-making nuclear power stations involving imports of expensive uranium.

We can harvest the wind by offshore wind turbines if Wales actually owned its surrounding waters instead of the Uk’s crown estates.

Forget ‘Britain’ — ‘Lets Remake Wales’ for our people.

Gwion
Gwion
6 months ago

The Labour party has shown a complete lack of economic ambition for Cymru. It likes to criticise (and quite rightly) the Tories poor management of the economy, but has failed to show any evidence of the vision and bravery that an Independent future Cymru needs and deserves.
Labour views the future through BritNat eyes and is repeating the mistakes/economic vandalism of the past.
Whilst the Tories are undermining our nation’s political powers, Labour are handing over the powers of our ratural resources.

Annibendod
Annibendod
6 months ago

Just looked at their website. Just another arrangement of anglo-supremacist right-wingers masquerading as “British”. Their whole play appears to be “Make Britain Great Again.” We all know the connotations. Why should Cymry align themselves with such people? I have no quarrel with a shared British identity that is fully inclusive of Alba, Cymru, Kernow and England. I will have no truck with anyone who wishes to impose a singular and alien anglo-British nationhood on the peoples of these isles. Why Shipton has give oxygen to these chancers I do not know … and I haven’t even began to pick apart… Read more »

Mawkernewek
6 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

Their main thesis seems to be to bring back the good times with a splurge of infrastructure spending to kickstart growth. To be honest, I don’t see what they have to offer with respect to ‘Welsh Democracy’ specifically.
They seem to be offering a simple quick-fix to Britains problems, and I find it a little concerning that a journalist here seems to be becoming one of their followers.
Anyway, how does zero carbon road construction work?

CJPh
CJPh
6 months ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

Their argument seems to merge the idea of lower emissions in urban areas, which is more to do with air pollution and health effects, and carbon emissions. Now, would limiting cars in urban areas whilst NOT increasing connecting roads lower carbon emissions? Nope. This does nothing to mitigate behaviour in real terms. Plenty of “30,000 ft-from-above-view” infrastructure projects fail to take into account how people behave. “Build it and they will comply” almost never works. “Why are our city centres dying?” – internet and plenty of Welsh towns built edge-of-the-community retail parks. “Why doesn’t midnight basketball help lower crime in… Read more »

Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson
6 months ago

So, more of the same will result in a different outcome? Is this the same ‘economic growth’ that has undermined critical life support systems (fresh air, clean water, healthy soil) across the globe? There are huge opportunities in Cymru for cultural growth, educational growth, personal growth, political growth… Material growth, not so much. England’s backwardness can only hold us back – independence is now essential. Would that these promoters of the grandiose spent their time on developing more effective mechanisms for the redistribution of the wealth and resources we have, not only within Cymru but globally! What the Welsh Government’s… Read more »

max wallis
max wallis
6 months ago

Certainly the rigid lockdowns demonstrated Labour’s irresponsible disregard for the economy. But GNP and growth above all, with money-in-pockets plus much more in foreign investor dividends has long failed us. LG collapsed at the start, Bosch and Fords have gone. WG promotion of aerospace (largely military) faltered. Wales had a period where indigenous investment was in favour with economists, but Labour never promoted the investment in renewable marine energy as successful in Scotland. “Growth” of Cardiff Bay, profitable to Lord Crickhowell, ABP and a few landowners has resulted in an urban failure, spacious roadways and carparking, poor public transport, tower… Read more »

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
6 months ago

We have been waiting twenty five years for the Senedd’s labour government to produce – and act upon – an economic development policy.
I won’t hold my breath…..

Mawkernewek
6 months ago

I’m not really impressed by the transparency of their funding. On their website they say “At this time, Britain Remade is funded by grants from a range of organisations, that include European Climate Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and Quadrature Climate Foundation.” This doesn’t say how much they got from the named organisations, or how much they got from elsewhere, it is entirely possible they got a small amount of money out of generally reputable organisations they are happy to list, but the lions share from elsewhere. And when they say they are not taking grassroots funding, this makes it clear… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
6 months ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

I’ll bet a few quid that the next Truss or Kwarteng will emerge from their ranks.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
6 months ago

The inclusion of the name ‘Britain’ is where it ends for me and the ‘remade’ part can only come to fruition when all the countries upon this rock which bears the geological, not political, name of Great Britain are free standing and working together on the basis of mutual respect, not at the crack of the Empires’ whip.

Battleship Pojenkins
Battleship Pojenkins
6 months ago

“Won’t touch the Brexit issue” like attempting to fix a car but refusing to open the bonnet. Give me a shout when it’s Britain De-made.

Mawkernewek
6 months ago

Brexit was the previous quick fix. When that didn’t work the answer was for Truss+Kwarteng to dangle the prospect of low taxes. If that doesn’t work then try something else to inspire a revitalization movement.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
6 months ago

All your efforts will fail unless Wales has control of its full economic and political power here at home, with the vision to improve our people. It is not just about all our decisions made centrally in Cardiff Bay either, but in the communities where we live. We need to control, raise and spend our own domestic tax here in Wales. Not to let Britain or England take decisions for us. Old centralised controlled regimes ultimately fail as they did in Eastern Europe. A federal independent Wales (we need) must have its own financial system with facilities to raise wealth… Read more »

George Thomas
George Thomas
6 months ago

Telling communities who haven’t seen sufficient investment in infrastructure that no investment is coming due to climate emergency needs is not good enough. Telling us that we have until 2050 to complete agreed action on climate emergency is a lie. It’s agreed action because it’s so unambitious and allows for so much damage to the climate before future governments have to start acting seriously. But Wales is a country of communities on the coast and in flood risk areas and these areas are at risk. We’re already in a position where we need to start talking about what will help… Read more »

Mawkernewek
6 months ago
Reply to  George Thomas

I’m not sure what their plan for Wales is other than it being somewhere that will export electricity to England.

There isn’t really much detail specifically on Wales at their website, but for Scotland it says this:

To make Britain energy secure by 2030, we will need to more than triple the amount of energy generated from offshore wind, connect two new nuclear power stations to the grid, and build more grid infrastructure in the next seven years than was built in the last 32. Scotland can and must play a vital role in this story.

Powerbook for Scotland

Karl
Karl
6 months ago

When you use terms like “political class”, it’s bowing to nonsense. They represent us. Now we do need a change, but far right buzz words are very off putting, even if I want an indy supporter. It’s the arrogance of the British idea of class system, royalty and empire glories that stops us being better for all. I am sat in Spain now on hols. The clear lack of inflation issues is clear and shop shelves full. While the drive is not car movement at all cost either. People miserable as they move about or bad driving as life is… Read more »

Windy
Windy
6 months ago

The bottom line is the same, somebody somewhere will make make money out this.
Always remember the old saying
“ you get nothing for nothing”

Glwyo
Glwyo
6 months ago

I for one am very excited about the climate change reversal that building more roads and driving more cars will usher in

Rob
Rob
6 months ago

Britain needs to be disbanded, not ‘remade’.

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