Jonathan Edwards MP, Plaid Cymru Treasury spokesperson
Tomorrow the Westminster Chancellor will hold up his empty red box to the cameras again before he makes his way to the House of Commons to read out a statement full of very carefully picked statistics and policies.
It’s the British Government’s set-piece performance of the year, showcasing their ability to misdirect, mislead and misinform.
It’s the Chancellor’s chance to convince the public that he has a grip on the economy by finding specific statistics and comparing them with a select group of other countries.
No doubt we’ll hear that “growth is up” and that “debt is down”- up and down, that is, in relation to a very carefully picked, but arbitrary moment in time that will paint a positive picture for the Chancellor.
We’ll then hear the opposite side of the story from the Shadow Chancellor – “growth is down” and “debt is up”, he’ll shout – again, compared to a very carefully picked but arbitrary moment in time that will paint the UK Government in a bad light.
The reality of course is we already know in what the state the economy is, thanks to ongoing analysis by independent experts such as the Governor of the Bank of England.
He has already said that the UK has gone from being the fastest growing economy in the G7 to one of the slowest, since Brexit.
Once the statistical circus is over however, the Chancellor will unveil his new spending priorities and it is this section of his statement that I, as Plaid Cymru’s Treasury spokesperson, will be paying close attention to.
What will the Chancellor do, for example to deal with the 35% gulf between what workers are paid in Wales and what they are paid in London?
What will he do to make sure businesses are attracted to Wales so that not only are there more jobs created, but better paid jobs are created?
And what will he do to honour those promises made to the people of Wales during the Brexit campaign – that we would continue to receive every penny of existing EU funding after we leave?
Plaid Cymru has already published its alternative budget with a list of solutions to these problems and more.
At the core of our proposals is the principle that we should no longer have to come to Westminster at every budget and ask them if we could have some of our money back.
We shouldn’t have to ask Westminster to modernise our railways, upgrade our roads and build our tidal lagoons – we should be allowed to do it all ourselves.
For how much longer will we put up with being told there’s no money to invest in Welsh railways when our own taxes are being used to fund the most expensive railway in the world, linking London with other parts of England?
The Chancellor must use his budget tomorrow to commit to investing in Welsh infrastructure, or better still, let us do it ourselves.
The same principle applies to taxation. For how long must we keep arguing for fair funding from Westminster before we realise, we shouldn’t have to ask Westminster in the first place.
Every penny of VAT paid in Wales goes to Westminster for them to “redistribute”. Why not keep some of that in Wales for the Welsh Government to redistribute as is the case in Scotland?
Analysis from the Wales Governance Centre has shown that Wales would be better off if we kept this money in Wales.
We could also then finally implement Plaid Cymru’s policy of cutting VAT for the tourism sector, boosting the economy and boosting jobs across all parts of Wales.
The same applies to Income Tax and Corporation Tax as well as Air Passenger Duty.
We shouldn’t accept a situation whereby the British Government prevents the Welsh Government from making our country competitive because it would damage England’s interests.
That’s not how a mature, union of countries works – that is how an oppressive, rejected system of Westminster-rule works.
It’s not just Plaid Cymru making these calls. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said in September this year that the only way to fix the geographical inequality across the UK is through a major package of financial devolution, empowering the member countries of the UK.
Plaid Cymru’s alternative budget calls for these tools so that we can stop asking for help and instead start helping ourselves.
Our proposals also focus on UK-wide measures that the British Government could easily adopt themselves such as:
- Committing to including with every new policy announcement an impact assessment on how the policy will affect women
- A fuel duty regulator to ensure fuel prices remain stable and affordable in urban and rural areas
- The publication of Brexit impact assessments, allowing the public and businesses to understand exactly how the British Government’s proposals will affect them
- And abandoning the indefensible cut to Corporation Tax which will cost the public £2.6 billion a year by 2020/21.
The Chancellor has an opportunity tomorrow to change course, away from the failed agenda of cutting spending, towards a programme of investment, focussed on those areas that need it most.
He must remember that his job is to deliver for all four countries in the UK, not just his own.
Unless we see a dramatic change of tact from the Chancellor tomorrow, with major investment in all UK countries, with a clear intention of spreading economic growth, we in Wales must begin to change our tact instead and stop asking for help, and demand the tools to help ourselves instead.