Wales was neglected by the Budget – so we need the power to invest in our own country
Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru
Buried beneath the downwards forecasts in the Chancellor’s Autumn budget was the usual promise to rebalance the British economy so that it works for all parts of the UK.
This is a commitment we often look out for in Wales, refusing to surrender our ‘optimism of the will’ that the UK Government will announce big infrastructure projects to boost the Welsh economy.
Twenty years since Wales voted ‘yes’ to devolution, the UK Government still controls the crucial spending and investment levers over the Welsh economy, especially when it comes to the kind of large infrastructure projects that we need.
While a welcome process of tax devolution is occurring here, progress is slow and gradual.
Wales is forced to be dependent on the Chancellor’s promises.
That’s why Welsh eyes turn to the Chancellor to see whether anything for Wales will come out of his Red Book.
It’s a situation that Plaid Cymru is neither happy nor comfortable with.
Plaid Cymru Members of Parliament maximise every opportunity to raise Wales’ interests directly with the UK Government.
But they would be far happier seeing those decision-making powers vested in Wales, so that we didn’t have to be at the whim of predictable indecision at the other end of the M4.
Going into last week’s budget, one hundred Welsh businesses, most of the biggest names in the private sector in our country, demanded Number 10 get behind the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.
Yet they were rebuffed by the Chancellor, with no support whatsoever announced.
This follows the cancellation of rail electrification to Swansea.
Contrast this treatment to Scotland, where decisions on large-scale renewable energy and rail projects are devolved to the Scottish Government.
In that country, substantial green infrastructure projects are being developed and rail electrification is going ahead.
On Welsh rail infrastructure, another major responsibility of the UK Government here, Phillip Hammond missed an opportunity to announce electrification of the North Wales Main Line.
Instead, he mentioned journey time improvements which have in any case already been talked about by Network Rail and don’t constitute a new announcement.
Looking ahead, Wales is expected to pin its hopes on further ‘growth deals’, namely for the north and also for mid Wales.
But these have either already been announced, or lack any detail.
Growth deals from the UK Government will not be opposed by Plaid Cymru, but we need to understand their potential role as window-dressing for years of underinvestment and neglect.
The regions of Wales are full of untapped potential.
Strong and close-knit communities are being held back and disadvantaged by inadequate broadband, antiquated rail infrastructure, and poor road links.
That’s not my idea of a pro-business and pro-growth environment and isn’t something people in Wales should be rewarding at the ballot box.
One of the greatest impacts of the Budget on Wales will be felt in the predicted slowdown in economic growth.
It is now undeniable that the UK economy is flagging compared to the rest of the advanced world.
Growth, productivity, and business investment have all been revised downwards by the OBR.
Add this to the fact that inflation is hitting Welsh pockets harder than almost all other parts of the UK, and we face a fresh squeeze on living standards.
The failure of Westminster government to create any kind of stability or certainty in the Brexit negotiations is a major factor in this, but we need to face the reality that we have still not recovered from the 2008 financial crisis.
It’s not only a case of lessons being unlearnt, but that the opportunity to build a sustainable post-crash economy has been squandered by successive Conservative and Labour governments.
We must move beyond the mantra of ‘poor old Wales’ if we are to see our country flourish.
People here cannot doesn’t reach their full potential as long as Wales lacks confidence, vibrancy, innovation, and self-reliance.
We have a vested interest in Wales being an economic and social success story.
To get there, we either need forward-thinking announcements from the UK Government, or we need to be given the tools to do the job ourselves.
This budget gave us neither of those outcomes.
In that light, the Welsh Government now needs to redouble its efforts to secure better results for our country.
Until that happens, the age-old question of ‘who speaks for Wales?’ will continue to be answered with silence when it comes to Whitehall.