We need to invest all over Wales to save the country from spiralling poverty

Market Day in Rhyl. Picure by Joe Blundell (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Member for the Economy and Finance

One strange and under-discussed aspect of living in modern day Wales is the way in which we have become acclimatised to atrocious economic results.

Governments in Wales and Westminster alike continue down a fiscal policy path we can all see is not working. They have numbed us to reports of poor productivity, poor growth and poor people.

Every December the independent Office for National Statistics produces its economic measures of the previous 12 months and every single year Wales comes in bottom of the league.

There’ll be a few news stories, maybe some political commentary, but then we’ll move on to the next thing – until the next year, and then the following year, and then the year after that.

We are caught in a Groundhog Day cycle of just being asked to accept low pay and low skilled work as the prevailing norm for ourselves and our children.

When we in Plaid Cymru highlight the vast economic failings of Government in Wales and Westminster, we are not making a partisan point but pointing out the stark statistical realities.

The Welsh economy is not working, and something needs to change.

Growth

In 2017 Wales had the lowest Gross Value Added (GVA) per head in the UK at just £19,899. This means a mere £19,899 of economic productivity for each and every person in our nation.

To put these figures into perspective, Scotland produced £25,485 per person while England produced £28,086 for each of its citizens.

The economy of London in 2017 was almost two and a half times more productive than the Welsh economy, bringing in £48,857 per person.

As numbers on a page these can seem quite abstract, but the real-life implications of these statistics are lower quality jobs, lower wages and an overall lower standard of living for people in Wales.

Our poor productivity is a material reality. It has a knock-on effect every day on our health, our life expectancy, and even on our happiness.

It does not manifest itself just in government reports or broadsheet newspapers but in your home, your child’s school and in your workplace.

Economics is not about lines on a graph, it is about the real lives of real people. It’s the money we have in our pockets and the money we have to spend in our communities.

Of the four nations of the UK, Wales also had the lowest economic growth between 2016 and 2017 at a mere 1.4%.

Meanwhile the Scottish, Northern Irish and English economies grew by 1.6%, 1.9% and 2.0% respectively.

Failing

Wales has a productivity crisis, and we ought to treat it as such. Our economy – particularly in our rural areas – lags behind all other nations and regions of the UK.

Big problems need big solutions, and a distant Conservative Treasury in Whitehall is never going to deliver them for us. We need to be able to do it for ourselves.

The UK Government must devolve economic levers to Wales so that we can put in the work here to draw in and create high-skill, high-paying jobs for our people.

Brexit will make Wales’s economy poorer, worsening the productivity problem I highlighted earlier.

That’s not my analysis, but the analysis of the Westminster Government itself – the Government committed to inflicting Brexit on my constituents.

We must ensure that Wales does not receive a penny less in investment if and when we do leave the European Union next year. Those funds must be concentrated on building the skills base we need in order to grow key sectors of our economy and harness the full potential of our people.

Plaid Cymru wants to see the Welsh Government invest in infrastructure projects in all parts of the country – not just in some parts of the south-east – in order to create those high-skilled, high-paying jobs.

We know Westminster has never had Wales’s interests at heart, but the tired Welsh Government lack the ideas and ambition to turn things around.

These new ONS figures demonstrate once again that the economic policies of both the Welsh and Westminster governments alike are failing the people of Wales.

If we are going to see an improvement in people’s living standards in Wales we need real change. That change is embodied in the ideas and policies that Plaid Cymru are putting forward.

These latest ONS figures aren’t telling us anything new or ground-breaking. We know what needs to be done to tackle this cyclical productivity crisis: let’s get on and do it.

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