The aftershocks of the Global Financial Crisis that begun in 2007 are still being felt today, as economies around the globe battle with the effects of the recession that followed it. Many causes of the crisis have been suggested but the behaviour of those in the banking industry – more than any other area – is seen to be a primary cause, and the mere mention of the word ‘banker’ conjures up an image of a greedy, reckless individual who profited massively (and still profits) from the misery of others.
This article was originally written as a commentary to the news of the expansion of the Business Wales programme.
Another announcement on business support from the Welsh Government, another quote on “new jobs”. One wonders what these “new jobs” will be. With little disclosed in the way of economic impact analysis or strategy, it is difficult to attest to the validity of any claim of the value of these to the Welsh economy – let alone if such support is the most appropriate use of public money. Similarly, if a nation’s economic position could be improved through public money alone, we’d be well off in Wales given the billions of pounds that have been thrown in our direction. Sadly, the latest ONS figures remind us all too well of how Wales’ attempts to address its economic woes have failed and I’m hoping those behind the scenes in Welsh Government won’t be happy if most of the opportunities this support creates are in vulnerable, low-paid roles.
This article was originally written for New Start Magazine following a visit from their editor to Cardiff.
What do those from outside Wales know, or think of, the nation? Indeed, what to those from Wales – or who live there – think? With the Rugby World Cup in full swing, it’s highly likely many would talk of Wales’ love for rugby; no doubt, many would also talk of its industrial heritage. I’m sure talk of halls reverberating with the mellifluous sounds of male voice choirs would feature prominently, as would talk of hillsides resonating with the bleating of sheep.
Time after time, rhetoric from within Wales portrays Wales as some sort of basket case. We have so much going for us and it is imperative we act boldly and courageously. If we are serious in wanting a revitalized, exciting and dynamic Wales it is us, the citizens of Wales, that will need to contribute to the future and make the difference. For too long we have looked to the state to provide answers and change the nation, but that has not got us very far. Each citizen can and should make a difference. This is not so much the Wales we want, as the Wales I will help create.
The state has an undue influence over all aspects of Welsh life. Its financial size and dominance in Wales mean that, through employment, government grants and contracts awarded to the private sector, and the appointment of key individuals to jobs, committees or advisory positions, both local and national government in Wales can successfully quieten or silence critical voices. It can lead to a culture of conformity where people are unwilling to publicly question or discuss a whole range of issues. It is something that should give us all concern, as so often these are the very voices and conversations we so badly need to help shape a successful and dynamic Wales.
Our self-limiting attitude?
One of the more surprising elements of modern Welsh life is the desire among some to abrogate responsibility and blame external factors for issues within Wales. Whether it is the Welsh economy, Welsh public services, our relationship with the English, or ever more parochial concerns, the “victim” narrative creates an environment where Wales gives the appearance of wanting to limit itself to small dreams. Wales has seemingly become obsessed with Wales in the context of Wales.
This is the opening page of the report “Wales: Time for a realistic perspective” I co-authored.
Wales is not an economic basket case or lost cause. Yes, there is significant scope for improvement, but with sensible policies and careful stewardship, there is little reason why we cannot grow our economy from its current base.
Interminable discussions about the Barnett Formula obscure the reality that, per capita, we receive more money from Westminster than a number of English regions. Our desire to compare ourselves to Scotland blinds us into believing that an increase to our funding is a game changer, when it’s not. An additional £300 million or so on top of a block grant of around £15 billion is not going to catapult our economy in any way.
Early in 2015 a number of people from a range of backgrounds in both the private and public sectors were invited to a dinner to discuss Wales’ economic issues. The document used to promote discussion is given below; the dinner was operated under Chatham House rules so details of the those present together with their comments remains under wraps. As the text below is exactly that distributed, some figures are already out-of-date as more recent statistics are available.
Headline statistics for Wales frequently paint a depressing picture, one of a country seemingly unable to reverse decline seen over many years. The ONS bulletin published earlier in 2014 has Wales with the lowest GVA per head of all the regions in the UK: at £15,401, it represents 72.3% of the UK average. Moreover, the latter figure has been in decline for some time, painting a picture of an economy that’s getting worse. Wales’ fiscal deficit – that is, the excess of public spending over tax receipts – remains stubbornly high and, for 2009-10, was estimated at just over £6,000 per head.
Other statistics paint a similarly gloomy picture. Compared to England, PISA scores are lower. The same is true for pass rates at GCSE. Life expectancy increases are lower. The percentage of people of working age in employment has been consistently lower over the last five years. Lending to SMEs appears to be stagnant. Rates of entrepreneurship are lower. Meanwhile, sickness rates of those working in the NHS are nearly a percentage point higher in Wales than in England. Wales also has a higher percentage of the working age population employed in the public sector than both England and Scotland.