This Budget could be a chance to give Wales the help we need to help ourselves
Next week, the Westminster Government could demonstrate a genuine commitment to its ‘levelling up’ agenda by giving Wales its fair share of money and tax powers, says Ben Lake MP.
Next week’s Budget will be delivered in the face of a trifecta of potential crises – the continuing uncertainty over our future relationship with the EU, the spectre of Coronavirus, and months of clean up and rebuilding following severe flooding across the UK.
To compound it all, we have had a last-minute change of Chancellor, who has had less than a month to prepare the Budget since coming to office. This is not a good starting point.
Since 1900 there has not been a longer gap between UK Budgets. Chancellor Sunak will present a Budget hindered by sluggish growth in 2019 – the second-weakest post-war year growth outside of a recession. What’s more, he isn’t boosted by optimism from international onlookers, who are all revising down GDP forecasts – the OECD cut its forecast from 1% to 0.8% on Monday.
Of course, some of this is out of the Westminster Government’s hands, but much of its most serious consequences have arisen from its meddling.
This Westminster Government wrote cheques it couldn’t cash when it came to its promises on Brexit, and that pattern has been repeated in one announcement after another. At the end of last week, we had confirmation that the Treasury has had to put the brakes on its National Infrastructure Strategy, the £100bn plan for investment in things like transport and digital infrastructure.
It looks like we can expect another bare bones Budget next week, consisting predominantly of short-term fixes to issues that are of the Government’s own making.
The Tories hack and slash approach to public spending has left the organisations now in desperate need of resources scrambling – from the NHS and public health professionals dealing with Coronavirus, to the local authorities dealing with the devastation of weeks of severe flooding.
The big-ticket announcement in terms of government spending in the last few weeks has been the re-confirmation of HS2. I’ve lost count of the number of times it has been announced, and the number of times the cost has increased.
The £100bn+ railway which will suck yet more resources into the overheating London economy.
As a Welsh MP, perhaps the most shocking thing is that despite Scotland and Northern Ireland receiving extra money as a result of HS2 – by virtue of the railway being wholly in England – Wales will not receive a single extra penny.
Why is this? Well, despite not a single inch of track crossing the border into Wales, HS2, according to the UK Government, is an England and Wales railway. This is despite the fact that economists agree that the project will reduce Wales’s relative competitive advantage and damage our economy.
The competitiveness of the Welsh economy is already a serious issue. The UK Competitiveness Index 2019 put Wales bottom of the pile, making it the least competitive area in the UK. The UK Government cannot wash its hands on this, and the Labour Government in Cardiff also has a lot to answer for.
The question is, what can be done about it?
Well next week, the Westminster Government could demonstrate a genuine commitment to its ‘levelling up’ agenda by giving Wales its fair share of money and tax powers. From the money we are owed from HS2 spending, to the powers over taxes afforded to every parliament other than the Senedd. This Budget could be a chance to give Wales the help we need to help ourselves.
Secondly, the government investing that money and exercising those powers in Cardiff Bay needs changing. Labour’s lethargy is doing just as much to hold Wales’s economy back as the Conservatives’ apparent indifference at Westminster.
With Welsh elections just over a year away, we are gearing up for change in Wales. A change that will not only see a new government in Cardiff, but a new national confidence, a New Wales.
Turning our sights back to next week, the question is will this new Chancellor match our ambition, or are we in for the same old excuses?
Ben Lake is Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion
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