I sometimes ask myself, what future is there for a young person such as myself in Wales writes Centre for Welsh Studies Director, Matthew MacKinnon.
I’ve seen many from my generation leave Wales for the chance of a more prosperous career, sacrificing the chance to live in our beautiful nation for a life in the big city in England, Europe or beyond.
I can’t blame them, I myself went to University in Chester at the age of 19. One of the main selling points was that the University was not in Wales and was a chance to live in a small city and experience a new way of life. I moved back to beautiful Mid Wales after 5 years of city life in Chester and a stint in Brussels.
I understand fully why so many of our youngsters flee Wales for opportunities in other countries, as I said, I was myself one of them for a period of time. I could have tried to pursue a career in London, where I was offered jobs and had the chance to climb the greasy pole. I chose to return home to find the balance between building my career and having an active, flexible lifestyle outside of work. From a young age, I saw a very close family member suffer from mental health issues, primarily depression and vowed to ensure that my work-life balance would never lead to me having to suffer as she does.
In 2020, nearing my 30s I speak to old school friends regularly, many left Wales for University or post-graduation, many tell me they dream of returning ‘one day’. It’s always the same sad story, they say they ‘can’t afford to live here’ or ‘there are no jobs for me there’. I tell them to compromise and to move back and try and get some flexibility from their employer and to downsize if they have to, but what right do I have to tell them this? they have worked hard for what they have and shouldn’t risk it all to come ‘home’.
Sadly, the truth is, for many, England is a far more attractive option than Wales, it has a far more vibrant economy, better transport links, superior shopping and lifestyle options. I know, because I have lived there, I have seen how far Wales economy is behind that of England. Don’t believe me? drive from Welshpool to Shrewsbury or Wrexham to Chester and notice the difference on the English side.
This situation has been going on in Wales for decades, our young talent fleeing to other countries in order to pursue a better life. We are now, decades on seeing the results of this crisis, with ageing populations across rural Wales and no chance of reversing this trend anytime soon. The only place in Wales that seems to attract any talent and youth is our amazing capital, Cardiff. This city has seen a revival over the past two decades, but sadly Covid-19 has reduced our great capital to its knees and exposed quite clearly that our devolved Government in Cardiff Bay have never really had an economic strategy for Wales.
As a free-marketer, I don’t mean an economic strategy comprised of huge Government spending and a planned economy, but a strategy built around attracting some of the best businesses into the world to set up in Wales and create one thing we need more than ever – well paid, sustainable careers in the industries of the future.
For too long our political class in Cardiff Bay have been found wanting when it comes to improving the economic prospects of the people of Wales. There has been no effort to establish more foreign or domestic private sector investment to create the jobs of the future across Wales. If there has been, it has clearly been a total failure.
So what can be done? We need our devolved Government to make our economy their main priority, the private sector funds the public sector and ensures the Government can pay for the health and education of our nation. Once they make this pledge they must start to look at ways to incentivise businesses to set up here, they must make Wales an attractive option, Ireland have done this extremely well in recent decades.
Should we offer reduced tax options for large global companies to set up in Wales? Absolutely! Thousands of jobs could be created in parts of Wales that currently lack any substantive private sector presence. Offering very well paid, long term, secure jobs to the area. It would be the perfect way to entice lost generations who have left Wales to come back.
Next year’s Senedd election could well be the first election since 1999 where the economy will dominate. Mark Drakeford and his Government have been found wanting and people are beginning to wake up to the scary reality that our nation for almost two decades has had no economic plan. The Welsh Conservatives have the prime opportunity to capitalise by ensuring they make it clear they have an economic plan that will help our nation recover and avoid the catastrophic economic future that lies ahead.
Our nation cannot go on as it is, heavily reliant on public sector employment, lacking private sector medium and large businesses creating sustainable jobs and only pushing taxpayer-funded projects to incentivise growth. We need a Government in Cardiff Bay with a clear plan to grow our economy, retain our talent and make Wales a global economic powerhouse.
Matthew MacKinnon is Director of the Centre for Welsh Studies.