This week, Members of the Senedd debated the Welsh Government’s draft Budget and from my perspective, as Shadow Minister for the Economy and Transport, it was disappointing that Welsh Labour has given no consideration to a roadmap for Wales’ economic recovery, a roadmap that will enable us to rebuild not just after the impact of the pandemic but from more than 20 years of Labour running Wales writes Russell George.
While the limited financial support in this Budget is welcome, it does feel like the Welsh Government has run out of ideas and is just moving financial deckchairs around and hoping for a different outcome. There is also no admission that the Welsh Labour-led Government has learnt from its mistakes and is going to provide additional financial support to businesses quickly. Months of uncertainty, last minute decisions and the poor rolling out of government funding has crippled many businesses, especially in our vital hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors.
Don’t just take my word for it. The Federation of Small Businesses in Wales has indicated that the Welsh Government’s Budget does not provide a coherent approach to supporting businesses and self-employed people through the pandemic and has described the rollout of business support packages as “patchy”.
In order to build back better out of the economic downturn that the pandemic is causing, Wales needs a radical shift in direction. As a nation of small businesses, Wales needs a government which will invest in and support our small and medium businesses, which are the beating heart of our communities, and promote the growth of entrepreneurs in Wales rather than return to stagnant economic policies. For me, the Welsh Labour-led Government needs to do more to provide innovative methods in order to support businesses in Wales and put in place a recovery plan which values the important role that business plays in Welsh communities. Fundamentally, without business we can’t create new jobs and we can’t pay for our public services that we all rely on. As Jeremy Corbyn’s (remember him) man in Wales, the First Minister might want everyone employed in the public sector, but someone still has to pay for that.
So what would a Welsh Conservative roadmap for recovery look like, I hear you ask.
First, we believe that any business which was successful in 2019, should be successful in 2021. We would look to create a £250 million Covid Community Recovery Fund which would be used to help businesses in towns and communities across Wales. “Business Rate-Free Zones” would be created where all businesses would be free from paying business rates for up to three years, enabling businesses to reinvest or provide local jobs for local people. You’ve heard me say this many times but we would scrap business rates for those with a rateable value of under £15,000 outside of these zones, a long-established Welsh Conservative proposal which would see thousands of businesses taken out of business rates altogether.
The Welsh Government has also shown no ambition when it comes to investing in key infrastructure projects. The Budget fails to invest in a reliable road network in Wales which , unlike the Welsh Conservatives, Labour have no plans or desire to rebuild Wales. In fact, the Welsh Labour-led Government wants to reduce investment in national transport infrastructure cutting it by more than £20 million – unlike the Welsh Conservatives Labour have no plans or desire to rebuild Wales.
The performance of Wales’ road transport network will be crucial to kickstart our productivity and competitiveness. Good transport systems support the productivity of Wales’ urban and rural areas, support productive labour markets and allow businesses to reap the benefits of the clustering of new economic activity around existing areas of economic success. In addition, road transport corridors are the arteries of domestic and international trade and boost the overall competitiveness of the Welsh economy.
While I welcome the recommendations set out in the South East Wales Transport Commission report, they are no substitute for an M4 relief road. Rather, these recommendations need to be implemented alongside the creation of a relief road in order to truly maximise the potential of the South Wales.
Finally, the Welsh Government needs rebuild people’s skills. A skilled workforce will allow for increased social mobility as well as a stronger Welsh economy. We must ensure that the economic impact of Covid-19 does not disproportionately disadvantage those groups which are more likely to be at risk of losing their jobs as a result of the crisis – young people, women and those with the lowest qualification levels. Indeed, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has stated that a key area for investment is skills and employability, which has to underpin Wales’ recovery from the pandemic.
For the last 20 years businesses in Wales have been left behind – with the Welsh Government creating the worst environment for starting and growing businesses in the UK. Wales has also been failed by dither, delay and waste by successive Welsh Labour-led Governments.
We need a Wales where businesses will be able to grow and create more jobs for the people of Wales. Getting more people into work will end the poverty trap and unleash the potential of the abandoned areas of Wales. Wales needs a clear plan which will unleash Wales’ potential by transforming transport in Wales and investing in Wales’ future through a green infrastructure revolution, building jobs for local people in the process
Only the Welsh Conservatives have a roadmap for economic recovery which we are ready to put into action on day one to ensure that Wales is firing on all cylinders following the impact of Covid-19 and 20 years of Labour.