Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Is North Wales's support for the Welsh Assembly warranted?

In yesterday's post on the BBC 'devolution' poll, the Druid noted how North Wales residents are the most unequivocal in their support for the Welsh Assembly, with more North Wales residents in favour of the assembly and less believing it should be abolished than any other region of Wales. However, does the Assembly's treatment of North Wales warrant its high level of support in the region?

To answer this question lets take a look at the North Wales economy. During the period 2000-2007, whilst the UK economy grew by 44% and Welsh economy grew by 38%, the North Wales economy only grew by 34% - a staggering 10 percentage points less than the total UK growth. As a consequence of this - even before the damage brought by the recent recession - North Wales was home to three of the poorest counties in the UK: Anglesey, Conwy and Denbighshire. Can this low growth in North Wales be blamed on the Assembly? The answer is 'partially, yes'.

  • One of the arguments for devolution was that an Assembly in Cardiff would bring governance closer to the people of Wales and allow it to formulate and implement economic development policies which are 'custom-made' to tackle the issues facing the different regions of the Welsh economy. We now know that despite the Welsh Assembly spending more per head on economic development than any other region in the UK, Wales as a whole has the the lowest GVA and highest unemployment in Britain. We also know that this picture is even worse in North Wales. The Assembly's economic development policies have evidently failed both nationally and in North Wales.
  • Furthermore, in 2000 the Assembly was in receipt of £1.2 billion in additional EU Objective 1 funds for regenerating the 'deprived areas' of Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy and Denbighshire. These funds, if cleverly used, could have been used to leave a lasting legacy of flourishing private businesses in the area - yet, as we have seen, growth in North Wales between 2000-2007 has lagged far behind that of South Wales and the recent recession has seen thousands of job losses throughout North Wales. There appears to be NO lasting economic legacy in North Wales of the Assembly Government's use of these Objective 1 funds - Ron Davies may indeed be right when he asserts that the Public Sector 'stole' it.
  • Despite the recession some of the largest Council Tax rises in the UK this year will be in North Wales, with Conwy Council rising 5%, Anglesey at 4.5%, Gwynedd at 3.9% and Flintshire at 3.3%. In most cases these large rises are due to 'derisory' settlements to North Wales councils from the Welsh Assembly which distributes money based not on need but on on the size of the populations in each council area. As a consequence of this, two of the poorest counties in the UK, Anglesey and Conwy, received a settlement rise of just 1% from the Welsh Assembly Government compared to rises of 3.1% for Newport and 2.9% for Cardiff City in South Wales. Once again the Assembly's policies are not helping the poorest region of Wales: the North.
  • If we concentrate just on the Druid's home of Anglesey - officially the poorest county in the UK with a GVA per head of just 53% of the UK's average - we see that the Assembly Government has NOT prioritised the area as it should have. For example at the very same time that Anglesey Aluminium was closing with a loss of 450 jobs, the Welsh Assembly announced plans to inject over £100 million of European funding into the much more prosperous area of Swansea - with a much higher GVA per head figure than Anglesey (7% above the all-Wales level but 19% below the UK average). This entirely defies logic and shows that the Assembly's priorities are in the more highly-populated, Labour voting regions of South Wales.
  • The Assembly also has competence for Agriculture in Wales, so lets look at agriculture in North Wales. Remarkably farming in North Wales has fared even worse than the economy. During the period 1997 (admittedly prior to the formation of the Assembly) to 2007, the economic contribution of agriculture to the North Wales economy fell by a staggering 67% compared to an overall UK decline of just 7%. Furthermore, the Assembly has been unable to prevent damaging EU legislation - such as the EU EID sheep tagging rules - which will disproportionately effect North Wales.

Despite the fact that the Druid personally believes that governance should be devolved as close to the electorate as possible - and therefore supports the Welsh Assembly on principle - it is, however, difficult to conclude other than to say North Wales has so far been taken for a ride by the Welsh Assembly. 

Also, where is Ieuan Wyn Jones in all this? Despite being the Deputy First Minister for Wales why is he not fighting more for North Wales and his constituency of Anglesey - as Andrew Davies and Edwina Hart are obviously doing for Swansea? Is he just not up to it? Or is it possible that he is devoting too much of his time to the politics of leading Plaid Cymru rather than looking out for the people who elected him? He better watch out or IWJ may find himself more vulnerable at the next Assembly elections in 2011 than he thinks...

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