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In February 2011 I wrote a brief essay for this publication on the economic and political outlook in Wales. I was asked to write it because there was an impending Welsh referendum, 3 March 2011, asking the people of Wales if they thought the (then) Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) should get more powers.
My paper was highly critical of the WAG because of its record in certain areas, particularly the Welsh Economy, Education, Child Poverty, Failed Business Projects, the failure of the Welsh Audit Office to audit itself correctly etc., etc.
This paper will repeat a similar exercise with the Economy at its centre, but touching on six specific ‘operational’ areas, as they would be called in private industry, in order to illustrate the (now) Welsh Government’s continued incompetence, lack of dedication, and application.
Wales is virtually a one party state dominated by Labour. This comes through time and again when looking at the implementation of policies, and replies (when you can get them) from written questions to local MP’s or AM’s or Councillors.
This essay is limited in length; so some aspects of Welsh governance have not been mentioned, particularly the relationship between ‘Sustainability’ and the claims of those who believe/say they believe/invest in/profit from/work in/propagandize; ‘Man Made Global Warming’ A subject which would take an essay twice as long as this one.
The Structure of the Essay
- How Wales was Devolved
- The Welsh Economy since Devolution
- Wasted Time, Effort, and EU (tax payers) Money
- The Public Sector in Wales
- The European Union and Wales
- Welsh Education
1 How Wales was Devolved (the background)
In 1979 the Labour Government of the day in Westminster, had a policy to put to the people of Wales, a referendum on devolution. This first referendum for devolution in Wales was defeated by a very large majority.
Welsh Referendum Results 1979
This was not the answer the Labour politicians wanted so there had to be another try.
Because the Welsh voters gave the Labour Government the wrong answer the first time, the Labour Party came back again in 1997, after more persuasion and canvasing, with a second referendum. This referendum resulted in a tiny majority in favour of devolution, which led to the passing of the Government of Wales Act 1998 and led to the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales.
The voting numbers were:
Welsh Referendum Results 1997
And so the elected Labour one party state for Wales was created.
2 The Welsh Economy since Devolution
The ‘general economy’ of most countries of the world is usually measured by one or both of the following indices: Gross Value Added per head of population (GVA); or the Gross Domestic Product per head of population (GDP)
There is a relationship between the two but for the purpose of this essay Gross Value Added will be used since it correlates the relationship between each individual, industry, or sector and this was the reason I used it in this journal in 2011.
I will use the GVA per head of population and compare the GVA for Wales with the rest of the UK and the European Union.
In addition an indicia with perhaps more direct impact on the perceptions of the Welsh tax payer, is the Gross Disposable Household Income (GDHI) per head of population in Wales.
Other Indicators that Wales still lags behind the rest of the UK despite Receiving Billions of Pounds in ‘EU funding’
Wages in Wales are 86.6 % of the UK average.
Unemployment in Wales is 6.1%. The UK average is 5.3%.
As a further comparison, West Wales and the Valleys have 67% , one third less, of the average EU GDP at 17,900 Euros per head of population, while East Wales has 94% at 24,900 Euros. The average for the EU is 26,600 Euros.
The Welsh Government is in receipt of massive financial support from the tax payer, redistributed via the EU. It is clear that Wales is still at the bottom of the league at less than 75% of the EU average GDP even after receiving billions of pounds to establish a better economy.
Co-incidentally it shows the complete failure of the EU since its inception in the European Free Trade Association in 1951 (64 Years) to the EU’s formal establishment of 28 countries in 1993 (23 years) to achieve one of its core aims, namely to equalize the level of wealth among the European Union Countries.
Welsh GVA per head of population is a further 2.9% lower than the rest of the UK
In 2011, at the time of my last document, the GVA in Wales was 74.3% of the UK average.
In 2014, the Welsh GVA per head of population was 71.4% of the UK average, down a further 2.9% from the time of my last essay, and now by far the worst regional economy in the UK.
Welsh GDHI is still 12.2% or £2,141 per head of population lower than the rest of the UK
The figure for Gross Disposable Household Income per head of population for Wales in 2013 was 87.8% of the UK figure or £15,413 compared with £17,554 for the UK average. This is a difference of £2,141 per head of population. A significant amount.
The blue lines on the first graph above clearly show there has been no significant change or trend of improvement in the Welsh economy in the 17 years since the National Assembly for Wales was formed.
3. Wasted Time, Effort, and EU (tax payers) Money
Even when the Welsh Government decides to use EU Regeneration funds for the purpose for which they were intended, they almost invariably fail.
In a case in parallel to those I described in my previous essay, and almost identical to the writers personal experiences with what was then then the Welsh Development Agency; a high technology business IDEOBA, (BBC 5 May 2015) which set up in Bridgend, Wales, in 2013, employing 10 highly skilled employees and projecting 100 of the same when fully up and running; fronted by Edwina Hart, Economy Minister who said ‘It sends out a very strong message that Wales is a key centre for both financial services and ICT’
Partly funded by the tax payer’s money via the Welsh Government/EU, IDEOBA finally went out of business in April 2015.
The BBC reported that ‘It appears relations between the company and the Welsh government may have been strained at times, further ‘the Welsh government has made attracting financial and professional services companies, and the high paid jobs they bring, a key target to help grow the economy’
Also the Welsh government would not disclose how much public money was involved or even confirm the company has gone out of business.
Research has discovered that three payments were made to IDEOBA by the Welsh Government as follows:
In its context this is not a significant amount of money, but it indicates again the lack of ability of the Welsh Government to assess the projects it decides to invest in and then fails to support them adequately. Many more examples are available but space limits repetition of the similar facts.
A separate and unrelated financial disaster from the Welsh Government is the case of selling off Welsh Government land on the cheap or rather the very, very cheap.
The Regeneration Fund who organised what became known as a ‘Fire Sale’ to help fill the Welsh coffers is another Welsh Quango. They did not feel it necessary to put the sale of the parcels of land out to tender.
The first minister has apologised to AMs after a report said taxpayers had lost tens of millions of pounds over the sale of publicly-owned land. (BBC, 13 October 2015)
Carwyn Jones said delivery of the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales "fell way below the standards we expect - and for that I am sorry".
The public accounts committee said there were weaknesses in the oversight.
The committee said the fact SWLD had sold on a number of the sites at a profit showed they had been undervalued.
These included £10.5m for a site in Rhoose, Vale of Glamorgan, which the company bought for £3m, and the sale of another site in Abergele, Conwy County, for £1.9m which it bought for £100,000.
The committee said it was incomprehensible the "jewel in the crown" site at Lisvane, Cardiff, was sold for £1.8m when its potential open market value for housing was at least £39m, although around a third of the market value will be paid back to the taxpayer in what is called a clawback arrangement.
The report said the sales "did not represent good value for money" and that "such a cavalier approach to the disposal of public assets is disturbing".
The report also found that board members were given poor information from their professional advisors Lambert Smith Hampton and Amber Infrastructure.
It said the Welsh government should consider any potential cause of action against them.
After inquiries by the Serious Fraud Office, the Welsh government, Deloitte and the Wales Audit Office, it appears that this will be the final chapter for the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales.
That’s OK then!
4 The Public Sector in Wales
UK Proportion of total employment employed in the public sector, by region, September 2015
|Headcount (thousands); not seasonally adjusted|
|Region||Proportion of total employment employed in public sector (%)|
|Yorkshire and The Humber||18.3|
|East of England||15.0|
|Source: Quarterly Public Sector Employment Survey, ONS|
Drop in Public Sector Jobs in Wales due to Reallocation of Jobs in FE Sector
The average number of people in public employment for England is 16.63%
The average for Wales is 21.6% (364,000 people) having been reduced from 28.4% under the present Westminster Government directives.
Wales showed the largest level fall in Public Sector Employment in the year to September 2015 at 19,000 or 6.2%. However the size of the fall in Wales is largely explained by the reclassification of 12,000 employees of Welsh Further Education colleges into the private sector in March 2015. In other words the cost was put under another guise but still payed for by the tax payer.
The point in showing these figures in detail, is to show the willingness or even intent of the Welsh Labour Government to allow the public sector to grow to the biggest sector in Wales (with all its excessive salary, pension, and retirement costs compared to the private sector) far in excess of other parts of the UK with the exception of Northern Ireland.
A clear indication that the Public Sector in Wales is much bigger than any other, and a clear 7% larger than the next biggest – the Production Sector.
5. The European Union and Wales
Of all the UK regions Wales is by far the biggest recipient of EU economic regeneration money per head of population. To qualify, for EU money, such areas must have productivity levels lower than 75 per cent of the EU average - this puts Wales in the same category as Romania (which suffered decades of conflict, strife and in it days dominance by the USSR).
Since 2000, Wales has received £4,000,000,000 pounds (£4 billion.) from the EU and recently has been awarded an extra £2,000,000,000 (£2 billion) to last till 2020. This tax payer’s money, returned to us as ‘funds’ from the EU has been, and is for, regenerating the Welsh economy.
One can safely assume that the Welsh Government will use all its persuasion, powers, and propaganda to keep the UK in the EU when the referendum comes.
Dr Kay Swinburne, a Conservative MEP for Wales, says much of the money has failed to boost the economy, or has gone on projects that Wales's devolved government should have funded itself.
"This should be a badge of shame, not a badge of honour," she said. "After all, we are qualifying for this money alongside countries in eastern Europe that have endured many decades of oppression. Some of it gets spent well, yes, but the fact that we are still eligible for this funding suggests that its effect on the competitiveness of the Welsh economy is questionable."
Stephen Booth, a researcher with the think tank ‘Open Europe’, argues that EU regional development spending on Britain should be an area for "fundamental reform".
"There is nothing wrong in principle with having richer nations contributing to a central fund to help poor areas of Europe, but there is not much point in Brussels taking part of it and spending it on those wealthier nations. It's just an extra layer of bureaucracy, which means that Brussels is micromanaging projects that local or national government would be better equipped to do."
It is clear from the graphs above, and the words of those not aligned to the Labour Party, that the Labour politicians and their public servants in Wales are making poor use of the tax payers money which the UK pays to the European Union, who then deduct about 20% for administration fees, and send £6 billion pounds of British money back to Wales to be wasted on projects that clearly have not improved the economy since 2000 and before.
The official Budget for 2014/15 for the Welsh Government (WG) was £15.3 billion or £4,749 for every man, woman and child in Wales. At say 4 people per household on average that is £18,996 per household.
And what was it spent on? Government, Politicians, Public Bodies, and failed industrial projects.
Wales has a population of 3.06 million people.
Of these 1,400,000 are working and pay taxes.
The total number of politicians governing Wales is 1367. One for every 1024 taxpayers.
These are made up of 60 AM’s, 40 MP’s, 4 MEP’s and 1264 councillors.
The cost of this ‘primary’ governance: £78,433,800
Wales has a land area of 2,064.00 hectares (England at 13,039,500 hectares, i.e. Wales has an area 16% of that of England)
The number of WG offices in Wales is: 72
Rest of world: 14 (Ranging from New York to Bangalore, India, Mumbai, India, Beijing, China, and Japan etc.)
The official cost for the annual out goings of these is: £17,358,763
The cost of running some of the offices is not known to the WG and so would be in addition to this figure.
In 2009 the Welsh Assembly was one of the first UK regions to qualify for JESSICA funding. This secured £25m of European investment to match the Welsh Government’s £30m injection of property assets to seed the Welsh Urban Development Fund. JESSICA is a new way of using European Union funding to promote sustainable investment and growth in urban areas. The initiative has been developed by the European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB). In Wales, the initiative is supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and is administered by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO), which is part of the Welsh Government. See how this whole concept was messed up by the Welsh Government under Item 3 above.
6 Welsh Education
We have seen above that the Economy, Wages, and Employment in Wales, are well below the UK average, and in many cases the European average. Further; that Devolution, far from making things better, has achieved no significant improvements and in some cases made things worse.
What needs to be done to start making Wales a better place to live?
If anything is to be done about the negative findings listed above, it must start with removing the belief in the majority of the voters in Wales that they must vote for the Labour party – regardless.
The Education of Welsh voters, taxpayers, and citizens of the future will help to achieve this long term, but in addition a powerful opposition must be established now in the Welsh Parliament. The virtual one party state must end. Opposition political parties must come forward vigorously and be supported by more of the population. The trend and desire to do this has already been shown recently, for example in the Constituencies of Gower, where in 2010, UKIP gained 611 votes and in 2015 4773, forcing Labour out of office for the first time in over 100 years by allowing the Conservative candidate to win. Swansea East gained over 5779 votes and Swansea West gained 4744.
The following ad hoc Press and Media comments are from a variety of politicians, and educators; thus avoiding bias.
POLITICAL REACTION by the BBC 20th August 2015
Conservative Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns AM said: "Overall results across Wales are - regrettably - still lagging behind England.
"In fact, the attainment gap has widened. That's despite clear promises from Labour's first minister to turn performance around and challenge - and surpass - English results."
Aled Roberts AM, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, called it a "massive reality check" for ministers who had spent months heralding this year as being the one where Wales would see a further narrowing of the gap.
"However much spin the Welsh government issues before results as to why we cannot rely on bare data, the reality of the situation is that they would have been very willing to rely on that same data if it had painted a more positive picture."
Plaid Cymru accused the Welsh government of a "culture of complacency.”
No quick fixes' to turn around education in Wales says Huw Lewis, Education Minister
There are "no quick fixes" for turning the education system around in Wales, the education minister has admitted.
Huw Lewis warned it would take "some years" to learn lessons after Wales again fell behind the rest of the UK in an international study.
‘You need only to look over the Severn to see a country going backwards Michael Gove, UK Education Secretary said’
Facing questions from assembly members, First Minister Carwyn Jones assured them education in Wales was not in "crisis.”
We need to step change in terms of what we expect from the system Huw Lewis AM, Education Minister.
The figures he quoted were from the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests. They were published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Huw Lewis has announced his intention to stand down at the next election.
During tense exchanges on education in First Minister's Questions in the Senedd, Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said the Pisa results were "more damning evidence of educational failure under Labour".
He told Mr Jones: "You cannot show any humility to the people of Wales, who've depended on education as a route out from poverty, as a route to good jobs, and above all developing an economy fit for the twenty-first century."
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said the Welsh government would be in "special measures" if it were a local authority.
"Why should parents continue to trust your government with their children's education?" she asked.
For Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams the "abject failure" of Labour's education policies had been "exposed for everyone to see".
"As a Labour assembly member for 14 years, as a cabinet member for 13 years and now as the first minister of our nation, are you not ashamed?" she said.
Pisa ranks Wales' education the worst in the UK (See below)(BBC, 3 December 2013)
What are the Pisa tests?
- International tests in maths, reading and science
- Tests are taken by 500,000 15 year old pupils in 68 countries and local administrations
- They are run every three years by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
- In the UK, more than 12,000 pupils took the tests in 2012
- Asian countries and cities, such as Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea took the top places in the 2009 tests
The figures, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), show that for maths, 15-year-olds in Wales scored 468 points on average, compared with 498 in Scotland, 495 in England and 487 in Northern Ireland.
In Wales, there were lower results on average in the three subjects than in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Scotland leads the way in the UK in maths and reading, while England is ahead in science.
- In maths, Wales fell three places to 43rd of the 68 countries
- In reading, the nation is now ranked at 41 down from 38
- The biggest fall came in science where Wales dropped six places to joint 36th
Why is Wales failing to Educate its Children?
By Arwyn Jones BBC Wales education correspondent:
In reading, Wales scored 480, but Scotland scored 506 points on average, England scored 500 and Northern Ireland 498.
In science, Wales scored 491, compared with England's average score of 516, Scotland's 513, and 507 in Northern Ireland.
The OECD report concluded, for each of the three subjects, "performance in Wales was lower than the rest of the United Kingdom".
It is the third time Pisa has conducted such tests.
Since 2007, Wales has slipped down the Pisa rankings. As more countries have joined, it has slumped from 22nd in science to joint 36th, dropped 10 places in maths, and fallen from 29th in reading to 41st.
Meanwhile the business group CBI Wales said the results gave cause for concern.
Emma Watkins, CBI Wales director, said: "It's not acceptable for Wales to have slipped so far behind, and this should be a wake-up call to those who care about the future of the Welsh education system."
But Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union the NASUWT, said Pisa was not the be all and end all.
"Pisa is not and must not be seen as the final word on education in Wales," he said.
"It is critical the Welsh government puts the Pisa 2012 study into proportion, uses it to guide and not drive education policy, and takes forward its work in a way that reflects the genuine progress and achievements of the education system."
Latest attack on Welsh education claims our schools are underfunded by £280m (Western Mail, 9 February 2015)
A Freedom of Information request has confirmed that spending comparisons between Wales and England can no longer be made
A fresh row has broken out over the difficulty in comparing spending on schools in Wales with the amount spent in England.
When Carwyn Jones was elected leader of Welsh Labour in 2009, one of his main campaign pledges was to bridge the funding gap between schools in Wales and England by spending 1% more on schools per year than in England.
No Comparison Possible of Education Spending between Wales and England
But since 2009/10, figures on the funding gap have not been published because of the introduction of many more “free schools” and academies in England. At that time, £604 per head more was spent on a pupil in England than in Wales.
Following a response to a recent Freedom of Information request confirming that spending comparisons can no longer be made, former Caerphilly Independent councillor Graham Simmonds has calculated that the overall spending shortfall for Welsh schools amounted to £280m, based on a school population of 465,000.
Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns said: “It was a matter of huge regret that after years of a widening funding gap between Wales and England, the Welsh Labour Government decided to stop publishing comparable data showing the scale of its underfunding of Welsh schools.”
Ofsted and Estyn, the schools inspection agencies, to schools in England and Wales, respectively, when it considers that they fail to supply an acceptable level of education and appear to lack the leadership capacity necessary to secure improvements may put a school under special measures. A school subject to special measures will have regular short-notice Ofsted inspections to monitor its improvement. The senior managers and teaching staff can be dismissed and the school governors replaced by an appointed executive committee. If poor performance continues the school may be closed.
Education services in Monmouthshire have recently been taken out of special measures after three years.
Blaenau Gwent (BBC, 18 December 2015) was removed from special measures in December 2015. Merthyr Tydfil came out of Special Measures on 24th January 2016.
From the reports, comments and analyses above it can be seen that Education must join the list of failed Government Agencies in Wales.
There will be no substantial improvement and closing of the gap with the UK performance averages while the present Labour driven Welsh Government is in place and lacking a forceful opposition.
One further specific ‘Operational Area’ has been deliberately left out of this essay. That is the Welsh Governments approach to ‘Sustainability’. The reason for not including this subject is that to do the subject justice it would need at least another 5,000 words, or about ten pages with many graphs and charts.
Short Biography of Gordon W. Triggs, from Swansea, Wales, UK
Gordon Triggs was born in Swansea and had a successful career in industrial management as a Chartered Engineer in Wales and other parts of the world. His senior executive positions included General Manager of the Sony television manufacturing plant in Bridgend and the Director of the Electronics Division of Poly Peck International in Turkey. Later he set up and ran his own successful Business and Management Consultancy in Wales.
Gordon is also an active member of the UKIP party in Wales and author of two books:
‘Two Years Before the What?' The unique story of the last hand fired, coal burning, ship in the Royal Navy to steam half way around the world, on which the author was a crew member, and ‘Sweyn Forkbeard, Viking King of England’ the factional story of the Danish Viking who gave his name to Swansea and who murdered the authors ancient ancestor. A third book is in hand.
© 21 February 2016