ASSESSING THE IMPLICATIONS FOR A STRONGER WALES ON THE WEST OF ENGLAND
The broad finding of this report is that tax competition from Wales will affect the
west of England to a limited extent – and these are most pronounced when the tax
regime impacts on highly competitive markets where location decisions are more
mobile and where the markets between Wales and England overlap considerably.
Transport policy is the most obvious area, with the most prominent example being
air passenger duty and its potential impact on Bristol and Cardiff airports where the
impact of devolution could be considerable” (1)
According to fiscal experts, devolving airport duty to Wales will be detrimental to Bristol. Or, and to put it in an altogether more ghastly way, WALES WILL GAIN AN ADVANTAGE OVER A PART OF ENGLAND IF APD IS DEVOLVED. Bristol will lose out if Wales gets to govern some of her own affairs. That’s Bristol in England, a place over the border and one which I had hoped would not feature large in any conversation about improving things on our side of the same. Surely I’m naive!
I listened to Jason Mohammad’s radio show a few weeks ago. As a rule, I tend to avoid it because I find his brand of Welshness a tad nauseating. But on that day I donned my hard hat and threw caution to the wind as his guest was Alun Cairns, our (that’s Wales) Secretary of State, and I was curious to hear what he had to say in defence of voting against devolving airport duty during the negotiation of the Wales Bill in Westminster.
The Silk Commission ( under Paul Silk, working on a UK govt commission into Welsh devolution) had proposed that this duty fall within the Welsh Assembly’s remit, just as air duty in the other devolved nations falls within the remits of both the Scottish and Irish governments. On paper, and considering that Scotland and Ireland have been allowed to take control of this one tax, it should have pretty much been a no brainer that (in a UK which is reportedly comprised of a nation of equals) Wales would now too see the tax devolved. Right? Wrong.
No, Mr Cairns and his puppet, another Welsh Tory called Guto Bebb, talked down the proposal on the basis that if we were in control of lowering/abolishing airport duty, this could impact negatively upon the airports in Bristol and South West England. It would appear that we in Wales are not allowed to gain any advantage in any sphere. Or more precisely, we are not allowed to pull ourselves out of the abyss.
The report mentioned above also highlighted that
The South West of England may be neighbours with Wales, with a long
pattern of interaction, but their economies are quite different. While the South
West is one of the more prosperous parts of the UK, Wales is one of the
poorest, and its economic performance has continued to weaken for many
years, both before and after devolution in 1999.
On most economic indicators, the South West region outperforms Wales
(each considered as a whole), and the gap has increased over recent years.
The South West has a higher proportion of its working-age population being
economically active and much lower levels of unemployment. Moreover, the
South West has a significantly better skills profile than that of Wales
The South West’s economy has grown faster in nominal GVA terms than
Wales (6.8 per cent from 2007 to 2011) compared to 5.7 per cent in Wales,
and the UK-wide rate of 6.5 per cent.
What??? Bristol and the South West region are wealthier than South Wales is? That’s interesting. If we’re not on an even playing field anyway, what exactly is Alun Cairns fretting about when he discusses unequal terms? Doesn’t look like he’s unduly worried about inequality when England have the advantage, does it!
So I listened in rapturous anticipation as the radio phone in progressed. And then the question came, satisfyingly presented by a disgruntled Conservative councillor from the Vale of Glamorgan, home of the airport and also Mr Cairns constituency. ‘Why, Mr Cairns, did you vote to deny your constituents a bit of leverage? Why don’t you let them have what Scotland and Ireland have?’
Ooh, trapped like a rabbit in the headlights! Say it, say it, man! Because it isn’t fair on Bristol. SAY IT!!!!!
But no, because he’s slick, Mr C effortlessly disassociated himself from his earlier reasoning and slithered into a sublime response. ‘Basically’, he said, ‘when one airport gets control of their duty, there is a historic period where one or other competing airport might suffer a tad until the status quo is re-established. Furthermore, giving this to Cardiff would seriously disadvantage people from Newport who fly out of Bristol.
Disadvantaging commuters who turn left instead of right? isn’t this a silly excuse? Seeing as the reason he originally opposed the motion was that the airports share close proximity, one in Wales ( which he represents), and the other in England ( which he doesn’t), how is it suddenly a disadvantage to have to drive to one over the other? Suddenly they’re miles apart and its a long and tiring trek for those poor sods who have to drive 40 minutes instead of a mere 25? Hmmmm….. not convinced there, Al Boy! Sorry!
I suspect that Mr Cairns was opposed to devolving APD in the same way as the London government are opposed to most things concerning Welsh autonomy. With no rhyme, reason or justification, they persist in denying us opportunity. God forbid that little Wales should ever ever attempt to better herself. God forbid that with one easy nod of the head, the economy of South Wales could become better, the airport could become busier, more jobs could be created. God forbid that our elected representatives in London should fight for our welfare when they can protect the welfare of South West England. God forbid that we should start to become self sufficient.
Today I was forced to mentally revisit that radio show due to the approval of the 3rd runway at Heathrow. Apparently having this additional runway will enormously benefit the entire UK. Apparently it shows that our post-Brexit, outward-thinking, Union-loving London based government are ready to massively increase their global trading. Apparently it gives international travellers even more opportunities to visit Southern England…..oops….the entire UK. Apparently it’s essential for our long term international relations. Apparently, it will bring jobs in their 1000s to Wales. Apparently, apparently, apparently….
Alun Cairns, as was to be expected, has thrown the full weight of his support behind this scheme. Sadly, so has Carwyn Jones, our First Minister. Both have made very public statements to the effect that Wales is going to benefit enormously from the development of runway numero tre. Whether or not people agree or disagree with the idea of increased air traffic due to the environmental implications, it appears that the green light for additional transit has been given, and it’s been granted for the South East of England. Let’s not kid ourselves that Wales is going to see much, if any, gain from this. It feels to me that Carwyn Jones has again passively accepted a weak and abstract promise of benefit and that for this acceptance, he expects us to be grateful. That’s crap. What benefit will additional capacity in London bring to Wales? I struggle to see how anything can be defined here and suspect that had Carwyn Jones closed his eyes and tried, he’d struggle too. But he didn’t because he doesn’t think as I do.
If history has shown us anything here in Wales, it’s that the Labour party down in Cardiff Bay ( a sub-branch of Westminster Labour) still fail to recognise Wales as a separate entity within the UK and that they continur to unfailingly view themselves as little more than regional councillors within the magnifficent United Kingdom. So if something’s good for London, it has to, by assosiation be ultimately good for Wales too. This is why we keep failing.
I despair at this lack of ambition. I want a First Minister who doesn’t just meekly accept meagre promises for Wales; I want a First Minister who fights for them.
Did you know that Cardiff airport already owns a runway capable of taking transatlantic flights? Did you know that by opening air routes into South Wales, our own economy will benefit to the tune of many many £millions as people visit Wales, as more jobs are created and as more money is circulated in our country? Did you know that tourists will find it just as easy to fly into Wales and travel south to London as they will flying into London and travelling north to Wales?
Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru:
Carwyn Jones knows this and so does Alun Cairns. Our Conservative representative in Westminster and the chief of our own Welsh Assembly government both know all too well that Wales has the capability. If there is congestion in the London airports, why aren’t our elected representatives presenting a compelling case to use Cardiff as a means of alleviation? If it is going to take years to establish the additional Heathrow runway, why not use Cardiff even as a stopgap? I fear that these parties who defend the UK before they defend Wales have once again chosen to ignore our needs and capabilities in favour of supporting an English alternative.
Now imagine a different Wales run by a party with no unionist ties. Imagine if we ran our own ship and controlled our own destiny. Imagine if our economy never had to be compromised in order to support England’s. Imagine if our First Minister put Wales’s needs ahead of those of the United Kingdom. Imagine if we weren’t kept down by a series of politicians who determinedly sell us down the river so as to enable England. You may or may not agree with me that Wales should be independent, but I don’t think anybody could disagree that we deserve better than this weak Labour representation.
Now let’s turn that imagination into a reality.
I have been contacted by people who tell me that Alun Cairns related to them two additional points, 1) that the Labour government in Cardiff Bay are not adept enough to be trusted with APD and responsibility for it and 2) the reason it hasn’t been devolved is that he fears that extending this opportunity to Welsh govt would quite possibly result in a raising of the tax rather than seeing its abolition. These may of course be excuses but even so, they either paint a damning picture of Welsh Labour and of Westminster’s confidence to allow them to run our own affairs or they tell us that without change and with Labour in government, that excuse will always be a ready one for them and that we, Wales, will never be allowed to progress.
More on Alun Cairns here
(1) Henderson G, Lodge G, Raikes L and Trench A (2014) Borderland West: Assessing the implications
of a stronger Wales for the west of England, IPPR. http://www.ippr.org/publications/borderland-west-