Welsh Economy

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 24th February 2016.

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Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Conservative, Hazel Grove 11:30 am, 24th February 2016

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of steps taken to rebalance the economy in Wales.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of steps taken to rebalance the economy in Wales.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Secretary of State for Wales

This Government know that supporting our manufacturing industry is vital for rebalancing the economy. Despite challenging global conditions, we have seen 12,000 new manufacturing jobs created by businesses in Wales since 2010, reversing the decline we saw under the previous Labour Government.

Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Conservative, Hazel Grove

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. How will small businesses in my constituency and in the north-west of England be able to benefit from the economic recovery in north Wales?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Secretary of State for Wales

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the strength of the economic recovery in north Wales. When I travel around Wales, I see that much of what is innovative and exciting is happening in north Wales. We are clear that the economy of north Wales is integrated in a single entity with the economy of north-west England, so there are lots of opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses on both sides of the border to benefit from the emerging northern powerhouse vision. I met the North Wales Business Council earlier this month and, like businesses across north Wales, it is calling out to be part of the northern powerhouse.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire

Does the Secretary of State agree that the success of the manufacturing industry in Wales, and across the rest of the UK, reflects a growing global demand for our products and is further evidence of the success of the Government’s ambitious Exporting is GREAT campaign?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Secretary of State for Wales

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; there is enormous and growing global demand for high-quality products manufactured in Wales. The Government have set ourselves really ambitious targets for increasing the level of UK exports, and I am clear that I want to see Welsh business sharing in that export surge. That is why UK Trade & Investment’s Exporting is GREAT roadshow truck will be in Deeside in north Wales tomorrow, explaining to small businesses there what export opportunities there are around the world.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

One way to rebalance the economy is to decentralise enterprise and services. Therefore, why are the Government closing tax offices and courts in peripheral areas of Wales, given the impact that has on the economy? They talk about decentralisation, but they centralise services when they have the opportunity.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman should understand that the Government have a sacred duty to take care of how taxpayers’ money is spent. Despite all the problems we were left with in 2010, the truth is that we maintain a very strong UK Government footprint in Wales, and the growth in private sector jobs in Wales over the past five years far outstrips any reductions we have seen in public sector employment.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Intervention)

Partial income tax powers are of course a welcome step in helping the UK rebalance geographically, but it is vital that those powers are accompanied by a fiscal framework that genuinely preserves non-detriment to Wales. Given the Scottish Government’s successful struggle to achieve a no-detriment agreement, what specific representations has the Secretary of State received from the Welsh Government on their chosen deduction method, and what is his chosen deduction method? Is it not the case that partial income tax powers make it more difficult to achieve genuine non-detriment?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman is right about the need to get the details right—we have just seen a very prolonged negotiation on the Scottish fiscal framework—but that is further down the line. We still have an ongoing discussion with the Welsh Government. They want to avoid taking on any income tax powers whatsoever. They want to avoid the additional fiscal responsibility that that would entail. They are running from having that fuller financial accountability that we believe is really important for Welsh democracy.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Severn bridge is key to the economy of south Wales, that the debt will be paid back before the April 2018 prediction and that it offers a golden opportunity to reduce tolls for businesses and hard-pressed motorists in Wales?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Secretary of State for Wales

My hon. Friend, who chairs the Welsh Affairs Committee, has been persistent and effective in raising concerns about the burden imposed on businesses and motorists in Wales by the very high tolls on the Severn bridge. We have not made any final decisions about what will happen when the private sector concession ends at the end of 2017, but we and the Treasury will be very keen to hear any specific ideas that he and members of his Committee might have.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Last year, the Secretary of State said his ambition was to secure more balanced growth in the Welsh economy, but on his watch we are seeing the loss of hundreds of jobs in our strategically important steel industry. The Government are being painfully slow to heed our warnings on cutting energy costs, and weak and disingenuous when it comes to standing up to Chinese dumping. With EU backing given in December, how much longer will the Government delay the energy compensation package the steel industry in Wales so desperately needs?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Secretary of State for Wales

I am really disappointed by the slightly tribal and partisan tone the shadow Secretary of State adopts on this issue. If she wants to talk about what has happened to steel jobs under Conservative and Labour Governments, I am happy to do that, and we can talk about the decline in steel jobs on the watch of previous Labour Governments. I am much more interested in getting answers now to the global storm facing the steel industry. This Government have taken a lead in Europe in changing procurement rules and arguing for protection measures against Chinese dumping. We are making sure that the steel industry in Wales has the best possible chance of a sustainable and profitable future.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

The Government also have a key role in commissioning large infrastructure projects, which can boost manufacturing and rebalance the economy. Manufacturers across Wales, who are gearing up in earnest to supply the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, share my deep concern that the Government are now planning a lengthy review, which could scupper the project altogether. Will the Secretary of State now give us an unequivocal guarantee that this vital project will not be sunk by his Government?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Secretary of State for Wales

I notice that the shadow Secretary of State did not stand up and welcome what we saw yesterday—Her Majesty the Queen naming and opening the new Elizabeth Crossrail line, which, by the way, uses 50,000 tonnes of steel made in Wales by Celsa Steel. The hon. Lady should be absolutely welcoming that as a good example of how UK infrastructure investment can drive growth in the steel industry. On the tidal lagoon review, the chief executive of the Swansea tidal lagoon has welcomed it himself. He welcomes the fact that we are looking into this and exploring all options to see whether the project can be financially viable.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

Does the Minister share my view that a prime mover behind rebalancing the economy is the sense of fairness? Does he agree that the action taken by the Government in freeing generations of people in constituencies throughout Wales is about making the best use of their talents? [Interruption.]

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Secretary of State for Wales

I did not hear the full question, but what I did hear was a really important point about fairness when it comes to rebalancing the economy. Unlike previous Labour Governments, who stood by while the economy of the United Kingdom became hopelessly imbalanced towards London and the south-east, we do not think that is good enough. We think that there are talents and resources in the north of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the west of England that need to be captured and enhanced to drive growth in the UK.