Spring Budget 2024: Welsh Economy — [Peter Dowd in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:47 pm on 17 April 2024.

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Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General) 2:47, 17 April 2024

They must be content with the crumbs that we get from the table with levelling up, frankly.

Is the per head of population distribution really a good measure of success? Under the European funding schemes, Wales also got the highest per head of population contribution for a reason, and the reason was recognised deprivation—proven need. How has the Tory levelling-up agenda grasped the challenge of replacing the European money previously distributed specifically to lift the poorest communities out of poverty? I will tell hon. Members how it has done that. It has done it by invoking the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 to undermine the Senedd and any pretence at strategic working. It has done it by setting cash-strapped local authorities in direct competition with one another, like supplicants begging for pennies. It has done it by providing money without sufficient time even to use it to best effect. And it has done it by ensuring that there is scant effective evaluation of money used, so that we do not even know whether it is levelling anything up for anybody.

Of course, that is not the point. Levelling up was never about ensuring that Wales got not a penny less than it did under European funds. We know that we are getting £1.3 billion less. Levelling up has become a byword for cynical short-termism, lollipops for a Government to hand out with an eye to the next election—pork barrel politics. That is clear from the fact that the Budget included Canary Wharf in the £242 million of London levelling-up cash. Canary Wharf, of all places! That is hardly somewhere that needs further investment and levelling up when compared with other places in the UK.

The Chancellor announced departmental spending cuts of up to £20 billion in the spring Budget. Let us be clear that those cuts will make a wasteland of our public services, and they will do so in a country, our country—Wales—where we place a high value on how a community works for everyone. I fear for the future of Welsh public services. We have already seen the Welsh Government’s refusal to step in when they defended cuts to Wales’s National Museum. I am sad that, rather than demonstrating the political courage to protect our cultural institutions, First Minister Vaughan Gething tells us to wait patiently for a future Labour Chancellor to start properly funding Wales. I fear that he is referring to the same shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, who drops heavy hints that Labour will go ahead with public spending cuts if it forms the next Government.

My party believes that the people of Wales should have the ability to grasp the means to build our own economic destiny. Why should we not take control of our natural resources through the devolution of the Crown Estate? Why should we not create a funding system that addresses our needs and makes best use of our fair share of money from HS2 and other projects?

After covid and in the face of a future of global unrest and accelerated climate change, the Chancellor should have prioritised long-term investment in our public services, infrastructure and communities, yet the Budget and its aftermath seem to have produced a consensus between the Tories and Labour on spending cuts, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies calling support for spending cuts a “conspiracy of silence” between the two main parties. The message should come loud and clear: as things stand, Wales gets crumbs from the table, and we can do so much better. Diolch yn fawr.