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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:53 pm on 17 April 2024.

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Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Shadow Minister (Wales) 2:53, 17 April 2024

I thank my hon. Friend for making that very pertinent point. There is a big impact on pensioners, as she has said.

The UK debt to GDP ratio is at its highest in 70 years, with no sign of falling. The number of people living in absolute poverty is expected to increase this year to 12 million, with 4.2 million children living in poverty. This year, 62,000 householders in Wales will face the Tory mortgage bombshell—which hon. Members have mentioned—as their fixed-term rates expire, with the average homeowner expected to face a £240 hike in their monthly bill. As hon. Members have said, this is the first Parliament on record for which living standards are set to be lower by the end than they were at the beginning. The Tory Government are breaking promises and breaking records—and all to the detriment of Welsh people struggling to make ends meet. The Prime Minister has joined his predecessor in backing the sort of enormous and entirely unfunded tax cuts that led to the swift demise of her premiership—this time in the form of the abolition of national insurance. Perhaps the Minister will explain to us in this debate, because the Prime Minister could not—he repeatedly failed to answer the question at Prime Minister’s questions today—what the Tory Government will cut to find the £46 billion needed every year for their new policy, or whether they plan to extend their tax-raising record by piling further costs on to Welsh working people.

Not only have the tired Tory Government lost any semblance of economic competence—driving down business confidence—but they have lost their moral compass. Over the last few days, my constituents Colin and Janet Smith have been sharing with the media the story of their decades-long fight for justice for their son, Colin, who tragically died aged seven, having contracted AIDS and hepatitis C from contaminated blood administered by the NHS. For years after his death they faced bullying, abuse and the loss of employment, due to the stigma surrounding his illnesses. I know the family very well, and the absolute tragedy of what he was put through. Members of the House will know that the Smith family’s story is not unique. They have campaigned tirelessly alongside so many others for the truth and for just compensation, so I would like the Minister to tell us why, despite the final recommendations on compensation having been delivered to Ministers by Sir Brian Langstaff, chair of the inquiry, more than a year ago, when he said the Government could get on with making the compensation payments, there is not a single word about it in the spring Budget. I think that is an absolute disgrace.

Welsh steelworkers are right to feel betrayed by a Government willing to countenance 3,000 redundancies across south Wales while our European steelmaking competitors make historic investments in green steel. The almost-overnight end to our virgin-steelmaking capability in Port Talbot is not an inevitability. Rather than relying on imports from across the world, exposing us to the same global risks that precipitated the energy crisis, Ministers must revisit the multi-union plan, described by Tata itself as credible, to work with our steelworkers towards a just transition to the greener future for steel that we all want.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli mentioned, a Labour Government in Westminster would invest £3 billion in green steel within the first term, protecting livelihoods and the future of our sovereign British steel manufacture, which is vital for our plan to make Britain a clean energy superpower by doubling onshore wind, tripling solar and quadrupling offshore wind.

It is not too late for the Government to change direction on this, and it would be particularly important for my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West, with the Llanwern steelworks in Newport. It would not be the first time a Conservative press release has sounded suspiciously familiar to Labour colleagues. Whether it is the narrowing of the non-dom tax loophole or the half-hearted levy on oil and gas giants, the Prime Minister appears to be slowly realising that the path to a fairer, brighter future for Wales and Britain is through the progressive policies of a Welsh Labour Government working with a Labour Government in Westminster.

The consequential funding that will flow from a UK Labour Government to Welsh public services will be critical. Importantly, my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones mentioned the cost burden on local government too. Our public services face intense challenges, particularly in the context of the value of the Welsh Government’s budget having dropped by £1.3 billion in real terms as a result of the Tories’ economic mismanagement.

Some progress was to be welcomed from the spring Budget. We have repeatedly called on the Government to get a move on with the new nuclear site at Wylfa. The purchase of the site is therefore good news, but we are still nowhere near seeing the prospect of clean energy and thousands of good jobs returning to Anglesey. Had they not dithered for five years, we could have seen the plant 50% complete, with up to 8,500 construction jobs under way, around 900 permanent jobs to follow and £400 million for the local economy in wages.

What we saw in the spring Budget was a Conservative Government without a proper plan to grow the economy, without an industrial strategy to match the ambition of our talented Welsh workforce and without the appetite for investment in a greener Wales. Those will only be achieved with a UK Labour Government working with a Welsh Labour Government and a Secretary of State for Wales who stands up for Welsh interests.