Wales needs and deserves better from the UK Government and Chancellor

February 12, 2018 ,



Here's a video of my budget speech from last week's historic Welsh Grand Committee, where we were able to use Welsh for the first time in a Parliamentary debate.

Translation:

It is a pleasure, Mr Owen, to be able to address you in the language of heaven here in Westminster for the first time. This truly is a historic occasion as it is possible to speak in a debate in a language other than English for the first time in 800 years. This is entirely appropriate, since Welsh was spoken across Britain long before the Westminster Parliament or the English language existed. Outside Wales, it is not widely understood that the names of cities far north such as Edinburgh and Glasgow come from the Welsh language originally.

I also wanted to speak in Welsh today as a tribute to the late Rhodri Morgan, who was my predecessor as MP for Cardiff West and the former First Minister of Wales. This is the first Welsh Grand Committee meeting since his sudden death last May. In the ’90s, Rhodri was a pioneer in pushing to change the rules so that the Welsh language could be used when the Welsh Grand Committee met in Wales. I am sure that if he were here today he would have several amusing anecdotes to tell us in both languages.

This debate relates to last autumn’s Budget and its impact on Wales. There is some extra money for Wales as a result of the Barnett formula, but the fundamental problem is its lack of vision at a time when ambition is needed. That is the result of having a weak Prime Minister and a Chancellor with all the excitement of the English rugby team—I hope I will not regret that comment after next Saturday’s match at Twickenham.

Before the autumn Budget I wrote to the Chancellor regarding the future funding of S4C. Over recent years, S4C has faced brutal cuts from this Government, and any further cuts would endanger the quality of the service. I wrote to the Chancellor expressing concern after hearing that S4C could face cuts of up to £9 million over the next three years. I asked for a promise that no such cut would take place.

In their response, the Government said that they were

“committed to the future of Welsh language broadcasting and supporting the valuable service S4C provides”.

However, almost two months since that letter from the Treasury, and more than two years since the independent review of S4C was originally announced, the review has still not been published. That is unacceptable.

Today, I yet again call on the Government to publish the independent review and to offer S4C fair funding. I am afraid that, all too often, culture and the arts is seen as cuttable. The Welsh Labour Government are trying to shield Wales from the effects of Tory austerity. However, without enough money, that is a very difficult task. S4C is crucial to the future and to reaching the goal of 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Years of austerity have failed. All of the cuts were meant to be for a purpose—to pay off the deficit by 2015. The Government said that the cuts would be worth the pain. A child born in Wales in 2010 could have gone to school, finished university and started a family of their own by the time the Government achieve that. They said the debt would be gone before that child started infant school. That is a complete failure, and it is due to old-fashioned financial orthodoxy.

The fact is that it was not too much spending on Welsh schools or Welsh hospitals that caused the economic problems of 2010. Rather, they were caused by irresponsible gambling by greedy bankers. The answer was not to cut spending so savagely as to hurt the economy, but rather to invest for wealth creation in the future—in roads and rail, housing, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, digital infrastructure and clean energy. We therefore looked hopefully, if not in expectation, for the Chancellor to lose his “Spreadsheet Phil” soubriquet and to announce a plan for national renewal that would help to build the Wales of the future, in partnership with the Welsh Government and business, local government and communities and so forth.

Perhaps, we thought, the Chancellor would show confidence by announcing his support for the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project, or by giving additional funding to electrify the main line to Swansea, or by helping to create the metro in Cardiff and the valleys, or by helping to build the houses we need to bring jobs and homes. Instead, we got tinkering around the edges.

Wales needs and deserves better from the Government and from the Chancellor. We now face the danger of Brexit, which I am sorry to say that a majority in Wales voted for, although not in Cardiff. My appeal to the Secretary of State for Wales is to not be content to be a mouthpiece for economic orthodoxy and to not be content to sit at the Cabinet table, admiring the view. Rather, fight, fight, and fight again for investment in Wales and for a fair future for everyone in Wales.