Wales now the Mezzogiorno of northwest Europe

Rhys David reports on a recent seminar that examined how we are faring within the European Union

“London should leave the EU – and quit Britain, too”. So said Simon Jenkins ex-Times and Economist editor, National Trust chairman, Guardian and Evening Standard columnist, Aberdyfi resident and former IWA lunchtime speaker. He was – one assumes – seeking to be controversial and was not expecting even London mayor, Boris Johnson to come out in support. Instead, he was making the point that London and the rest of the UK now inhabit different worlds.

London looks to a global future built around its two great industries, finance and leisure, and its attractions as a desirable place for the world’s wealthy to live. Jenkins argues that it is no longer just a European city but a world city, its real partner, its civic alter ego, being New York. Both share large-scale immigration, a wide spread of rich and poor, a similar business culture and leisure pursuits including theatre, opera, film and book scenes.  They are the sort of places where the successful from all over the world want to come to live, be entertained, watch sport, and do business. As such, the EU with its propensity to regulate, cartelise and restrict, is by implication no longer relevant.

By contrast, much of the rest of Britain is still living with the legacy of now-departed industries and does not have the same worries as London over the threat to financial services posed by measures such as the proposed Tobin tax on transactions. Regions heavily dependent on EU funding for infrastructure and other business stimulation investment, would benefit from the trade boost that the devalued pound they would necessarily be left with after the London city state – probably the area encompassed within the M25 – withdrew and went its own international way.

Just a few weeks ago a group of Welsh, Westminster and Brussels politicians and officials, academics, think-tank experts and businesspeople gathered in Cardiff with a different agenda – how to maximise the benefits Wales might get from yet another round of European funding. The picture they painted was definitely not one in which the merits or otherwise of leaving the EU could be placidly debated.

As Adrian Healy, an economist at Cardiff University, pointed out, over the last ten years Wales has become the Mezzogiorno of northwest Europe, the equivalent of the chronically depressed south of Italy. In terms of eligibility for funding we are now on a par with Portugal, southern Italy, Greece, and the newer, formerly Communist, Eastern European entrants.

It gets worse. Between 200 and 2009 our rate of growth in purchasing power per person lagged our new rivals. They have surplus labour, and can close the productivity gap with the richer EU economies much more quickly than Wales. As such, several can be expected to overtake us over the next decade, leaving us very much the poor man of Europe.

Despite billions of Euros of Objective One and convergence funding, GDP in west Wales and the Valleys is still between 50-75 per cent of the European average. By contrast the Irish Republic was higher than the European average in 2009. Although the Irish economy took a serious knock from the financial crisis, it is making a strong recovery. There’s not even much to cheer about in supposedly wealthy Cardiff either. Whereas at the turn of the Millennium east Wales stood at 108 per cent of the EU average, by 2008 it was down to 100 per cent, Jill Evans, MEP, and president of Plaid Cymru, told the event.

She thought we could spend convergence funds much more effectively in the next round, between 2014 and 2020. Labour MEP, Derek Vaughan said we should learn lessons from other countries that had benefitted from structural funding, and devise better ways of measuring of the impact of investment. Adrian Healy said we should adopt a more co-ordinated approach towards the Horizon 2020, Interreg V, and Erasmus programmes rather than commit to them on an ad hoc individual initiative basis.

Guto Bebb, the Eurosceptic Aberconwy Conservative MP, chose to disagree. He argued that European regional policy had failed. Far from it making a difference he said we were going backward in west Wales and the Valleys. The priorities that had been followed in Wales, such as big infrastructural schemes, were those chosen by the EU and not necessarily those that were most appropriate to the Welsh economy. There had been too great a focus on inputs and compliance, while performance had not been properly measured. White elephants were being supported by match funding, taking spending away from other priorities. In his view regional policy should be repatriated to the UK (and the other member states) and paid for from savings made as a result of lower EU contributions.

It is, of course, an argument being played out on a wider stage than Wales, as Britain confronts its EU future in the proposed referendum. Yet have any of our politicians got the right answer for Wales and is it possible something infinitely more radical is required, whether we stay in the EU and fight our corner or go it alone? For all the money spent so far, Wales now has a place in the next round of funding alongside the ‘less developed economies’ – an irony for a country that has claims to being the cradle of the industrial revolution, one of the first with a largely literate population, and a history of compulsory popular education dating back to the last half of the 19th Century.

Should we now be starting to think of Wales not as a developed economy, less developed economy or a post-industrial economy, but rather an undeveloping economy? Should policy recognise that this requires an altogether different approach than that applicable to countries that do not have Wales’s industrial and economic history?

We have seen three major phases of economic policy in Wales since the war. All have been targeted at dealing with the ‘decline of heavy industry’. From 1945 until roughly 1970 we effectively had direction of industry with major corporations of the time obliged in the immediate post war years to invest in the poorer regions. This was an era when British Nylon Spinners and many other big companies came to Wales, bringing industrial sectors not previously represented here. Direction ended with the change of government in 1951 but big British groups were heavily incentivised through development grants to come here throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The Location of Offices Bureau completed the pincer movement for service industries, actively dragooning office employers in London to move out – policies that would seem incomprehensible nowadays.

The next phase between 1970 and 1990, when British-owned industry was in decline, saw development funds being used to attract foreign direct investment, utilising low cost Welsh labour to manufacture products that could now be sold across the European Common Market. This worked until the collapse of Communism and the opening up of China released millions of more lowly paid workers who could do the same jobs for the multinationals but more cheaply.

Since then policy has been a combination of spurring on local entrepreneurs, targeting growth sectors such as biotechnology and IT services, and holding on like grim death (with the help of investment support incentives) to the significant big businesses that are still based here, such as Airbus, Ford, Dow Chemical and Tata.

All of these approaches have ultimately disappointed. Is it time, therefore, to think of Wales as a place where the economy – in particular the small and medium sized sector – needs to be rebuilt and needs a degree of sheltering from the full rigours of the globalised, free market?

Though the scale is completely different, can we learn some lessons from South Korea? At the end of the Second World War this was a largely agricultural nation. Today, however, it is one of the world’s leading industrial nations, with powerhouse electronic and motor industries. In his recent book How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region Joe Studwell points out that the neo-liberal free market policies that have been followed in the West for the last 30 years would have prevented South Korea – and Taiwan before it – from taking off. Companies like Samsung, LG, and Hyundai could never have faced down competition from Sony, Sharp, Panasonic, Toyota, Honda and General Motors without some help to develop export strategies in a protected market with a helpful domestic financial system. He quotes Park Chung-hee, the South Korean strongman who was behind the South Korean miracle: “Make public pronouncements about the importance of free markets and then go quietly about your business.”

Naomi Klein says something similar in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In it she charts the defeat of ‘developmentalist’ policies which she argues had been helping the economies of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Though it is not necessary to accept in full the conspiracy theories behind her writing, she does make a powerful case that these economies were beginning to prosper in the post war period as they sought to develop a degree of local self-sufficiency. However, free market advocates from the Chicago School of Economics proved so successful in penetrating the higher echelons of politics and banking in those countries, that policy reverted to a globalised free market model favouring big international, and mainly American, corporations.

Of course, all this takes us some way away from Wales and its hopes of what might be achieved from the next round of EU funding. All the same they are relevant issues. It seems unlikely, to say the least, that the Welsh Government’s growth sector strategy is going to make the dent in Wales’s unemployment and skills deficit and GDP gap that is needed, however big a subvention we get in the next EU budget. Yet there are sectors where a strong indigenous firms need to be developed. Nor are they usually operating in advanced technology fields though they might have these requirements, if they ever developed a sufficient scale.

With one notable exception in Welsh Water – which even now looks likely to be challenged – Wales lacks any control over its utilities. We have only one significant hospitality company, despite our dependence on tourism, and only two significant Welsh-based financial institutions. Where they are not part of British multinationals such as Unilever, ultimate ownership of most of our public transport assets, and despite the importance of our food sector, our biggest meat and food processing operations, is by the French, Germans, Irish and Dutch. As a result, even the big public procurement spend in Wales is destined only ever to leave scraps for Welsh-based businesses and little money to circulate within the Welsh economy.

Wales does need multinationals companies and their contribution in sustaining Welsh wealth has been overwhelming in post-war years. However, we are not building the small and medium-sized companies we need in sectors where we could hope to have Welsh-owned and controlled assets and which of themselves would encourage the growth of Welsh-based support services.

As yet again we need another round of funding from Brussels, why not make the focus this time on building stronger Welsh businesses in these areas? Let us see if we cannot persuade Brussels that Welsh businesses need to be prioritised in Wales, through favourable treatment under the procurement rules, and through some form of protection if wider Welsh interests are threatened. Public stakes might also need to be used to support businesses going through difficult times. After all, we have started down this path with the Welsh Government’s purchase of Cardiff Airport. Simply watering the ground with further millions of Euro funding in the hope something will grow can only work if there are healthy plants waiting to come through, but in Wales this is often not the case.

Rhys David is a former Financial Times journalist and a Trustee with the IWA.

21 thoughts on “Wales now the Mezzogiorno of northwest Europe

  1. Wales has to decide whether we want to be a modern prosperous nation or a throwback to a mythical Celtic past. You immediately think that I am exaggerating. No, not one little bit. It is no use allowing Councils such as Gwynedd to distribute and administer Objective one funding when the politcal party in that county is dead set against any increase of population from outside of the county….let alone outside Wales.

    Instead of openly welcoming immigration as Scotland did, we, through the nationalist agenda, look for every means to restrict inward migration. As a result we have an age profile overall (but particularly in the north west and west) that is not conducive to entrepreneurial activity and even our young people are more likely to leave Wales if they are well qualified. We actually educate for public services not for engineering and science.

    It’s all very well Plaid talking up their committment to the economy……but then they are even more vociferous in their demands for a more restrictive Tan 20 to prevent large housebuilding projects and the population growth that comes with such projects. And so we treat the building trade as separate to the economy, even though it is the backbone of skilled and semi-skilled employment in Wales.

    The national obsession with Welsh identity and Welsh Isolationism prevents economic growth…never mind, no one is going to bite the bullet on this one. Nationalism is the only political show in town.

  2. Before making my main point on the contents of your article I must say that I find it disappointing, though not entirely unexpected, that you found it necessary to dismiss Naomi Klein’s work as being based on ‘conspiracy theories’. This seems to have become the catch-all title for any analysis which seeks to step outside the mainstream neo-liberal interpretation of globalisation and financialisation. It has led to an approach within the media and academic economics which is both intellectually lazy and unhelpful in devising alternatives to what has become an egregiously exploitative, unequal and, as demonstrated most recently post-2008, ineffective economic system. Allowing analyses such as Klein’s to be conflated with, for instance those of David Icke or Alex Jones is an extremely repressive technique and endangers open debate on a range of issues by seeking to delegitimate arguments instead of countering them in a rational manner.

    In your, admittedly brief, analysis of the Welsh situation there is no mention made whatsoever of the success of publically owned investment banks in the EU and beyond, particularly in the BRIC nations or in the US in the Bank of North Dakota. I can’t help feeling that this is again symptomatic of the methodological myopia which has come to affect the approach to economics in the UK and other western countries dominated by the so-called ‘free-market’ economics which emerged from the Thatcher/Reagan era and, amongst other sources, from an, at best, highly selective reading of Adam Smith.

    This narrowing of intellectual focus is arguably one of the reasons that the current review being undertaken by Prof Dylan Jones-Evans on behalf of the Welsh Government has been given the title ‘Review of Welsh Business Access to Private Sector Finance’: plainly no other structure of finance or credit is possible outside the hallowed ‘Private Sector’ in this conception, though that would be something of a shock to the Chinese. There is an increasingly powerful argument that a well-structured public investment, or indeed infrastructure, bank would free Wales from over-reliance on EU grant-aid. Indeed, if borrowing powers were granted to the Welsh Government (oddly before taxation powers), we could avoid excessive reliance on extra territorial financial institutions. The dangers of the latter have been writ large on the streets of Athens and in the miserable histories under IMF and World Bank ‘conditionalities’ of the ‘developing’ nations of the South America and Africa.

    I believe, as you do, that SMEs are indeed the way forward for the Welsh economy, but I would also suggest that there are more imaginative and innovative alternatives to going to cap in hand to Brussels which will provide us with a stronger base for sustainable investment in our nation going forward: unpalatable as these methods may be to the more ‘market fundamentalist’ elements of our economics establishment. We need to start investigating these other models earnestly and with open minds before we transition from being the Mezzogiorno of Northwest Europe to becoming the ‘Athens of the North’, but not in the positive sense in which this once applied to enlightenment Edinburgh. I would recommend that anyone interested in these ideas begin with a visit to the webpage of the European Association of Public Banks (EAPB), which provides an excellent overview of the models of public banking currently operating in Europe here:
    http://www.adfiap.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/2011_03_28_Publ-Fin-Inst-in-Europe_Final.pdf

  3. Jill Evans,MEP and President of Plaid Cymru. Lets be frank she is only an MEP because of the ‘mickey mouse’ way of voting for EP,and what a joke that is in reality. Some years ago the Blair/Brown regime had a plan to develop St Athan as a massive base for training of armed services and this would have produced,if compled massive investments in the VoG. I live in the Vog,and it would have been welcomed with the possibility of major infrastructure investments,particularly in roads around villages.The said Ms. Evans was opposed as part of WAR’ machine’,or other such rubbish!!.The facts of live are now coming home to roost,in that devolution has been a disaster as it gave the impression that we could ‘seperate’ from the UK,whilst of course getting our ‘hand out’ for English money. The idea that we need more ‘internalization’ is only put forward by PC who seem to have much greater influence,particularly at BBC Wales/S4C than is warranted. How on earth can a poor place like Wales separate itself from the forces of capitalism which is making the world a much smaller place,and with much greater competition. I do not understand why the germans would fund more money for US without a huge ‘haircut’ as its forcing on Spain/Greece/Ireland etc etc,who are of course independent countries in the EU. I visit ‘over the border’ on regular basis as grand children there and its changing due to mass immigaration and acceptance of reality,whereas we are dreaming of 1125 and shortly to get there.PS Why is Bristol Airport thriving with welsh people now supporting it in droves whilst our ‘tiddler’ in Rhoose is virtually empty?. e answer is that welsh people are PRAGMATIC,but our politicians are stuck in the past..

  4. “London looks to a global future built around its two great industries, finance and leisure,…..” So who are they skimming the profits off of or financing? London is wealthy simply because the banks are there and all the head offices of companies which are largely making their sales and therefore their profits elsewhere. Yes……London to become independent of the rest of the UK? Good luck with that.

    Regarding Wales. We need borrowing powers. Control of taxation and in particular Corporation tax. We also need control over the Crown estates and water. That’s to begin with.

  5. The problem with Welsh regional policy since the 1930s is that the focus has been on infrastructure rather than enterprise culture. Driving around West Wales yesterday, the fruits of EU and UK Government investment were gratifyingly visible: there were some fine stretches of new road, and lots of new and renovated buildings. It all appeared to be very cheering, but closer observation revealed a pattern of under-utilisation, roads that led nowhere, houses local people cannot afford, and shops empty or let to low-rent tenants. If half the energy, thought, and resources Welsh policy-makers put into getting grants from the EU and HMG was instead directed towards helping Welsh small businesses, we would not need to be so reliant on outsiders. With our natural resources and the traditional ingenuity of the Welsh, Wales could and should be more like Lombardy than the Mezzogiorno. As it is, to be more concerned about getting money out of others than about generating it ourselves is the defining mark of a dependency mentality.

  6. I am becoming convinced now that the only way Wales will improve its economy to create a wealthier, more equal and fairer country is with independence.

    Give Wales the tools to do the job. The longer we are in this outdated and failing union the poorer we will become, there’s no doubt about it.

  7. An interesting perspective by Rhys David. However, it is sad to see that the IWA’s discussion page has become the repository for visceral diatribes. To Howell Morgan and others I’d plead: by all means analyse and deconstruct the arguments put forward but please don’t resort to personal abuse, and crass statements. Political dialogue on Welsh current affairs deserves better.

  8. @PJ. Sorry I didn’t meet you ‘sensitive’ standards. I’ve just checked and Ms Evans MEP did object to possibility of the development of St. Athan as a mega training centre for our armed services and others from across the globe. It is this unworldly attitude that I object to as surely its up to people themselves where they work,and many around here would have like the opportunity.

  9. @Jon- what is this mystical Celtic past you speak of? And being that ”past” is Welsh identity, please fill me in on how modern Wales should look? The article was a very interesting read, however nowhere in the article did I see any mention at all of the need to relocate tens of thousands of people in to Wales to create a prosperous economy, and to better use EU resources. What has the shift of aged English OAPs in to Wales go to do with European funding?

    So, due to out ”nationalist agenda, which is apparently restricting inward migration according to you, how come this is the case then
    ”Instead of openly welcoming immigration as Scotland did, we, through the nationalist agenda, look for every means to restrict inward migration. As a result we have an age profile overall (but particularly in the north west and west) that is not conducive to entrepreneurial activity”. These OAPs wouldn’t be here in the first place if inward migration were stopped, so you have completely contradicted yourself. What measures are in place to prevent this inward migration? No such measures exist, for that would be illegal according to EU law for a start. TAN 20 do not prevent people moving in, they allow for the relocation of certain developments to where they are needed, rather than where they are not needed.

    ”The national obsession with Welsh identity and Welsh Isolationism prevents economic growth…never mind, no one is going to bite the bullet on this one. Nationalism is the only political show in town”
    Please explain the difference between a Welsh identity, and Welsh nationalism? The two things are completely different. You seem to mix up the two; any outward manifestation of Welshness is automatically nationalistic, that is not the case. Also, how does Wales’ new found confidence in its self prevent growth? And if it does, what should we do instead to prevent that? All well and good crying from the rooftops that Britishness is not the only identity in town, quite another is blaming Welshness for lack of growth.

  10. Paul Jones –
    I must say that I can only see one comment here that could be described as a ‘visceral diatribe’, complete with the usual complement of misspelling and eccentric punctuation: the rest appear to be perfectly reasonably couched comments on the issues and don’t seem to feature any ‘personal abuse’ or ‘crass statements’, even if they advance views with which I don’t personally agree. If anything we could do with a bit more fire in debates on Welsh issues, as I am certain that in the current economic situation there is far less consensus about our way forward than is generally reflected in our media or by our academic departments.

  11. @Siddiq Khara

    ‘Give Wales the tools to do the job’

    Now where have I heard that before??? Ah yes, out of the lips of the nauseating Roger Lewis prior to the last ‘more powers’ referendum….. and can anybody name anything of worth that they have done with these ‘new tools’ since winning that referendum in 2011? other than the ‘official languages’ bill of course!! That has set the economy, NHS and education system in Wales well on the path to greatness!

    Now I know this may be a minority view here on the Institute of Welsh Language Affairs blog, but I’m of the opinion that Cardiff bay has enough tools already!

  12. This is an interesting article, which again exposes the mistakes that have been made in recent decades with the Welsh economy. I am a little perplexed why Wales has felt the need to stick so rigidly to European rules, both in relation to Objective One funding and procurement. Certainly with the latter, nations like Germany have sailed very close to the wind to ensure that in terms of public procuremnt spending, the vast majority is spent close to home.

    Ian Jenkins has above also made a very good point about alternative methods of funding, which the UK and Wales have been very slow to consider (Jon Jones, why do you bother even commenting-so predictable!).

    In terms of Government support, there was a recent example where a local milk cooperative in West Wales attempted to re-start a dairy industry. Sadly, it went into receivership in March and has been taken over by a UK company. Yet in Ireland, a similar approach is given huge public support including significant advertising. I am just not convinced that the Welsh Govt or at least some of the Civil Servants, are prepared to take enough calculated risks, Cardiff Airport apart. I would also like to see more financial incentives for students to study courses we need, linking future careers with local companies and the fees funding. This has been going on for years with the private sector, so why not with a at least a proportion of the public fee funding? Finally, at long last Wales is investing significanlty in apprentiships, even if Plaid had to force Labour to do it through a budget deal. I only hope that these thousands of new opportunities offer careers that our economy need, not just hair salons.

  13. Howell Morgan

    “Sorry I didn’t meet your ‘sensitive’ standards.”

    Intelligent and courteous will do.

  14. Ian; my comments are no more predictable than yours. You don’t like to see them out there and so you would like me to remain silent. That’s OK; mine is a minority viewpoint and certainly not echoed by any political party in Wales. As such there is little harm in my voicing it and if you feel like groaning and rolling your eyes then just you go ahead and do that. I would point out that I can predict the gist of every Nationalist viewpoint in a couple of sentences:-
    (a) England did it to us.
    (b) Give us more powers.

    Ben. So many questions from one who has so few answers apart from (a) and (b) see above.

    My home is in the Fro Cymraeg where Nationalists have long vilified any incomers who dared to settle here. The “English Colonists Out” campaign was not that long ago but the point that I make is simple; retirees have value and bring a certain level of employment in services and building trades but they aren’t the ideal incomers. The best would be young to middle aged settlers with money and expertise…people who would improve standards of services or bring private business start ups. But what do we do? We refuse to provide English medium schools for their young children and we use the Welsh language to block them from employment.

    Often we block entire multi-million pound projects for no other reason than that they would bring people into the area…and we don’t want that. Not so long ago the Snow Dome and Holiday camp project in Llanberis was refused permission on the grounds that it would create 700 jobs. Welsh Nationalists complained that there weren’t 700 unemployed in the area. Planning refused. Then there was the huge Pwllheli Marina project….recommended by Dafydd Iwan no less, but then rejected by Gwynedd Councillors in a vote where Dafydd Iwan refused to support his own proposal out of sympathy for the viewpoint of his opponents who feared that the Welsh Language would be diluted in the area.
    What is happening now? Eurig Wyn writes to the Western Mail demanding a new, more draconian TAN 20 so that it can be used effectively to block housing development in Plaid Dominated areas. Simultaneously Cymdaethas Yr Iaith and Meri Huws make similar demands for a new stronger TAN 20 and Plaid Councillors in Carmarthenshire do the same.

    What is happening in Wales is that we are hedging ourselves round with little rules and regulations which effectively restrict the free flow of immigration to Wales. We actually NEED teachers to come from England but now we block them with demands for Welsh langauge ability even in English Medium schools.

    Believe it or not, in every area of business and the economy we need to make it easy to live here and work here. EU funding has to go to the private sector and any person or group from anywhere in the world who will willingly start up viable concerns within Wales. Just giving money to councils to prop up pet projects with little hope of success or build roads to nowhere or empty speculative buildings won’t do.

    It’s unfortunate for people of your viewpoint Ben but the World doesn’t want to invest in introspective backwaters.

  15. Jon Jones

    I certainly would not like you to remain silent, as this would damage the political process in Wales: to suggest that I want your silence is an intellectually dishonest way to begin an argument, as it is in no part of my post either stated or implied. In fact I think you’ll find that I opened my post with a call for intellectual openness. I do, of course, reserve the right to groan and roll my eyes. I would also prefer to be described as an ‘Internationalist’ – though I would consider myself a patriotic Welshman with a strong belief in the benefits of devolved government and the avoidance of unaccountable centralisation.

    At no point in my post did I blame England for the woes of Wales (‘England did it to us’) – in fact you will find that in other posts I have agreed that such an approach is worn-out and futile, although I am deeply critical of our current overly-centralised financial sector which does happen to be based in that medieval quasi-liberty of the City of London. The idea of a regional public bank (for Wales or any other nation or region) would be intended to place responsibility for the Welsh economy nearer to home and the evidence from other places where public banking operates suggests that there would be many informational, democratic and systemic advantages to such ‘financial devolution’. In terms of ‘Nationalists’ like me being merely fixated on being given ‘more powers’, I am in fact also critical of many of the findings of Part 1 the Silk Commission on Devolution (or perhaps more critical of their subsequent interpretation in some quarters) as they relate to borrowing powers, particularly if they are not given in tandem with taxation powers and the institution of a public infrastructure or investment bank to avoid the extractive tragedy of sovereign debt or near-criminal debacles like PFI.

    As far as your criticisms of the handling of the Welsh language issue goes I will leave it to others better qualified than myself to comment, but will advance the view that I suspect some level of hyperbole in your analysis.

  16. Well said John Jones in your last response to Ian and what you had to say should not be confined to IWA’s comments section but it should be a lead article on IWA site and for that matter in the rest of Welsh media.

    As you have pointed out, our views are ‘minority views’ so why is the Y Fro mind set afraid of letting us being heard or is there is something else and far more sinister at play to prevent people like you and me from being heard?

  17. “We actually NEED teachers to come from England but now we block them with demands for Welsh language ability even in English Medium schools.”

    Really interesting point that Jon! When I was in school in Pembrokeshire (a lot more recently than some here I’d wager) the staff were a very mixed bunch. Teachers in some respects become your adult role models, particularly for those children lacking that at home…. and for that reason the wider life experience they can bring then the more your own horizons will be broadened. In my school we had Irish teachers, geordies, a brummie, a cockney, a couple of scots, a german and a frenchwoman…. along with Welsh of course. Now I valued the staff in the Welsh department (all women when I was there), they brought their own experiences and were more than capable at what they did. However, they all had the same background, life experiences and travelled down from cardigan/north pembs together each day etc. With Welsh medium education is surely it’s like the Welsh department several times over teaching the whole school for all subjects. Where is the range of life experience? It is my view (and its hardly uninformed- I went to school in Wales and live here) that you’re going to end up with a very monocultural bunch who all went to school together, went to Urdd together and socialise together etc. Now that may be fone for some parents but is this something we want to repeat in English Medium schools by further emphasising Welsh language requirements for teachers?

  18. @ Absolutely awful comments, I expect a certain amount of hyperbole but the hypocrisy and bigotry above is astonishing. Clearly, you have a right to disagree with TAN 20, but that debate is for another day. The point that struck me was that I am an inward looking reactionary individual living in a mono-cultural backwater. Why? Because I speak Welsh. So giving the fact that Wales is bilingual, as is much of the world, how on earth is it even possible to be mono-cultural? I am astounded that those monoglots above who have no understanding of Welsh can even begin to describe the CULTURES that I am part of.

  19. Jon Jones, Jacques Protic, Below lands ker – the same sad, old, spiteful, chip on the shoulder anti-Welsh bigotry we have come to expect.

    I know nobody takes them seriously, but why bother having a comments section Click on Wales at all if it’s the same ones (named above) who use it to spread their minority-bashing poisonous bile that they repeat ad nauseum on virtually every article?

  20. @ Ben

    The point to remember about the arguments of Jon Jones is that they are essentially weak; that is why he has to reach for reckless half-truths in order to get any attention. His arguments don’t bear scrutiny and therefore don’t warrant any attention, though he is perfectly at liberty to express them.

    The one problem caused by such unmediated ranting is that it distracts from the real issue presented in this article, namely how to regenerate the Welsh economy during a period of austerity.

    One of the positive things about this current debate is that it is taking place in the context of a democratically elected body having to make real decisions about our economic future. In other words, we are no longer in the territory of woudn’t it be nice if one day someone could get round to talking about the possibility of improving people’s living standards. It is happening here and now and our representatives will have to make some far-reaching decisions about our future very soon.

    In terms of where I live, Cardiff, It is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a growing body of opinion in favour of the establishment of a Cardiff city region which could revitalise the economic infrastructure left to us by the glory days of iron, steel and coal. But it is also the case that not just infrastructure but people who have been left behind with limited economic opportunities available to them. If there is one measure that will determine the success or otherwise of the Cardiff city region will be the degree to which it provides economic opportunity for the people of this area. If living standards do not improve, then the project will have failed in its objective.

    I’m aware however that, as exciting as the Cardiff city region project is, we’re in danger of developing our own version of the Watford Gap syndrome, namely that North Wales begins at Merthyr. How economic development here can be extended beyond the Brecon Beacons to the north or the Gower in the west is something that is often complained about but on which there doesn’t appear to be a coherent view.

    Of course this could be the wrong approach. Perhaps the idea of having regional economic hubs, in towns like Carmarthen, Aberystwyth, Bangor, Wrexham or Newtown, is the way forward. But even if this has potential, these areas will still have to be connected to the main economic engine driving the Welsh economy forward, the Cardiff city region. It would be helpful to hear from people beyond the immediate Cardiff area as to their perspective on being connected to economic growth in the South East.

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