Janet Jones says the economic data available to the Welsh Government is a fraction of what policymakers in Scotland have
I find that in my own business when I am making a decision I like to do so in full possession of the facts.
If I am going to make a change to the way our business operates then I want to know whether it will cost me more, whether it will have an impact on our staff and customers, and whether it will benefit us in the longer term.
I hardly think I am the only one that takes that approach. Indeed it is hard to think that many people in business would make any significant decision without considering the full consequences.
But, when it comes to the Welsh economy, the facts are in short supply. The current level of economic data that is available to politicians in Cardiff Bay is just a small fraction of the data that is now available to the Scottish or UK governments.
Yet, despite this lack of data, the Welsh Government is going to be called upon to make some major decisions over taxation in the years to come. As confirmed by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement, business rates are to be fully devolved to the Welsh Government in April of next year.
In the years to come stamp duty land tax and landfill tax will follow. Subject to a referendum politicians in Cardiff Bay could also take control of an element of income tax. Between them it is estimated these four taxes will bring in some £4bn to the Welsh Government each year.
Westminster politicians have access to a huge range of data, including quarterly GDP. In Scotland policymakers have to a wealth of economic data through a weighty tome called Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland.
Here in Wales the limited data currently available to us includes such measures as unemployment, gross disposable household income (GDHI) and per-capita GVA.
Tomorrow the latest regional GVA figures will be released by the Office for National Statistics, but they will be for 2013. It is a far cry from the sort of quarterly GVA figures that are available to policymakers in Westminster and Holyrood.
It is not only FSB Wales that is concerned about the lack of statistics.
A recent report by the Assembly’s Enterprise and Business Committee called for the Welsh Government to ‘take steps to improve the quality and timeliness of the economic statistics that are available for Wales’. Yet this recommendation has only been accepted in part by the Welsh Government.
At FSB Wales we have been supportive of some taxes being devolved to Cardiff Bay, but new taxation powers need to be used responsibly.
It is hard to understand how any Welsh government can do that in the absence of proper economic modelling which will give an insight into the consequences of their decisions.
We are confident that the expertise is out there in the ONS and our academic institutions to provide such data and economic modelling.
The seminar Better Informed Policy Analysis for Wales heard from some of the leading experts in this field including Professor Geoffrey Hewings of the University of Illinois and Professor Max Munday of WERU.
We were joined at the event not only by academics but by also by civil servants and policy experts from several political parties.
I am sure that all those who attended left with the message that we can produce better statistics and gain a better understanding of the current state of the Welsh economy than we have at present.
Like those of us in business, our policymakers need to have access to the facts. If they are in possession of those facts they can make better decisions – decisions that will increasingly impact on businesses and working people in communities in every corner of Wales in the years to come.