Why Wales needs to up its game in terms of economic data

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.

This week we jointly organised a special seminar on this issue alongside the Welsh Economy Research Unit (WERU) of Cardiff Business School and the Regional Studies Association’s Welsh Branch.

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.

Janet Jones is policy chair of FSB Wales. This piece was first published on Wales Online, and can be found here: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/business/business-news/desperately-data-showing-full-economic-8254667

5 thoughts on “Why Wales needs to up its game in terms of economic data

  1. I agree whole heartedly with the author. We need accurate quarterly data about our economy as a matter of urgency. Given both companies house and the ONS are based in Wales you’d think that wouldn’t be too difficult – they at least provide part of the picture.I would like to know how accurate our tax take figures are as well.Are we measuring accurately the tax take here?Traditionally because Wales and England have been lumped in as one economic area assignment of corp tax payments must be at least partly grey.Given that Wales is now about to take on tax raising responsibility this needs to end.Wales needs to be a separate tax jurisdiction and measured accordingly.

  2. This has to be the priority issue for 2015. As Janet says, how can we possibly make sensible policy and investment decisions without knowing how our economy is performing. It is all the more pressing given that the Assembly has had responsibility for economic development for the last 15 years and we discover we have the lowest GVA per head in the entire United Kingdom (£16,893) compared with the UK average (£23,394). So we are producing about 28% per head less than the UK average. The worst case, Anglesey, is producing less than half (49%) of the UK average. Were I a resident of that island, I would be asking what the government’s investment policy was for that area.

    The positive news is that Wales has the highest growth of the four nations and the highest growth of the UK regions along with North West England.

    I would very much like to see the local GVA data for Wales but I searched on the ONS website without much success. I sense that a visit to Newport is on the cards.

  3. Rhobat I have lived on Anglesey all my life…well since 1957 at least, with very little time away. One thing that you do become aware of is that in reality we do not welcome ANY new business. Indeed, we hardly welcome a single new house let alone significant construction.

    Was it ever any different? Well yes, as long as decisions were made from far away we could benefit from the building of a Nuclear power station and a smelter but if it had been left to local politicians neither of those things would have happened. Even going back in time the Island was notoriously impoverished and petitioned to be exempted from paying “ship money” on the grounds that Anglesey could not raise the levy. In 1639 the Island defaulted by £11 and 4 shillings on its bill of £448.

    Will it get any better? Who knows; we are designated “Energy Island” but have well organised opposition to Wylfa B and Wind power generators. We have generations who have grown up and grown old working in the public sector both here and across the bridge and for those people risk or change is anathema.

  4. Those Anglesey people are just children, of course, who can’t run their own affairs and need to be looked after by wiser people, preferably English. Like the Welsh as a whole really. As we used to say in the empire: the Welsh make tolerable troops as long as they have white officers.

  5. I fully understand and share J Jones’s sentiments and as him I also have close links with the Island.

    Anglesey Local Authority needs to be placed into Special Measures and not just for few months but on long term basis and managed by experts who understand the challenges and have know how to implement and deliver a change that is desperately needed.

    Keeping the local Councillors and the so called ‘Professional Staff (Managers) would be a retrograde step for some very good reasons and equally a merger with Gwynedd would achieve nothing.

    Would be good if the WAG did something meaningful for people of Anglesey but it needs guts and courage to do so which I do not think Carwyn Jones has but will try to keep an open mind!?

    On the main topic and as others I fully agree with Janet Jones and perhaps a good starting point for the WAG would be to seek assistance from the Bank of England (Cardiff). The Welsh BOE does have considerable data and statistics on Welsh economy and many other aspects too.

    So don’t try to reinvent the proverbial wheel, use help from all sources to get the full and proper understanding what Wales has before doing anything else… !?

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