Wales politics

Difficult reading, difficult call

In 1997 it was 83%.

Ten years later it had fallen to 73%.

Now the GDP per head in West Wales and the Valleys, as a percentage of the average across all EU regions, has fallen - according to the latest, official, Eurostat figures, to 68.4%.

In other words, the economic performance of the region, one that's received billions of pounds of economic regeneration funding since European aid began in 1999, has slipped even further behind the rest of Europe and is the lowest of any region in the UK.

The UK as a whole, if you can take more figures, stands at 110.7% - better off than the European average, in other words.

The Liberal Democrats' Business Minister, Eluned Parrott, accepts "there are some caveats to the statistics" but the long list of figures, going back over many years and a pattern that points inexorably downwards, dropping heavily in year to 2009, is proof, she says "that Labour have monumentally failed the people of Wales".

It is clear that the money that's gone in to West Wales and the Valleys, precisely because it was amongst the poorest regions in Europe, hasn't made it comparatively better off. It's clear too that in other countries, the money they got and the way it was spent did lift them out of the bottom of the economic league. The once in a generation opportunity to transform the fortunes of those areas delivered.

We reported back in October, how West Wales and the valleys were joined only by Malta, two regions of Portugal and four regions of southern Italy as areas that became relatively poorer despite the investment.

You can point, of course, to the difficut economic times we are in. The problem is that those difficult economic times haven't passed the rest of the world by. Other European countries have had it tough too. The whole point of these figures is that they are averages, they tell us how we're doing compared to other parts of Europe - parts that haven't been immune to the economic downturn.

Take Greece. It's not hard to look at the figures and find, as the Lib Dems have done, regions of Greece that are faring better than parts of Wales.There's Ionia Nisia, Sterea Ellada and Peloponnisos, all scoring higher than West Wales, all more competitive than the valleys. By dint of being in Greece, you suspect,they make it into the Lib Dem list that I'll sub-title "the list of areas outgunning us economically but somehow sound as though they shouldn't".

The government haven't yet given their response to the latest figures but when they do, I'll include them here.

If you can stomach another disappointing list, the Department of Work and Pensions has just published the KPMG report into Remploy factories, including those in Wales.

They did it, as it happens, on the day Maria Miller, the Minister for Disabled People was meeting the Education Minister, Leighton Andrews. Her message? That while she was willing to work with the Welsh government to see if any of the seven sites in Wales could stay open after all, there was not a penny more to be had from the UK government.

Tomorrow, there'll be 40 shop floor staff from Welsh Remploy factories in the Senedd, fighting for their jobs.

Today, Leighton Andrews was told that the funding - and the subsidy - for the factories where they work now won't be devolved. His response? "I would implore the UK Government, even at this late hour, to continue to consider, at least, devolving that budget to us ... I would go back to them and say that would create more of a future for the Remploy factories".

The figures, with thanks to two assiduous colleagues, are these:

Revenue Net Profit / Loss

Bridgend: £774,000 -£772,000

Swansea £901,000 -£1,249,000

Wrexham £1,222,000 -£878,000

Merthyr £645,000 -£873,000

Abertillery £338,000 -£617,000

Aberdare £92,000 -£841,000

Croespenmaen £1,583,000 -£889,000

--------------------------------------------------

Porth £1,840,000 -£197,000

Total losses: -£6,316,000

Neath £6,688,000 +£138,000

Even here, KPMG say that once central costs are added the overall site position becomes negative.

All in all, two sets of figures that you might say make difficult reading for the Welsh government.

UPDATE 17.20

No official government response to those Eurostat figures yet but a government source tells us this:

"The Lib Dems are quoting statistics selectively and in a misleading way. Since 2001, GDP per head in West Wales and the Valleys has broadly kept pace with the UK as a whole. However, GDP is particularly misleading as it does not take account of the large flows of commuters outside of the area - a point fully recognised by the report. In order to get a clear picture of economic performance, it is necessary to look at a wide range of indicators, including employment rates and measures of income - where West Wales and the Valleys has performed well."