Despite the decline of traditional heavy industry, Wales is no longer the economic dinosaur of the 1980s. However, the employment rate in Wales (for people of working age) in 2004 was 72.7%, still lower than the UK average of 74.7%. The employment rate is increasing, though, and the Assembly Minister Andrew Davies says there are now 100,000 more people in employment compared to 1999. There has been considerable growth in high technology, 'knowledge driven' businesses.
The population of Wales is around 2.94million people, three-quarters of whom are concentrated in the south east around the large cities Swansea, Cardiff and Newport, and the former mining valleys.
Wales still has large areas of economic deprivation, many concentrated in the Valleys, where the economy collapsed with the closure of the mines and the population continues to decline. On the other hand, some areas have seen considerable movement in, with population in Ceredigion growing by 25% in the last few years.
In the year 2002/3, average personal income before tax was £17,900, compared with £19,500 in Scotland and £22,100 in England. The weekly average gross earnings in 2004 were £444.70, considerably less than in England and Scotland. Men earned an average of £483.60, women £379.60.
The average cost of a house in Wales is £145,096, compared with £184,924 on average across the UK as a whole (Oct-Dec 2005). There is a tremendous variation across Wales, from an average price of nearly £192,000 in Monmouthshire and £173,000 in Cardiff, to around £95,000 in Merthyr Tydfil and £89,000 in Blaenau Gwent. The average price of a detached house in Wales is £218,571. (More about house prices at BBC News online.)
The average Band D Council Tax across Wales in 2005/6 was £921, compared to an average Band D rate of £1,214 in England. Of their £921, people are paying £762 for their county councils, £21 for community councils, and £138 for police services. The rate of increase over the last year was around 4% compared with 6% in England, though this varies around Wales from a tiny drop in Cardiff to 8% up elsewhere.
Industry and employment
The focus in Wales today is on tourism and public services, which are the main employers. Tourism is see as a major are of employment growth and investments, as well as a catalyst for environmental protection and regeneration. The creative industries are a growth area (increasing by 3% last year compared with 1% across the UK), and combined with cultural businesses now employ 17,500 people and contribute £400million annually to the economy.
It's a very different picture from a hundred years ago, when coal mining and steel manufacture dominated in the South and slate mining in the North, and there was a strong shipping industry. This created a hub of heavy industry in south Wales which has now faded away.
Lighter manufacturing such as electronics, parts and high technology industries are growth areas. The Assembly Government is putting funds into developing these areas. For example, last year it invested £30million in the Institute of Life Science (ILS) at Swansea University, which has potential to create wealth through research and licensing of research discoveries. The ILS will also provide start-up support for small high-tech companies.
Another recipient of Assembly investment is a new Institute of Advanced Telecommunications, also at Swansea, which will open new areas of research in deep-space telecommunications, optical systems and networks and wireless communications. At the other end of the technology scale, there is a resurgence of small, local businesses supplying, for example, organic foods.