Almost three quarters in Wales 'not confident' UK Government will deliver on 'levelling up' promise, poll finds

Boris Johnson made his 'levelling up' pledge in his first speech as prime minister outside Downing Street in July 2019.
Boris Johnson pledged to "level up" different parts of the UK when he became prime minister Credit: PA

Almost three quarters of people in Wales are not confident that the UK government will deliver on its promise to improve the economy of underperforming areas, an exclusive ITV Wales poll has found.

Boris Johnson pledged when he became prime minister in July 2019 that his government would lead a "levelling up" of prosperity - including higher living wages and higher productivity - across the UK.

He said, it was time "we unleashed the productive power not just of London and the South East" - but all parts of the UK.

He reiterated that promise to "unite and level up" the country after the Conservatives' landslide General Election victory in December, when the party won seats traditionally held by Labour in Wales, and across the north of England - the so-called "red wall".

But, an exclusive poll by YouGov for ITV Wales has found more than 70% of people are not confident that the UK government will deliver on that promise.

72% are not confident that levelling up will be delivered, including 53% of those who voted for the Conservative Party last December.

The poll's findings come as 40 Conservative MPs from across the UK launch a 'Levelling Up Taskforce'. It is calling on the government to set three tests on whether it is doing what it promised in poorer parts of the UK, including improving earnings and reducing unemployment in those areas.

Boris Johnson campaigned in Wales, including Barry Island, during the Tory leadership race last year Credit: PA

Previous research has found that Wales has, on average, more deprivation in its towns than any other region in England or Scotland.

In a report published by Cambridge University in January, researchers found seven towns in Wales have twice as much ‘severe deprivation’ than the average British town.

No Welsh town features in Britain’s 40 most economically improving areas.

Research shows seven towns in Wales have twice as much ‘severe deprivation’ than the average British town. Credit: PA

Today's poll is part of a special week of coverage across ITV News in Wales, the north of England, and the Midlands, called Levelling Up, which is looking at the state of economy, health and education in communities.

Economic development is an area of responsibility of the Welsh Government, as well as health and education. The minister responsible for the economy, Ken Skates MS, told ITV News that before the coronavirus pandemic hit, "all of the indicators were heading in the right direction" when it came to the growth of the economy.

"As a result of the immediate and unprecedented action taken by Welsh Government I am confident Wales, while we do face economic challenges, will emerge from coronavirus with confidence and with opportunities and make sure we level up our communities across Wales - but we need the UK Government to do so likewise."

The survey also asked people living in Wales how they feel coronavirus has affected their local area, health and their children's education.

Davina Davies says she feels her town is "disconnected" from places like Wrexham

During December's election, the Tory party gained seven seats in Wales - with areas such as Bridgend, Vale of Clwyd, Clwyd South and Delyn their target seats.

Davina Davies prepares 120 roast dinners every Friday for her community in the Ceiriog Valley, in the constituency of Clwyd South, which had been a Labour-held seat since 1997 until last year.

She told ITV News she feels like her town is "disconnected from Wrexham."

"If you feel a long way from Wrexham, you must feel a long way from Westminster", ITV Wales' Carole Green asks her.

"Absolutely - this is what I'm saying. If these things happen - that we are all treated equal, wouldn't it be a much better way of living?"

What else did the survey find?

  • 56% are not satisfied with Boris Johnson's handling of the pandemic

  • 57% said they do not trust the UK government to make the right decisions when tackling the coronavirus pandemic

  • 30% of those who voted Conservative in the last election think Boris Johnson has done worse than expected.

  • 72% of December's Tory voters would prefer no deal with the EU

  • 57% think it is the UK government that makes the most important decisions for Wales about the economy

In response to the poll findings, a UK government spokesperson said it will continue to "level up all the nations and regions of the UK" as the economy "gets moving" again after the coronavirus pandemic.

"From the very start we have been tackling the pandemic as one United Kingdom, following the best scientific advice and guidance of the four chief medical officers, who have been working closely together.

“The UK Government acted quickly to deliver one of the most generous and comprehensive economic packages in the world, supporting more than 500,000 jobs in Wales and providing the Welsh Government with £4bn in extra funding to tackle the virus. 

“As we get the economy moving once again, we will provide the investment and support businesses need to get back on their feet, create jobs to replace those that have been lost and continue our work to level up all the nations and regions of the UK.”

YouGov polled 1,110 Welsh voters for ITV Cymru Wales between 28 August and 4 September.

Analysis by Work and Economy Correspondent Carole Green

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson came to power making a big promise to level up those areas of Wales which have fallen behind the more prosperous parts of the UK.  So how big a task is it here in Wales? Take a look at any of the standard economic indicators like income, output, work and poverty and Wales tends to be found towards the bottom of the league tables.

We are poorer and unhealthier than most other parts of the UK. 

Gross Value Added or GVA is a tricky term but it means the value of the work we do, the things we make and the services we provide. It's not a perfect measure but it does tell us about our living standards and opportunities here in Wales. Before coronavirus struck, the value of the economy here was growing faster and unemployment was lower than across the UK. Whilst the indicators were moving in the right direction that's not the full picture. Wales starts from a lower base and the latest ONS figures show there's still a stubborn wealth and prosperity gap here.

Then throw into the levelling up mix the coronavirus pandemic. It has plunged us into recession for the first time in over a decade. The economy shrunk by a massive 22% in the first half of the year. 

Food, Tourism, Hospitality and Aerospace all key sectors in the Welsh economy were hit the hardest. The worrying question now is what happens when furlough ends in October?

Will the 300,000 plus jobs in Wales supported by the Job Retention Scheme still exist or are they now so called "zombie jobs"?

Even when pre-pandemic employment figures were strong, Wales didn't see a significant uplift in living standards. In work poverty is a problem. More jobs here tend to be low paid with one in three children who live in relative poverty coming from working households.          

On coronavirus there is room for hope. Wales has a smaller proportion of its economy based in very large cities compared to other UK nations and regions. With people working from home, city businesses relying on footfall have been decimated, but local Welsh high streets have fared better.

Wales also has a higher proportion of jobs in the public sector compared to most other parts of the UK. About one in three jobs here are in health, education, local councils and other public bodies and they have remained productive and stable during the pandemic - keeping wages coming in and money circulating in local economies. 

We may have forgotten about the B word for a while but Brexit hasn't gone away. The slogan "Get Brexit done" helped Boris Johnson to Number 10 but the impact of leaving the EU on the Welsh Economy has not fully come through yet. With manufacturing a key sector here, relying on people and products crossing borders freely, UK Government figures show Wales will be worse off out of the EU-even with a deal - if there is one.

As if Brexit and a pandemic were not challenging enough, we are also in the middle of unprecedented change. A fourth Industrial Revolution is underway, a move towards a new world of work of 5G, automation and artificial intelligence. The challenge for our economy, businesses and workforce is to be able to adapt quickly enough to transition safely to the new reality. Levelling Up is an attractive and laudable aim but it's a massive task- especially when the levers of power fall between both UK and Welsh Governments. Voters will have another say at the Senedd elections in May.