Wales 'needs economy to grow faster than other parts of UK to close gap' says former Welsh Secretary

Former Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb

Wales needs to grow its economy faster than other parts of the UK, and prevent communities from being eroded by second home ownership, a Conservative former Welsh secretary has said.

Welsh Affairs Committee chairman Stephen Crabb told the Commons: "I think if there is one part of the United Kingdom that is crying out for meaningful levelling up then it is Wales."

Ministers were also told by Independent MP Jonathan Edwards that future UK governments would need to commit to the levelling up agenda for "decades" in order for it to have an impact.

As MPs debated estimates for how much the UK Government's Wales Office will spend over the next year, Mr Crabb said: "If we are going to close the economic gap in Wales we need to be growing in Wales on average faster, significantly faster than across the rest of the UK as an average."

Stephen Crabb, Preseli Pembrokeshire MP

The Preseli Pembrokeshire MP later said: "We all want to protect our own little corners of Wales and keep them nice and quaint. The truth is that if we are just happy to stay at that level we will find all the properties bought up by second home owners and actually very few high-quality jobs and training opportunities to keep our young families actually living there."

He added: "I think there is a real problem when you see places like Ceredigion, those western Welsh-speaking communities in Wales, showing a significant drop in population levels.

"That does not bode well for the future and you have got parts of Wales, declining population, overlay that with the ageing demographic, and that points to the fact that we have some very deep-seated, underlying challenges in Wales and it should be the ambition of all of us, whatever our political colours, to see that addressed."

Chris Bryant, Rhondda MP

Labour MP Chris Bryant warned that levelling up funding was currently "based on a competition", telling the Commons: "I think it leads to project-itis."

The Rhondda MP added: "People put together projects to fit the schemes rather than a strategic look at what is needed across some of the poorest communities in South Wales, and for my own money the single most important thing we could do is try to enable far more people in the South Wales Valleys seats to build their own business up from scratch until they are employing maybe only five or 10 people."

In a statement released on Saturday (13 August), Mr Edwards announced he will not be re-joining the Plaid Cymru Westminster group.

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP Mr Edwards likened levelling up to the reunification of Germany after the Cold War.

He told the Commons: "The first lessons that all political parties need to learn is that levelling up will not be a one-term or one-government policy agenda, such is the scale of the challenge.

"It will take decades, and governments of different colours will have to be committed to the agenda."

Elsewhere in the debate, Conservative MP for Aberconwy Robin Millar said it is a "tragic fact" that after 24 years of devolution, Wales has the "lowest economic output of anywhere in the UK, apart from the north-east of England", as he warned against the introduction of a tourism tax by the Welsh Government.

Making an intervention, Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts asked him: "Would he consider that devolution for Wales has not equipped Wales with the tools to make a significant difference?"

She went on: "And would he agree with me, he talked about tourism, surely that if we were to play to our strengths, a tax on people staying in Wales, what is known as a tourism tax, would be a way of improving our skills, the skills base that would lead to better jobs, better qualifications, and a better experience all round for those communities in which tourism takes place, and that we should be playing to these strengths, and we need the means to do it?"

Mr Millar replied: "I've spoken against this and I feel very strongly about this that a tax which is placed on visitors who stay in hotels does nothing to address the problems of the behaviours of those who come to the area wild camping, and maybe don't even stay overnight and are not spending money in the local economy."

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart accused Labour in Wales of being "nervous for some inexplicable reason to allow devolution to extend beyond the Cardiff postcode".

He added: "We do not believe that. We believe we can trust local authorities. We do trust local bodies. We do trust local stakeholders. We do trust universities, we do trust all of those people who make our economy and make our society tick. That is why levelling up is going to be the success that it is."