Rishi Sunak: 100 days of delivering for Wales - or 100 days of economic collapse?

Sunak became Conservative leader and Prime Minister after replacing Liz Truss. Credit: PA

A hundred days of delivering for Wales or a hundred days of economic collapse.

It seems there’s little middle ground when it comes to judging the impact on Wales of Rishi Sunak’s first few months as Prime Minister. 

While political opponents say his time in office has brought no improvement to Wales, his supporters say that he’s already begun investment here and signalled plans that will create jobs in the future. 

Rishi Sunak became Conservative leader and then Prime Minister after his predecessor Liz Truss was forced to resign following financial panic sparked by her plan for tax cuts.

At 42, he became the youngster Prime Minister for two hundred years and is the first person of South Asian heritage to move into Downing Street.

As well as stabilising what had become an unstable government, he’s set out his aims in five pledges: to halve inflation, grow the economy, cut national debt, cut NHS waiting lists (in England) and pass laws to stop the so-called “small boats” route for migrants. 

He’s promised too to “restore integrity” in government.

His critics point to scandals surrounding Nadim Zahawi and Dominic Raab as sign that he’s been slow to act in that area, while his supporters say exactly the opposite, that he’s acted quickly but fairly. 

Those supporters too say that he’s put his money where his mouth is when it comes to investing in Wales.

In the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in November there was an extra £1.2bn funding for the Welsh Government over the next two financial years. 

However the Welsh Government say that amount won’t make up for a decade of real-terms cuts in central funding nor the impact of rising inflation now.

Then there’s Levelling Up funding.

In January, 11 projects were announced as having won a share of £208m in the latest round of grants.

They included a tramline in Cardiff city centre, an engineering campus in Blaenau Gwent and a cycle path in the Conwy Valley - but not a regeneration project in Wrexham. 

  • What the politicians say

It’s no surprise that the Welsh Conservatives see the first hundred days as bringing grounds for optimism.

The party’s leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, said that “In just a hundred days, the Prime Minister has already delivered for Wales, bringing in hundreds of millions of pounds of investment.   

 “In the latest Levelling Up funding round, Wales received the most per head of any part of the UK. It will deliver vital projects like Cardiff Crossrail and new North Wales transport links which will transform our communities.  

 “Rishi will also bring jobs and investment to Wales by delivering at least one freeport and working with the steel industry to bring about a long-term green steel future.” 

The Welsh Conservatives leader said Sunak has brought "grounds for optimism", but other politicians disagree. Credit: PA

It’s no surprise either that other political parties feel very differently. 

Labour's frontbencher for Wales, the Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens, said “Rishi Sunak is out of touch, out of ideas and out of time, too weak to provide the strong and ambitious leadership Britain so desperately needs.

“Wales has extraordinary potential, but 13 years of Tory failure in Downing Street is holding us back and people across Wales are paying the price.

“Labour has a plan for a fairer, greener, more dynamic economy that will create better jobs and deliver higher living standards. It’s time for a fresh start with a UK Labour government.”

According to Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, the UK under Sunak is in “dire straits.”

She added that, “Rishi Sunak's first hundred days in office are mired by economic collapse and relentless Tory scandals. People are sick to the back teeth and demand a General Election.

“Let’s recap. Under Sunak, the UK is the only major economy expected to shrink in 2023. Nurses and teachers can’t afford to pay for basic necessities. Energy bills are set to rocket. Brexit job losses are biting.

“Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s attention is elsewhere. Suella Braverman fired and rehired six days later despite breaching the ministerial code. Gavin Williamson resigned amid bullying allegations – Dominic Raab facing the same fate. Nadhim Zahawi finally sacked for lying about dodging taxes after weeks of dithering by the Prime Minister.

“This is a farcical record for any Prime Minister. There have been five Tory Prime Ministers over the last six years: each hamstrung by their party’s ideological flaws and personal weaknesses. Sunak is only the latest to put pacifying Tory party factions before people’s needs in a cost-of-living crisis. He will be forever remembered as the do-little too-late PM.”

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said that “After 100 days, Rishi Sunak’s Government has led to no tangible improvements for the people of Wales. Energy prices and inflation are still running rampant while Welsh families suffer the consequences.

“With Sunak’s Government due to slash support for businesses in April, we could the situation worsen and many Welsh high streets could be left decimated by businesses closures.

“Likewise promises of ‘levelling up’ have seen large parts of Wales left out while the South East of England and London continue to receive more funding than other more deprived regions.

“What is clear is that it doesn’t matter whether it is Johnson, Truss or Sunak, Conservative economic policy isn’t delivering for the people in Wales. We urgently need a general election and a change in Government if we are to build a better future for Wales.”

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss failed to have a full conversation with Mark Drakeford during the short time in the post. Credit: PA

Top of his list when moving into Number 10 was to try to repair relations with the Welsh and Scottish Governments which had hit a new low under Liz Truss who had said she would ‘ignore’ Nicola Sturgeon and failed to have a full conversation with Mark Drakeford during the short time she was Prime Minister. 

Rishi Sunak called both First Ministers with hours of taking on the top job saying that it was "good to speak to" Mr Drakeford and Ms Sturgeon.

He tweeted: "I emphasised our duty to work closely together to respond to the shared challenges we face, so that collectively we can deliver for the people of the United Kingdom."

Mr Drakeford said he took the opportunity to congratulate Mr Sunak on his appointment as Prime Minister.

When he was appointed by Sunak to become Welsh Secretary, David TC Davies said that he’d been ordered by his new boss to do just that. 

Asked in November by the chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Stephen Crabb, if he had been given a “mission” by the Prime Minister. 

Mr Davies said: “The Prime Minister emphasised to all of us how important it was to display professionalism at all times. He certainly said to me that it was important we develop a good and positive relationship with Welsh Government. 

“I was very pleased that I think the day after I was appointed, I was able to talk briefly to Mark Drakeford online in respect of another meeting, and I'm looking forward to having a proper one-to-one conversation with him today.”

Given their political differences, Mark Drakeford and Rishi Sunak are never going to agree but the Labour First Minister has been willing to respond in the same tone.

After they had a (virtual) meeting during a summit of British and Irish government leaders in December, a Welsh Government spokesperson said it was “constructive” and added that they discussed a "wide range of issues affecting Wales, including support for TATA and the importance of the Shared Prosperity Fund working properly to reflect the needs of Welsh communities. They also discussed how the UK and Welsh governments can work better together.”

At the time a Welsh Government spokesperson also told me that it was “worth noting that the feeling is that the relationship with the UK Government is back to normal after a strange couple of years.”

Good working relationship or otherwise, it hasn’t stopped the Prime Minister from criticising the Welsh Government. 

In the Commons chamber last month, in response to Labour and Plaid Cymru claims of underfunding he said that "When it comes to funding Wales, as a result of funding from Barnet [the formula used to work out Welsh Government funding] the Welsh Government receives significantly more funding than the NHS in England, but also £1.2 billion of extra funding as a result of the autumn statement.”

And he made the long-familiar comparison between the performance of the NHS in Wales and in England in response to Keir Starmer’s criticism of UK Government handling of health, saying that “this isn't about actually political point scoring.

"The NHS is under pressure in Wales as it is in Scotland and in England, in large part because of the impact of a global pandemic and she would do well to recognise that."

However, that in itself was a different approach. Previous Conservative Prime Ministers used to say that the Welsh NHS performed worse than the service in England while the Welsh Government argued that all four versions of the NHS faced similar successes and failures. 

Perhaps the fact that the current Prime Minister is now arguing the same means that he really has a new understanding with political opponents running the Welsh Government.