Last Friday, Ed Miliband the Labour leader walked down Queen Street in Cardiff with the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones. He was in Wales to talk about the 'cost of living crisis' and on this occasion I agree with him. There is a 'cost of living crisis' in Wales brought about by his party's 15-year rule in Wales. Monday marks the 15th anniversary of uninterrupted Welsh Labour rule. During that time they've presided over the worst health and education outcomes in the UK and as if to rub salt into the wound continued to manage economic decline.
You don't need to take my word for this; the figures are stark enough themselves. When the Welsh Assembly opened its doors in 1999, Welsh Labour promised that after 10 years, Gross Value Added (GVA) would stand at 90 per cent of the UK average. It is today 72 per cent. Manufacturing has fallen from 22 per cent of the economy to just 16 per cent in 15 years whilst the public sector has continued to grow. Whilst economically this is shocking, we shouldn't be surprised. The Welsh Business Minister said a couple of years ago that she regrets capitalism!
For people across Wales, the lack of policy action from Welsh Labour has hit them hard. Whilst the UK Government has passed on money to enable a council tax freeze, the average increase in council tax for a Band D property in Wales has risen by a staggering 112 per cent in 15 years. Even the trade unions have noticed Labour's inability to deal with the economy. Last year the TUC published figures showing that the difference between the lowest earners in Wales and the highest earners in London has risen by 10 per cent in the period of Welsh devolution. But the wage gap between Wales and the rest of the UK still exists. Ed Miliband invites us to compare and contrast Wales and the UK, so why doesn't he have a look at what his party is doing?
Of course there are challenges in Wales. Like many other regions of the UK the pull of the South East of England is a challenge for economic policy. The decline in manufacturing and some traditional industry has not been met by growth in other parts of the private sector. Rounds and rounds of European structural funding (paid to the poorest parts of the UK) have been squandered with little discernible impact on growth in the economy.
The Welsh Conservatives over the past 18 months have been showing what we would do. Small businesses make up 99 per cent of the private sector in Wales, so we would set up a network of regional small businesses banks to help grow this sector. Labour's answer? To set up a "task and finish group". Conservatives in government in Westminster have agreed to electrify the Great Western mainline, the biggest rail infrastructure investment since Victorian times making Wales more connected to the rest of the UK. Labour's answer? They nationalised an airport for the price of £52 million.
The Welsh Conservatives remain anchored to the belief that the best person to spend money is the individual not the state. That's why we would pass on the council tax freeze, that's why we would abolish stamp duty in Wales on property up to £250,000 and that's why we would scrap business rates for small businesses across Wales and make it easier for them to borrow money. Complimenting what we want for Wales, is the commitment from Conservatives in government in the UK to increase the personal allowance. This is helping many across Wales, with more than a million receiving an income tax cut.
So as Welsh Labour 'celebrates' 15 years of rule, they should reflect on how they've made life more expensive for many across Wales whilst shrinking the size of the Welsh economy. All of this has been matched by the worst delivery on education in Western Europe by international standards and a health service budget being slashed.
So the next time Ed Miliband comes to Wales and talks about a 'cost of living crisis' he might want to consider that the crisis was brought about by his own party in Wales. Many in the UK press are now looking to Wales as an example of what Labour might do in the UK. The more people scrutinise Welsh Labour's record, the more they will see one of consistent mismanagement and economic decline. Wales deserves better.