Addressing the Welsh Fiscal Gap

The economic arguments are examined by Rhys David

Could Wales afford independence? Particularly among young people there has been growing interest in the past year or two, and among the wider population of Wales growing numbers are identifying as “indy-curious” – yet to make their minds up but not automatically opposed.

Of course, there are few countries genuinely wanting independent status that could not make it work one way or another, but the key question is whether Welsh people would be better or worse off compared with the status quo. So, could Wales make a go of it? This is one of the questions examined in the report of the Wales Independence Commission published in September 2020.

Analyses by Wales Fiscal Analysis and the ONS shed light on the current fiscal position of Wales under the current constitutional arrangements where Wales is a region that many consider to be subordinated to the interests of London and the south east of England with its strong emphasis on the provision of financial services. In 2018-19 it was estimated that Wales had a deficit of roughly 18 per cent of GDP or £4,300 per person. In total this amounted broadly to a transfer of £13,5bn over and above taxation raised in Wales to meet Welsh needs. It is, therefore, the headline size of the task.

Such a transfer is not unique, however, to Wales. Only three of Britain’s twelve planning regions – London, the South East and East of England – do not require subsidy and are net contributors to the Exchequer. However, the gap between what is raised in revenue in Wales and what is spent on public services is higher than in all but one region. The average is a much more modest £620 per head. So, is our best bet just to plough on and hope we can narrow the gap and reduce this amount over time?

Indeed, do we not need this security to deal with the damaging consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic, the effects of which are likely to be felt strongly in territories such as Wales? Moreover, Wales is deficient in those sectors which have a greater share of the digital and other industries that are likely to  benefit as a result of changes due to the pandemic, and more dependent on others, such as tourism, that will be hardest hit. The consequences and costs of the Coronavirus will unfold over many years to come. Would not Wales be better off in a union with the rest of Britain as it adjusts to harsh new realities across the economy and society?

For all that it has bright spots, the Welsh economy has chronic structural weaknesses that have proved hard to overcome for a long time. They include industry structure, external ownership and management, low productivity, a missing middle of medium-sized companies, vulnerability to take-over, a low export propensity, and educational and skills shortcomings. All have combined with poor road, rail, and telecommunications infrastructure to leave Wales among the poorest UK regions and stymied attempts to raise its relative position.

Better, it might be argued, to take the money and rely on a subsidy that enables Welsh people to enjoy household incomes and living standards broadly the same as those of the rest of the UK. Un-supplemented revenues raised in Wales would be enough to pay for the public services offered in Portugal – a much poorer country. Instead, we have roughly the same services as Ireland, a richer country on most measures. Many will argue this is a trade-off too valuable to lose.

Yet, is this the way we want to go on? Do the present arrangements offer a serious prospect of improving our economic and social well-being and reducing the Welsh fiscal gap over time? Could our dependence even be a consequence of continued reliance on subsidy?

The unvarnished truth is that Wales has been sliding backwards in relation to the richer regions of the United Kingdom, and especially London and the South East, for the past fifty years. All pretence that the gap could be closed or even significantly narrowed has now been buried in suggested new formulations of how prosperity should be measured.

This is too seductive. ‘Wellbeing’ and other similar measurement concepts designed to look at society’s health and wealth, other than through the prism of more recognised gauges of wealth, are important. They should not be put up, however, as a way of avoiding problems of poor economic performance and entrenched poverty across a broad section of the population.

Population growth offers one telling proxy for Wales’s relative decline. After a sharp decrease in the 1920s because of outward migration, numbers stood at 2.59m in 1931 and rose only by 3,000 in the next 20 years. By contrast Scotland’s population grew by 253,415 to 5,095m in 1951, while England recorded an increase of 3.7m to 41,147m. What has happened since, however, is equally interesting. England’s population has risen by 37 per cent to 56.29m, Wales’s by 23 per cent to 3.2m and Scotland’s by an even more modest 7 per cent to 5.46m.

Wales is now down to 4.9 per cent of Britain’s population, from 5.3 per cent after the war. Scotland has fallen from 10.4 per cent to 8.4 per cent. Meanwhile, England is three percentage points higher at 87 per cent. If the population of Wales had climbed at the same rate as that of England there would now be 3.56m people living in the country – half a million more. Each of these missing individuals represents a loss, or a potential loss, of employees, output, and creativity.

Would a break with the status quo make sense, therefore, and could it set Wales on a new trajectory that does not presage, as our present does, continued marginalisation within these isles? Could the cold turkey of coming off subsidy be a stimulus to the creation of a new Wales, one confidently able, albeit after a period of adjustment, to join the comity of nations? Other nations with similar numbers prosper, Indeed, a population of 5m, or roughly half as much again as Wales, seems a near optimum – as in Denmark, Ireland, and New Zealand.

As the Coronavirus crisis has shown, these countries may not have the means to develop new vaccines, though Denmark and Ireland do have internationally important pharmaceutical industries. Yet in terms of managing the spread of the virus they have done better than such scientific powerhouses as Britain and the United States. In this crisis, strong and consistent political leadership, and good on the ground public health systems, have been as important in managing the outbreak as world-leading epidemiologists, virologists, medical researchers, statisticians, and disease modellers. Possibly more so.

In other areas, too, small nations can be nimble, and can try different approaches. In an age when territorial aggrandisement is no longer the threat it once was, the defence advantages of being part of a bigger unit are less important. Indeed, the costs of trying to stay at the top table of military powers can be crippling, as the old Soviet Union found.

Trade, too, is now largely under multinational rules, making it more difficult for small nations to be bullied by their bigger neighbours when disputes occur. As the economist John Kay has pointed out:

“…there are few economies of scale in statehood. Size is as much a disadvantage as an advantage when it comes to carrying out the principal functions of modern government: justice, health, education, internal security.”[1]

Yet a hard question for proponents of independence to counter is that in the past twenty years, Wales has had more control than ever previously over its economy, transport, health and education systems and has hardly made a good fist of it. Would a step further into the unknown be sensible? Where will the capacity to make the transformational improvements come from?

Yet, it can be argued that it is precisely because we are trapped within an economy overwhelmingly shaped in the interests of the City of London that Wales has failed to make economic progress. Fiscal analyses of the position of Wales as a region of the UK, it is argued, reflects importantly the result of its past and current status within the British state: a ‘region’ subject to economic policies formulated to serve the interests of the City of London and the South East of England. If nine of the twelve countries and regions of the UK are persistently in deficit, is the fiscal and economic model perhaps broken? It has not, and does not, deliver prosperity to Wales, and offers no expectation of doing so in the future.

A better model

During the past twenty years the Labour Welsh Government’s frequently updated plans for boosting the economy have failed to produce the step changes needed in performance. Initiative weariness is being manifested. Leading economists and others have started to ask the independence question: might a new constitutional settlement with the rest of Great Britain deliver the desired results?

In an article in early 2020 Professor Mark Barry of Cardiff University rejected the idea that Wales might be too poor or too small to be independent. If it were true, he said, Wales would be unique globally, the only place where an independent country of 3m people could not exist. The question was could our economy and wellbeing be best served by Westminster/Whitehall or by something more radical and more common across the world.[2]

Yet, how the economy of a successful, independent Wales might function remains hard to delineate. Some clues might be taken from the report of the Sustainable Growth Commission chaired by former member of the Scottish Parliament, Andrew Wilson, which reported to the SNP Government in Edinburgh in 2018. It argued that Scotland has an economic potential that far outstrips its current longer-term performance, and that the ambition for the country should be to perform to the level of the best of the small advanced economies.

The report argues that a centralised ‘big country’ model which concentrates too much economic activity in London and the south-east region is holding Scotland and the other regions and nations of the UK below their potential. A similar point is made in a separate report by the UK2070 Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Kerslake, a former head of the Civil Service. It observed that 50 years of effort trying to rebalance the UK economy and create a fairer and stronger nation had failed, leaving Britain one of the most unequal and divided countries in Europe. It urged: “We need to adopt a strategy that allows London to sustain its global role whilst at the same time targeting some systematic firepower at raising the economic performance of regional Britain.”[3] And it pressed for a change to Treasury rules that made it harder to justify expenditure in less populous areas, thereby favouring London and the South East.

Of course, this is the levelling up process to which the Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson is committed. So far it amounts to not much more than increased spending on roads, rail, schools, hospitals, and housing. There is little evidence of deep thinking on how the industrial and employment structure of regions outside London might be reshaped to reduce dependence on low-skilled and often impermanent jobs.

The Scots know what they would like to do differently, with all the powers of an independent state at their disposal. In most respects this represents a programme that a Welsh state would probably also want to follow, though the starting point would be further back in terms of existing economic strengths and institutional structures.

If the Sustainable Growth Commission’s findings were implemented, the Scots would work up a model that used the three similarly sized economies of Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand. This, they note, is based on quality of governance, long term cross partisan strategy, a focus on innovation, competitiveness for international investment, exploitation of the country’s resource endowment, export-orientation, immigration friendliness, maintenance of a highly skilled workforce and the use of the taxation system as a tool for economic development. For Wales, read Scotland.

The Welsh balance-sheet

Even so, it remains hard not to be brought back down to earth by the short, medium- or even long-term cost implications of opting for independence. Or, by the realisation that greater divergence rather than convergence with the rest of the UK economy may also be the result of maintaining the status quo, despite the Government’s promised commitment to regional re-balancing.

Fortunately, reliable information is now available on the Welsh balance sheet through a report in early 2020 by the Wales Fiscal Analysis team at Cardiff University.[4]As a result the options can be considered more realistically than was the case previously. The UK Government’s Office for Budget Responsibility has also this year produced its first Welsh taxes forecast. As such, we now have for the first-time detail on Welsh revenue and expenditure and the direction of travel. The stark truth: revenue raised in Wales is not set to show greater buoyancy but is set to decline further as a proportion of the total UK tax take.

However, before going further it is necessary to point out that calculations in these reports are pre-Covid. All predictions regarding the economy of Wales, Britain, Europe, and the rest of the world are guesswork. We can only surmise what shape recovery will take or what industries and regions will suffer most or least, or what the tax take and revenue spending of the UK or Wales, and the consequent fiscal gaps or surpluses will be.

Nonetheless, in March 2020 it was possible for the Cardiff report to state that at £13.5bn in 2018-19, the deficit between revenues raised in Wales and public spending in Wales was the second highest in the twelve UK planning regions after Northern Ireland. Public expenditure levels (outside certain areas such as infrastructure) are not, however, out of kilter with other regions. The Welsh deficit is primarily due to the lower tax revenues. In this respect Wales differs from Scotland where higher public spending accounts for the tax to spending deficit.

This lower Welsh tax take is mainly the consequence of lower wages. The UK income tax system is highly progressive, with by far the biggest share being contributed by higher income earners. Indeed, of the 440,000 additional tax rate payers in the UK, 300,000 are in London and southeast England, compared with only 6,000 in Wales. Analysis by the Office of Budget Responsibility reveals that only 44 per cent of the Welsh population paid any income tax in 2016-17, compared with 47 per cent of the UK population (a bigger proportion of whom will have been paying higher rates).

With just under 5 per cent of the UK population Wales has only 1.4 per cent of additional rate taxpayers earning more than £150,000 a year. Low wage levels also exclude large numbers in Wales from paying national insurance contributions. Welsh residents pay only 2.7 per cent of UK income tax revenues. If tax and national insurance contributions in Wales matched the UK per person average an additional £5.3bn would be raised.

Yet, although high levels of Government spending in Wales on social protection are maintaining living standards roughly equivalent to the rest of the UK, they are not contributing to the extent required to the rebuilding of the Welsh economic base. Infrastructure spending, essential to increasing the productivity and profitability of Welsh businesses, falls well short of spending in London and the South East where it is directed under current Treasury rules, because of the greater returns it will bring.

Thus, transport spending per head in Wales is less than half that in London, which has seen a succession of multi-billion pound rail projects over recent decades. This contrasts strongly with the struggle Wales has had to secure the funding for a potentially game-changing revamping of rail services into Cardiff. The current approach is to reward success in the south east of England rather than remedy under-performance elsewhere, a point also made in the UK2070 report.

Paying our way

How to increase Wales’s ability to pay its way, whether inside or outside GB is the challenge. If GDP per person in Wales were to increase from its present level of 74 per cent of the UK average to 80 per cent by 2029-30 the deficit would, the authors of Wales’ Fiscal Future estimated, halve to around 9.4 per cent of GDP. Substantial growth in Welsh output, spurred by rapid productivity improvements, must occur for this to happen, but progress on this scale and beyond has proved elusive to date.

Militating against this too is the larger than average share of the Welsh population of people over 65 and therefore not economically active, and a smaller under-16 cohort entering the labour market. Emigration from rural areas and to universities in England never to return and earn the higher wages – and pay higher taxes that their degree would facilitate – add to the problem.

Various reports have suggested that to catch up Wales – irrespective of independence considerations – must adopt radical new policies and adopt a researched strategic approach. This must involve investing heavily in education, research and development, and infrastructure. Rebuilding would place a greater emphasis on local sourcing, the attraction of inward investment from growing sectors, and the maintenance and development of a stronger cadre of Welsh-owned and managed businesses. The attraction of entrepreneurial individuals and the retention or return of Welsh students whose skills are currently lost after graduation in English universities would also be required.

The hope that lies behind the case for status quo – union in a continuing United Kingdom with, or without Scotland – is that the policies outlined in the most recent iteration of Welsh Government economic policies – Prosperity for All, An Economic Action Plan – will work in combination with UK-sponsored ‘levelling up’. Government funding will switch away from the South East, and road, rail and broadband infrastructure spending will be concentrated not just in the north of England and other English regions but will be made available to Wales, too.

In this scenario Britain will have other eggs than financial services in its basket and will be making more of the products on which it depends in basic fields from foodstuffs to new areas in high technology and artificial intelligence. Many of the pioneering companies in these fields will decide to build in Wales (and similarly deprived English regions). Matching these developments Welsh schools will perform high up in the OECD Pisa league tables, and Welsh students will be trained in Welsh colleges and universities in the skills that successful economies of the future will depend on. Britain will have acquired once again the much more balanced economy that existed until several decades on after World War Two.

For all the good intentions of recent decades and the recent rhetoric of the UK Government, just how likely is this? The authors of Wales Fiscal Future are sceptical. As they say:

“A key challenge for those who want Wales to remain a part of the UK revolves around the likelihood of Wales’s current economic, fiscal and social problems being alleviated under current constitutional arrangements. Given the relative trends in the Welsh economy since 1999, there is room for doubt whether such a relative improvement in Wales’s economic performance is possible, let alone likely.”[5]

It would mean reversing more than 40 years of a largely laissez-fair approach to regional policy that has seen financial services become the dominant sector supporting the UK economy and allowing other sectors to grow more quickly in future. Moreover, it would be necessary to imagine a Cardiff Bay Government being able to exert considerable leverage on Westminster to secure the transformational expenditure and diversion of resources to Wales that will be needed.

A different sort of union

It is for this reason that independence has been advocated as a breakthrough option. Our Fiscal Future makes clear that wide-ranging changes to both taxation and spending would be required from day one. Without fiscal transfers there would be a big bill to be paid in Wales for social security spending if current levels of service were to be maintained.

These costs will increase significantly over the next decade as a result of the damaging consequences for employment and society generally of the Covid-19 crisis.

Wales would at the same time have to negotiate with the rest of the UK, in effect the Westminster Government, a settlement of the expenditure that would continue to be incurred to service Wales’s proportion of inherited UK debt. Other costs, for example on border protection, for belonging to international institutions, paying for overseas healthcare or for culture and recreation services, including the BBC, are attributed proportionately to Wales at present and would either have to continue to be provided centrally and paid for, or replaced with separate Welsh-funded services, depending on the choices made.

The arrangements made with the rest of Britain for defence – whether a continuation of the present system of unified armed services or establishing a separate Welsh force – would also have to be determined and costed. Because many of these items of expenditure would have to be maintained, the savings from leaving the UK might not make much of a dent in the deficit.

One important element in the current deficit may, however, no longer apply. Pension spending represents by far the largest part of UK government spending for Wales and the future financing of state pensions would need to be resolved before state separation. Currently the UK government pays the pension of British citizens who have fulfilled their requirements to receive a state pension, regardless of whether they choose to retire within the UK.

This would be the subject of negotiation between both governments but a continuation of the current practice making payments an obligation of the UK state could initially reduce Wales’s deficit by £6 billion a year or around 8 per cent of GDP, although this would gradually taper off as new Welsh pensioners started claiming from the Welsh state.

Borrowing to replace the transfers now financing current account spending on benefits and other social protection would be an option. Because of the current world economic crisis, funds could indeed be obtained cheaply. Interest rates would still likely be higher than the UK is expected to pay, as lenders would factor in the default risks attached to lending to a new and potentially less creditworthy state.

In practice, a new Welsh Government would almost certainly need to put in place fiscal consolidation measures – tax increases and/or spending cuts – with the aim of bringing down debt as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product. The authors of Wales’ Fiscal Future argue that closure of the deficit by 1.5 per cent a year would result in the debt to GDP ratio peaking at 73 per cent in 2030-2031. A 3 per cent a year improvement would see the ratio reach 44 per cent by 2026-2027.

The shock to the system could be alleviated if Westminster could be persuaded to continue to make transfer payments tapering down over a period of say 20-25 years. The argument would be that an independent Wales capable of standing on its own feet would emerge, lifting a burden from the rest of Britain, and thus in its interests. Other regions of the UK would, however, have to be convinced and it could be a hard sell.

Whether or not this could be negotiated, what are the prospects of revenues raised internally, matching over time existing subventions from the centre? Wales’ Fiscal Future points to some areas where possible additional Welsh tax revenue might be raised, including from water and electricity supplies to other parts of the UK. However, given the competitive nature of the markets in which these utilities operate, it concludes the amounts would not be material. Desalination, in the case of water, and inter-connector supplies from France in the case of electricity would put a ceiling on the price Wales could demand.

A reformed tax system might offer amore promising approach.. An independent Wales would reconfigure the tax system to reflect the needs of the country. Some variations are already in place. Temporary changes made in the light of Covid-19 to the devolved Land Transaction Tax (LTT) raised the threshold in Wales from £180,000 to £250,000, and second homes were not granted this relaxation of the rules.

In England, the equivalent Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) threshold was increased from £125,000 to £500,000 and this applied to all homes including second homes. The resulting change in LTT in Wales applies to ~90 per cent of all transactions but will not stimulate further the second home market. In England it has been estimated that the average saving from the SDLT change will be £646 in north east England, versus £15,000 in London. Once again, a tax policy, in this case for England only, formulated on a ‘one size fits all’ basis, skewed heavily in favour of London and south east England and in favour of purchasers of second homes.

As matters stand, the composition of the tax take in Wales differs in important ways from UK. Britain’s income tax system is highly progressive. The highest earners make the biggest contribution, and this is even more marked in Wales where 46 per cent of the population pays no income tax, five percentage points higher than the equivalent proportion in UK. Higher rate tax is paid by 4.9 per cent of Welsh taxpayers, compared with 8.7 per cent in UK.

National Insurance revenues, another form of income tax levied on employees, are in line with the rest of the country but receipts from corporation tax are lower. Value Added Tax at 22.9 per cent of the total has, recently become the principal revenue raiser in Wales, overtaking income tax, the biggest UK source of revenues accounting for 23.7 per cent of the total.

Higher taxes on high earners could, however, lead to their leakage across the border to England. Higher VAT rates would target spending not income but would affect consumption and in practice add to the tax burden on poorer people not currently paying income tax. Higher tax rates on corporates could cause capital flight. Lower taxes, while potentially reducing revenue, could, however, lead to the attraction of companies (as Ireland has successfully demonstrated).

However, lower taxes might still require the acquiescence of the Treasury in England if retaliatory action was to be avoided. Modest Welsh demands for powers to levy Air Passenger Duty to help Cardiff Airport have been firmly resisted on the grounds that it might harm Bristol, even though its passenger numbers are four times bigger, and has big expansion plans.

Some critics see the projections in Wales’ Fiscal Future as too pessimistic. Swansea economist Dr John Ball argues that the corporation tax take attributed to Wales is too low. He also disputes the size of the expenditure allocations, which include, he argues, a share of funding for some schemes that benefit only England.[6]

While inevitable negotiations on tax variance with the rest of the UK would be tough, care would also be needed to ensure at least in the short to medium term that UK-facing public sector offices – the DVLA in Swansea, HMRC and Companies House in Cardiff and the Office for National Statistics in Newport  for example – were not stripped away, as English regions might demand. Westminster might be persuaded to allow such agencies to operate outside English borders but only if the services they offered were competitive with rival bidders, and perhaps only if broadly similar systems and services applied in Wales.

Welsh taxes

These dilemmas have led to suggestions of other novel forms of taxation. Wales is a transit route for many of the goods travelling between Britain and Ireland yet provides the roads and other infrastructure for this service at no cost in tax to the user in the case of foreign vehicles. An independent Wales could replace fuel duty with a road pricing scheme. Electronically gathered, like the Dartford Crossing fee and the London congestion tax, this would harvest rent from trucks and other vehicles making regular usage of Welsh roads, including visitors to tourist destinations and vehicles travelling along the A55 and M4/A40 to and from Ireland to England and the Continent. Such a levy would have to be set at a level that did not divert goods traffic to Liverpool and other ports and holidaymakers to other destinations.

A modest tourist tax could also be levied for use locally as happens in many US states and elsewhere. A pipeline tax on gas crossing from Milford Haven and a pylon tax on electricity leaving Wales are other possibilities though neither of these would raise substantial revenue.

Plaid Cymru’s leader, Adam Price, has suggested more purposeful use of existing Welsh-managed taxes might be implemented. One suggestion, a Land Value Tax would usefully target a non-mobile asset that, unlike individuals and their businesses, could not up sticks in protest. This could, he argues, generate £6bn on current values at a 3 per cent rate, making possible reductions or replacement of devolved taxes such as business rates and council taxes, and of income taxes (where the Welsh Government already has some limited variation powers).

A study into such a tax has indeed been prepared for the Welsh Government. Reporting early in 2020, it estimated that the total value of residential land in Wales was £113.4 billion, and the total value of land underlying properties which currently pay non-domestic rates was £27.6 billion. A uniform national LVT rate of 1.41 per cent on residential land would be sufficient to raise the same revenues as are currently raised by council tax. A uniform national LVT rate of 3.9 per cent charged on the properties that currently pay non-domestic rates would be sufficient to replace that tax. Higher or lower rates, adjusted to local circumstances, could bring in extra resources or reduce the burden where deemed appropriate.

A UK Common Market

Other issues facing the Scots, and extensively rehearsed during the Scottish referendum campaign in 2014, would be replicated in any new referendum north of the border, and in Wales, which in any case is unlikely to progress towards independence or even a ballot before the Scots. Arguments over currency, trade barriers, monetary policy, and historic debt featured strongly then and would do so again if the SNP Government in Edinburgh were to win a second referendum during the next decade.

In a post-Brexit world the degree of integration of the two countries into the UK economy – the most important export market being England – suggests both (and Wales especially) would find it impossible not to be part of a UK Single Market, rather than standing alone. (Whether or not it would be a Britain and Northern Ireland market will depend on the constitutional and/or trading status of Northern Ireland remaining the same as relations between the UK and the EU bed down post-Brexit.)

Within such a market an independent Wales would not be able to enter separate trade deals with other blocs or nations, and would any way lack the capacity to do so, possibly for many years. It would instead have to adopt arrangements negotiated for the whole market. Wales would be expected to demand representation within negotiating parties but might in practice be in no stronger a position to influence outcomes than it is now.

It is possible to consider the notion of Wales leaving the rest of the UK common trading area and joining the European Union (as the current Scottish Government wishes to do) at some point in the future. However, this could only occur many decades ahead after Wales had engineered a transformation in its trading profile, replacing its closely interwoven trade links with England with similar close links with Benelux, Germany, France, and other EU countries.

Wales has a slightly bigger share of exports heading for the EU than the UK generally, but probably a similar import profile. However, the bulk of these exports are concentrated in a few products and sectors, notably aircraft wings and other aviation components, vehicle engines and refined oil products. Most Welsh businesses are not engaged in exporting. It would be unrealistic, therefore, to suggest Wales, as Scotland envisages, might seek entry to the EU post-independence, if England chose not to do so.

An export growth strategy designed to increase the value of exports, and diversify sources of export income, as the Irish have done, is one of the main recommendations in the Scottish report and would be even more necessary in the case of Wales – which does not have the huge export-orientated whisky sector or even a declining oil asset as a foundation stone of its overseas sales – to reduce dependence on the English market.

There is a parallel here with Ireland, which, as its economy stood at the time, could only follow the lead of the UK when the decision to join the EU was taken by the Conservative government in Britain in 1974. Such was Ireland’s dependence on the UK at that stage it would have been impossible for it to join separately, or stay outside once Britain had decided to enter. Over the past 40 years this situation has changed considerably. Ireland has built up an enviable export trade with the EU and the rest of the world in food, pharmaceuticals, industrial equipment, computers, mineral ores, and other products, and can regard Britain’s departure from the bloc with equanimity and comfortably remain a member independently.

The long drawn out negotiations over the land border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, resulting in a very unclear arrangement which may not long survive implementation, offer a further caution. The arrangements for trade between Wales in the EU and England outside would be equally if not more difficult to formalise.

Again, links with England make it more difficult to argue the case for a separate Welsh currency. Though countries as small or even smaller than Wales have proved capable of managing a currency of their own, a Welsh currency would impose transaction costs on businesses that would make Welsh operations less competitive than those on the other side of the border with England. However, there are advantages in having a separate currency, not least the ability to revalue as appropriate to reflect changes in competitiveness, but these longer-term benefits would have to be forsaken if immediate damage to Welsh firms was to be avoided.

There are similarities here, too, with Ireland. Before both countries entered the European Communities (as it then was) Ireland was part of the sterling area with the same coins and notes but bearing Irish symbols.

On Irish entry into the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1979, the Irish punt decoupled from the £ sterling and a separate central bank was created. This allowed the punt to move up and down against sterling, sometimes being more valuable and sometimes less, reflecting the month-by-month competitiveness of the Irish economy vis à vis the UK. (The punt ceased to exist when Ireland joined the Euro.)

These limitations expose a further problem. If a post-independence Wales were to share a common currency with the remainder of the UK it would have to negotiate the right to share in decisions on monetary and interest rate policy. Leverage, however, would rest very heavily with rest of the UK.

So, while independence can be promoted as a way out of Wales’s chronic weaknesses economically and socially, there are limitations on the extent of that status. Links with England, in what would remain a union to a lesser or greater extent, would need to be factored in.

A middle way

In the immediate future a two-stage process might be the way ahead. Rebuilding the economy has been a Sisyphean task for the past four generations. It must continue to be a priority of the Welsh Government which should insist it stands at the heart of the UK Government agenda.

Once recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic has taken place and other issues can be brought forward, UK Government must be held to its promises to level up the UK economy in a meaningful way. Even more importantly, the current Welsh Government, and its successor in 2021, needs to ensure that its voice is heard as loudly as that of the Midlands and North of England, now under the leadership of increasingly vocal mayors.

Against Treasury restrictions, the Welsh Government must endeavour to increase its capacity to borrow for capital spending. It must also have more leeway to shape Welsh business to meet domestic needs without any impact on the Treasury block grant Wales receives. These measures will add to the Welsh deficit and to Government debt. However, they will have the effect of reversing rather than ameliorating current economic weaknesses, as the present funding arrangements seek to do. In other words an ambitious investment programme to ‘pump prime’ the Welsh economy is required: an approach which was abandoned by UK governments when the UK joined the EU.

The key demand must be that additional finance is deployed through borrowing and more importantly through the proposed UK Shared Prosperity Fund. This will need to go beyond the EU funding that is being lost, so that Wales and other regions can protect against climate change and develop the industries needed for this purpose. Wales will want to improve its transport and technological infrastructure, strengthen its local economies, and participate fully in modern business sectors.

Wales must become less dependent on FDI, and branch factories. The needs of its population dictate the necessity of more technologically advanced businesses, more locally owned businesses, more headquarters businesses, better education for work in business, and more effectively trained managers. It wants to be making greater use of its natural resources to develop a strong food and agriculture sector, its creative industries, its financial and professional services, its biosciences, tourism, and leisure activities. More research into the business needs of the Welsh economy is a priority.

In short, Wales needs an economy that is much more like Denmark or Ireland to make independence seem a realistic prospect for the people of Wales. The challenge is to demonstrate the kind of economy and society that Wales would seek to create and ensure it is one that Welsh people would be comfortable to opt for. A significant strengthening of the economy in the short and medium term will improve the lot of Welsh people and, further ahead, put Wales in a position where an independence option can be put forward that would seem less of a risky leap of faith.

Sceptics will still have a field day and in fairness the record to date is not encouraging. Yet, there is a simple question that can be posed. If Ireland had not decided 100 years ago to break with Britain, would it now be among the richest parts of these isles, up there with London and the south East? Or would it be poor old Ireland, down there with Wales as one of the weakest of the twelve UK economic planning regions?

Recommendations

  1. The role of the Welsh civil service should be re-examined to separate economic policymaking and implementation.
  • A new agency or agencies should be established to promote small business growth, medium size business development, inward investment, productivity, and export activity.
  • A new inward investment focus is needed on businesses capable of offering high quality jobs, even if initially in small numbers, in technology, health and sophisticated consumer-facing products. Potential investors in new technology nations need to be cultivated and contact deepened with alumni of Welsh universities overseas.
  • The export propensity of Welsh firms needs to be encouraged and stimulated to increase revenues and help increase the productivity and scale of Welsh business. Wales should search for businesses that might be relocated back in Britain for strategic security, environmental or other reasons
  • The role of the Welsh Development Bank should be expanded to ensure that state support for key sectors can take the form of direct Welsh Government stakes.
  • Greater involvement with the venture capital industry should be sought and a Welsh venture capital trust investing in Welsh start-ups established.
  • The foundation economy should be put at the centre of policymaking and incentives and penalties to secure greater public sector purchasing put in place. A wholesaler type body should be created to aggregate private sector provision and support tendering, together with a facility through which companies could make their offering more widely known.
  • In the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis a window for a much greater emphasis on local production and procurement will open and this must be seized. Support should be given to businesses seeking to re-shore products currently made elsewhere, and further efforts made to ensure Welsh food producers contribute a bigger share of the nation’s food purchases.
  • An incoming Government should review the entire Welsh higher education sector to ensure its priority is meeting the needs of the Welsh economy and society. It should set in motion measures to ensure more Welsh students stay in Wales for their degrees and their subsequent careers and that those going elsewhere are encouraged to return.
  • Policymakers need to be equipped with better business intelligence on the needs of the Welsh economy. Welsh Government and business should back the creation of a new university centre for the study of Welsh business and business needs.

Rhys David was a member of the Independence Commission 2020

October 22nd, 2020


[1] John Kay, ‘Size isn’t all that matters for global economies’, Financial Times, 26 November 2003.

[2] Mark Barry, ‘What sort of Wales do we want?’, Nation.Cymru, 8 March 2020.

[3] UK2070 Commission, Fairer and Stronger. Rebalancing the UK Economy, May 2019.

[4] Guto Ifan, Cian Sion, and Ed Poole, Wales’ Fiscal Future: A Path to Sustainability? Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University, March 2020.

[5] Wales’ Fiscal Future, op.cit, p. 35.

[6] John Ball, The Economics of an Independent Wales’, ClickonWales, 23 January 2020.

The Rich Man in his Castle, the Poor Man at his Gate

Rhys David reflects on a modern dilemma

I spoke to Wayne, a homeless man in his 40s, possibly 30s in Cardiff the other day, his time on the streets having made his age impossible to guess accurately. I had just left a local Kaffeehaus where I had enjoyed their Wiener – soused herring and cream cheese on rye bread with red onion – and a Cafetiere, all for £11.

My meal had followed a visit to a piano recital by a brilliant left-handed pianist, Nicholas McCarthy, who had overcome the handicap of being born with only one arm to become a concert performer travelling the world to play his repertoire of Bach, Scriabin, Bellini, and, his piece de resistance, his own transcription for one hand of a well-known sonata by Rachmaninov.

It was humbling enough to think about how much he had achieved and how difficult life must be when even cutting up food or opening a door when you are carrying something, but Wayne was different again.

He cut a pitiful picture standing in the rain just outside the arcade I had been in, opposite the international fashion shops in one of Cardiff’s main streets, and close to where a new branch of The Ivy restaurant will open soon. He was dressed shabbily and carrying a threadbare blanket, and crying audibly as he begged, “Help Me”. This was not the usual bobble-capped, sad young man, sitting in a doorway with his dog.

I must admit to being usually unsympathetic to beggars, many of whom may have a drug habit to support, but I have been known to pass on bananas, cereal or other chocolate bars rather than money. Wayne, however, looked so needy I felt I had to come up with cash in his case, and I reached not very generously for a £1 coin. Amid his effusive “Thank you, Sir’s” I asked him, “How on earth did you get into this situation?”

“Do you know the Sony plant in Bridgend,” he asked. I assented. “I lost my job and my house when I was made redundant, my partner was pregnant, and we split up.” I did not ask too many further details as it seemed a story I had read before in press coverage of the homeless and it seemed believable. He went on to say he had been begging since the night before, had not eaten since yesterday (it was now 3pm) and was trying to save £17.50 to stay in a hostel where he could get a bath, a meal and a bed. His day’s total so far was about £6.

I queried whether it really was the case that he would have to pay for a hostel bed, and he assured me it was just so in three hostels he mentioned in Cardiff, including the Salvation Army. They would turn him away, he insisted, if he was unable to pay. Wayne was fluent, clean and did not smell of drink or have any of the obvious signs of drug-taking so I found myself reaching again into my pocket and this time fetching out a £10 note, which should, I calculated, take him close to his target for the day.

I told him he must see a doctor, but he said he was just regarded as another paranoid schizophrenic. He had started hearing voices since being on the streets, partly because of the rough treatment he received from unsympathetic and especially drunken louts. “I’ve lost half my teeth from being beaten up (he indeed had) and been weed on,” he told me. I also told him to ditch his rag blanket. It was his only possession in the world, I was ashamed to learn.

I pride myself on being nobody’s fool and would normally say to myself in such situations that it was much better to give to the relevant charity (as I do), though not in the quantities I perhaps should. Somehow, I could not help believing Wayne and feeling deeply sorry for him.

Was I being conned? Did Wayne live in a modest but reasonable property somewhere, get up each morning, grab his blanket and head off for the city centre, returning at night with his takings? Was he really telling the truth when he told me he had to collect money simply to be given a bed in a hostel, with a lot of other homeless persons? Did he not, as he told me, have a single relative in Bridgend? He was of an age to have aunts and uncles still, and presumably cousins? Would they all slam the door on him? School friends, former work colleagues?

Were his little girl’s curls, on which he swore that he was not on drugs, real? Was he avoiding hostels because of debts to drug dealers, as is sometimes said to be the case? Have I unwittingly put profits into a drug dealer’s hands and prevented Wayne from being forced though his own impecuniosity to quit and accept treatment? If someone destitute – as Wayne clearly was – presents him or herself to the local council will they not be helped regardless?

I passed Wayne again later by which time he had bought a cup of coffee. I did not blame him for indulging in that little luxury (for him), even though I was intending my funds to secure him a hostel place. He greeted me again with copious Thank You’s, all embarrassingly accompanied by the poor man’s respectful “Sir”. He was looking more cheerful now and I remembered that not having eaten myself before going to my pre-lunch concert I had been into Poundland and bought a £1 nine bar Twix pack, only one of which I had had myself. I took the remaining eight out and gave them to him to have with his coffee.

Perhaps I was naïve, and the authorities know all about Wayne (a small variation on his real name). Whatever the case the £12 that my encounter unexpectedly cost meant nothing to me in the grand scheme of things but was perhaps a welcome sign of kindness in a harsh world to someone else. Anyway, I had another rich man’s event to attend, with buffet, at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Only two thirds of the buffet were eaten, but perhaps it was not wasted as I saw some students being invited to help themselves as we made our way out ……

 

Rhys David

October 16th, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bulgaria is rich but very poor. How can that be?

Opportunities fight with challenges as the EU’s poorest country seeks to close the gap in wealth and standards with its richer western neighbours, says Rhys David

 

As Wagner’s majestic music from Tristan und Isolde and, several days later, Parsifal, washes over you, a seat in Sofia’s beautiful, bijou opera house is a good place to reflect on the EU’s most recent member country.

 

Bulgaria is a small to medium-sized, under-populated country of roughly 70,000 sq. miles, with just 7m people. Yet, it is full of surprises. Its Wagner festival is not the Met, Covent Garden or La Scala but few similar-sized countries would be able to cast such an event almost entirely from within the country’s own musical resources. Few performers, too, would want, as several did here, to sing important roles in both operas – a total of 11 hours on stage across only a few days.

 

Bulgaria, poor as it is, manages also to produce musical talents not just for its own opera houses but, like other eastern European countries, for many of the more renowned houses around the world. It is a tradition that goes back a long way, embracing such names as the basses, Boris Christoff and Nikolai Ghiaurov.

 

Its schools and universities, too, seem to have no trouble in producing near-fluent English speakers many of whom have never visited an English-speaking country. In Bulgaria those choosing to study languages are taught their other subjects as well through the medium of their chosen foreign language. This helps the best to develop an impressive grasp of vocabulary and idiom.

 

Since opening to the world with the fall of Communism in 1989 and entry into the EU in 2007, Bulgaria has experienced unprecedented new levels of prosperity. Its economy has been growing in recent years at more than 3 – 4 per cent a year and will match that performance again this year. Services now account for nearly 60 per cent of the economy, with much of that due to an annual 8m a year visitor tourism sector. Manufacturing accounts for 24 per cent – still considerably higher than the western European average but now more focused on modern light industries than in the past. Agriculture at 5 per cent is also higher than in more advanced EU member states and less mechanized but includes a strong export-orientated wine sector.

 

In the increasingly vital tourism sector, the country been seeking to capitalize on its outstanding cultural and archaeological heritage. Investment has taken place in new high standard tourism facilities, including hotels, and in the development of important sites. Just in the last few decades important new discoveries of Roman antiquities have been made in the capital Sofia, the ancient Roman Serdica. These include an 3rd-4th century amphitheatre, preserved under the city’s 5-star Arena di Serdica Hotel outside the former city gates, and Roman ruins preserved in an underground display under the modern city centre. The visitor can walk along slabs polished by generations of shoes in the Roman era, including no doubt by the Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, believed to have had a special affection for the city.  

 

Seat of the monarchs for seven decades after the  liberation of the city from the Ottoman Turks with Russian help in 1878, Sofia also has a not very distinguished-looking royal palace, and, in several monumental blocks that formerly housed Communist ministries, banks and party headquarters, a reminder of grimmer days past. (There is a Museum of Totalitarian Art for those interested in Communist-era paintings, sculptures and monuments.)

 

Its churches, which largely survived the Communist era, remain one of its glories, however. Saint Alexander Nevski with its highly decorated interior was named after the Russian patron saint to honour the role played by Bulgaria’s Slavic cousins in securing freedom. The 6th century Sophia Basilica, a contemporary of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople is one of the most important examples of early Christian architecture in south eastern Europe. The 4th century St. George rotunda church, the oldest preserved building in the city, has frescoes dating back to the 10th century. More than 80 per cent of the population profess to be Orthodox believers in a country which embraced Christianity in the 9th century and translated the Bible into Bulgarian, a close relation of Russian shortly after.

 

There are other towns and cities with an equal claim to demonstrate the varied history of a country that has seen not just ancient conquerors but power in the hands of Bulgar, and, for two centuries from the 10th and 11th century, Byzantine overlords as well. In Plovdiv a Roman theatre, one of the best preserved in Europe was uncovered in a landslide in the 1970s and restored well enough for a range of events to be held there, just as in Roman times. Nearby, in the centre of Plovdiv, excavations uncovered a stadium, a part of which has been exposed, most of its vast length unfortunately having to remain under the main shopping street.

 

Plovdiv, formerly Greek and Roman Philippopolis, once the capital city of Philip the Second, father of Alexander the Great, lays claim to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, its origins going back even further to Trojan times, and hence older than Rome or Athens. Its old quarter houses an important group of streets lined by merchant properties from the early 19th century in Bulgarian National Revival style, the most visited of which is the Balabanov house, originally built for a wealthy textile merchant, Hadji Panayot Lampsha. This year the city of roughly 350,00 people has been celebrating as 2019 European Capital of Culture.

 

There are world heritage sites, too, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, where Soviet bloc aristocracy (and more recently bargain-hunting western Europeans have flocked for sun sea and sand. Varna on the Black Sea coast offers more ancient remains, including nearby  Odessos, home to a huge Roman bath complex, and,  a little further away, Nessebur, ancient Messambria, another Thracian, Greek  and then Roman town, which later became an important trading centre with strong links to Constantinople, and now a Unesco World Heritage site.

 

There are two other jewels, however, contributing to the remarkable array of treasures on offer in Bulgaria, somewhat surprisingly third after Greece and Italy in the number of cultural and archaeological sites contained within it. The Thracian plain, south of the Balkan Mountains that run east west across Bulgaria, roughly parallel with the Danube as it flows towards the Black Sea, was home to warlike tribes who were allied to the Trojans during their famous war with the Achaeans.

 

The Thracians, who lived in this area from around 1000 BC, were highly skilled craftsmen, producing exquisite jewellery, workshop and household items, and military equipment. Their work is on display at the national archaeological museum in Sofia and in a smaller but still very impressive museum on site in Kazanluk. Much of this gold has been discovered in the unique conical burial mounds that cover the Thracian plain, or Valley of the Thracian Kings, a replica of one of which with stunning internal decoration on its walls and cupola ceiling can be seen near Kazanluk.

 

There are other towns which have played an important part in Bulgarian history, such as the old capital, Veliko Tarnovo, situated on a bend in the river and protected by surrounding hills, and 140 monasteries, the spectacular Rila and Bachkovo settlements among them, and like many of the others  offering accommodation to visitors.

 

It would be hard not to wish this country of friendly and enthusiastic people well as they integrate further into the EU but difficult, too, not to feel some apprehension. The population has fallen from a figure of 9m under Communism. It could hardly be otherwise when so many of the young and most able have left for Germany, Italy, Britain and other countries in search of well-paid employment and to escape youth unemployment of 12 per cent. The birth rate, too, is too low to be self-sustaining.

 

Average incomes are around Euro5000 a year, though higher in Sofia where newer sectors such as information technology have seen growth. Old people who used to be able to afford a holiday – the country was a big Communist-era holiday destination for citizens of the former Soviet Union countries – now say they are no longer able to do so and whereas in western Europe the older generation is helping its youth with the high cost of housing and other expenses, in Bulgaria younger people – or those in good jobs at any rate – are supporting their parents, many of whom also rely on remittances from overseas Bulgarians.

 

Economic growth is helping and is expected to be faster than the EU over the next few years. Indeed, Bulgaria has gone from living standards of around one third of the EU average to more than half. The economy will need to grow at a much faster rate, however, to close the gap and is being hampered by the loss of its most talented people in the engineers, doctors, IT professionals and other graduates who have headed West.

 

The politics they have left behind is another impediment. The current strongman Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, is a former Mayor of Sofia who has been a firefighter, police academy professor, professional footballer, national team karate coach and bodyguard to former Communist dictator, Todor Zhivkov, and former king, Simeon II. The government of GERB, the centre right party he founded has been criticised in EU capitals in the West for allowing bad practices to flourish. The concern is over the close ties that exist between government officials, and local businesses that have resulted in contracts being given to a handful of privileged companies.  When officials can exert their influence through excessive regulation, or over who gets jobs, school places or other privileges and permissions, a climate is created into which bribery, corruption and organised crime can enter. Such interference, too, puts sand in the wheels, slowing down development and hence economic growth while ed tape and excessive bureaucracy are negotiated and permits and other favours are bargained for.

 

In the meantime, Bulgarians are having to live with a disconcerting jolt away from the familiar pattern of previous centuries not least the break with their former liberator (and subsequent Communist overlord) and fellow Orthodox Slavs in Russia.

 

Derelict buildings, especially in the depopulated countryside are common, and are only slowly being replaced by Western investment. One of the biggest new investments is a huge sanitaryware plant outside Plovdiv built by US group Ideal-Standard. Putting to one side the ubiquitous Lidl supermarket group, there are few other signs of large scale new investors capable of filling the gap left by previously protected domestic concerns. Russia can still exert its influence over the country, however, through its strong position in the energy sector. It is an important operator of refineries on the Black Sea coast and its oil company Lukoil has a large share of the domestic fuel market.

 

The successes have been in sectors such as IT that have concentrated in Sofia, offering higher wage levels that have given the capital’s citizens higher wage levels than the Euro5000 average in the country. The result has been, like emigration, to draw away young people from the country at large.

 

Tourism, too, has been a success but is subject to its own ups and downs. The country draws in large numbers from neighbouring countries and has an increasingly wealthy western clientele using its large, international hotels. This year, however, has seen declines so far from Russia (largely as a result of price competition from neighbouring Turkey) and some EU countries, though not the UK.

Shops selling souvenirs have proliferated at tourist sites and in parts of Sofia where the intention has clearly been to attract higher end businesses. The shopkeepers, however, report a slow year even for Bulgarian speciality products such as those based on the country’s centuries- old rose cultivation sector.

 

EU funding since membership has contributed substantially to rates of growth and is evident in some of the new roads that now link major centres in the country and beyond. Varna is on the designated trans-European E-route linking it (in theory) all the way to Coruna, and Sofia is connected by its E routes to Lisbon, Riga and Thessaloniki. There is the challenge of reduced funding from the EU to be faced as well. Bulgaria received Euro10bn under the EU’s 2014-2020 funding package, but this level of support is set to decline as the EU seeks to adapt to more difficult conditions elsewhere in the bloc and to the loss of UK contributions.

 

Polls have shown consistent support for the EU, coupled, however, with disappointment at the impact it has had on the domestic economy. Therein lies the country’s dilemma: polls have shown a principal reason for the EU’s good standing in the public estimation is the freedom it has given Bulgarians to move abroad in search of a better future. It is the loss of those who might be best equipped to contribute to its transformation economically and politically that is likely to hold it back.

 

August 2nd, 2019

Rhys David is chair of Nova Cambria, the Welsh policy institute

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is Wales not a Cricket Nation like Scotland and Ireland?

When a new cricket competition – the European T20 cricket league – is held from 30 August 30th to 22 September 22nd this year, one nation with a long tradition of playing the game will be absent. Current European rugby champions, football’s European Cup semi-finalists last time the event was held in in 2016, birthplace of the 2019 Tour de France winner, the highest-paid footballer in the world and of the captain of the last two Lions tours, the proud sporting country of Wales will be on the side-lines.

 Cricket in Wales, it would seem, is Glamorgan, or exists to be an “event” that brings people into Cardiff to watch England Test matches or international series, and the club. The Welsh Government seem determined to keep it that way.  

 The new competition will be similar in style to other well-known T20 leagues around the world, featuring city-based franchise teams (two each from Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands). The tournament will involve 33 matches across all three countries, featuring a Group Stage followed by semi-finals and a final. Each franchise must have a minimum of nine domestic players, and up to a maximum of seven overseas players within their squads. Of the 11 players taking the field in each match, six players must be domestic cricketers.

The tournament, which International Cricket council (ICC), has helped to develop will be delivered under an initial 10-year agreement with event and funding partners GS Holding and Woods Entertainment, and will be broadcast in cricket markets globally.

So why have Welsh cricketers – whose numbers match or even exceed those of the other three countries – not been invited to join this event and make it a four-way tournament? To understand this, some context is needed. Cricket in Wales comes under the jurisdiction of the England & Wales Cricket Board, (acronym ECB not EWCB), which took over responsibility for the game from the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1997.

 Within Wales amateur cricket is organised into a North Wales Premier Cricket League and a South Wales Cricket League, both of which consist of 12 teams that play each other every season. Several of these teams have featured prominently over the years in the Village Cricket Cup, competing against 300 teams from across the British Isles to play in the final at the home of cricket, Lord’s. Past Welsh winners include St. Fagans, Gowerton, Sully Centurions, Marchwiel, and Ynystawe.

 Professional cricket in England and Wales is represented by the 18-team County Championship. Glamorgan has been the sole Welsh member since joining in since 1921, winning the competition on three occasions 1948, 1967, and 1997. Over this period of nearly 100 years more than a dozen Glamorgan cricketers have represented England. One of these Tony Lewis captained the England team on eight occasions, leading the MCC party that toured India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 1972-73.

 The best-known Glamorgan Test players, apart from Lewis, are Maurice Turnbull, Gilbert Parkhouse, Allan Watkins, Jeff Jones, Greg Thomas, Hugh Morris, Simon Jones, Robert Croft, and Steve Watkin. Wilfred Wooller, the Glamorgan captain in the 1940s and 1950s, was never capped but was an England selector for many years.

 It is essentially this status in English cricket that Glamorgan and the Welsh Government are determined to maintain, and which makes them refuse to support the idea of a Welsh team. Glamorgan has consistently opposed the idea of a Welsh team on the grounds that it could compromise its finances and its position within the English County Championship. Cricket Wales has also opposed independent status arguing it is preferable to play a major role within the ECB. Glamorgan chief executive, Hugh Morris, has argued that a Wales national team does not make any sense “financially” whatsoever.

 In addition, both Cardiff City Council and the Welsh Government argue inclusion within the ECB is a very useful peg on which to build Cardiff’s reputation as a sporting hub capable of attracting large number of high-spending UK and overseas visitors to England matches. These include games in the Ashes series against Australia, and against other full Test sides, in one day internationals, or special events such as the recent Cricket World Cup. 

 Such events do not come cost-free, however, as the right to stage them must be bid for and won in competition with the main English venues. Making Glamorgan’s home at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff fit for international cricket has also proved expensive, not least for the council taxpayers of the city, some of whose loans to the club have had to be written off. A similar strategy has, of course, seen costly efforts put behind attracting other international sporting events, such as European Champions League football, to the Principality Stadium.

 The hold that this thinking has on the Welsh Government was made clear in a response to a question in the Senedd from Plaid Cymru AM, Bethan Sayed, in July by Eluned Morgan, Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language, in whose brief cricket as an “event” project sits.

 Noting that any decision to establish a Welsh cricket team (or we can assume by extension to take part in events such as the European T20 league) is a matter for the governing body of Cricket Wales, she said: “Any discussion around this issue would need to be framed by what is best for cricket in Wales on both a participation and an elite level. For Wales to have representative teams of its own, it would have to break with the ECB and become affiliated to the ICC instead. This would have significant funding implications as Glamorgan Cricket Club and Cricket Wales receive funding each year from the ECB. If Wales was ratified as an associate member of the ICC, it may (my italics) expect to receive a significantly smaller grant.

 “The reduction of funding would undoubtedly (my italics again) have a significant negative impact on both the professional and recreational game in Wales. Both Cricket Wales and Glamorgan County Cricket Club are of the view that the establishment of a Welsh cricket team would not be of long-term benefit for the growth of the game in Wales.”

 So, there we are then, except that Cricket Scotland and Cricket Ireland, both of which have grown the game over recent years from a smaller base than existed in Wales appear to take a different view. Here is Malcolm Cannon, Chief Executive of Cricket Scotland: “Cricket Scotland is always looking for more fixtures against high-quality opposition to develop the talent in our national team. The proposal for a six-team European tournament featuring teams from Ireland and Netherlands provides an excellent basis for Scottish cricket to prosper. 

 “Off the back of our highest ever global T20 ranking of 11th, the tournament comes at a fantastic time for Scottish cricket. The chance to play alongside some of the best in the business will provide a great opportunity for our players to learn and develop their own skillset as we strive to achieve full membership (i.e. Test-playing status) and climb the ICC team rankings. 

 “The league also comes at an important time of year for Scotland, with the proposed timeframe presenting an opportunity to play quality competitive cricket ahead of the ICC T20 World Cup Global Qualifier in UAE in October. We are excited to bring the global phenomenon of T20 franchise cricket to Scotland, with our vision to have two city-based teams in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

 “Not only will the tournament help develop our players and coaches, we hope the tournament will increase public perceptions of the sport as well as engage communities around our franchise teams, with the opportunity to watch top cricketers from across the globe. …Cricket Scotland very much looks forward to watching Scottish cricket evolve over the next 10 years.”

 Compare and contrast this with Hugh Morris, who has responded in the past to suggestions of a Welsh cricket team operating within the ICC Cricket Board with the somewhat alarmist warning that such a development could threaten Glamorgan’s continued existence even.  “We would lose our stadium. We would lose our players. I have not seen a business plan to see how it can work. We are very much wedded to the England and Wales Cricket Board in terms of finances”, he said.

 He went on to declare he could not see how Glamorgan and Wales could be natural bedfellows. Wales, he argued, would be playing in an ICC league with other countries, and at the same time as Glamorgan.

 So, what is best for Wales? Staying close to nurse (the ECB) for fear of something worse (the ICC) or taking the bold move of declaring cricket independence? Cricket has been expanding internationally and the number of first-class international sides has grown. Twelve countries have full membership of the ICC – England, Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Ireland, and Zimbabwe. Ireland now plays full Test matches, famously out-playing England in the first two innings of their recent match before falling short on the final day.

 In addition, there are 93 associates in countries where cricket is firmly established but not yet ready for full membership. These include Scotland and the Netherlands, both of which regularly host international sides, though generally only for One Day International matches (ODI). Zimbabwe, for example, is touring the Netherlands and Ireland this year and Scotland has played ODIs at home against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and has fixtures in August against Papua New Guinea and Oman in India.

 Before the present arrangements were in place Ireland famously defeated the West Indies side in its pomp at Sion Mills in 1969 and now play in the European Cricket Championship. Ireland and Scotland moved out of the ambit of “English” cricket, where like Wales they had previously existed, in 1993 and 1994 respectively to create separate associations for the development of the game in their countries, Before playing England in July this year, Ireland had already graduated to full Test match status with a fixture against Pakistan and is hence on a journey to appearing regularly at the highest level of cricket.

 In Wales we can only look back and reflect that cricket has been played since at least the first recorded match in Pembrokeshire in 1763 (several years ahead of Scotland). There are 230 amateur clubs in Wales compared with 140 in Scotland, (which like Wales has its own league) and an estimated 14,000 Welsh-based players. Yet, the highest level of representation Wales achieves is as “Wales Minor Counties” in the English Minor Counties, Western Division, a sort of second division to the County Championship.

 Interestingly, Wales has had international cricket sides at various points throughout the past 100 years and they have had some notable successes. Wales played England three times in 50-over matches between 2002-2004 and even managed to win the first encounter to the amazement of all. A Welsh side also appeared 16 times in the 1920s playing among others New Zealand (drawing) West Indies (winning) and South Africa (losing). A Welsh team also featured in the ICC Trophy in 1979, and in a Triple Crown championship with Scotland and Ireland between 1993 and 2001.

 Several attempts have been made over recent years to argue the case for a Wales cricket team, including not surprisingly by Plaid Cymru. In a Senedd debate in 2013 both Conservatives and Labour members lent their support to the idea of a revived Welsh side, and the case was also made again in 2015 by Bethan Sayed. In 2017, First Minister, Carwyn Jones, called for the re-introduction of a Welsh One Day team.

 The question is complicated to some extent, it must be admitted, by Glamorgan’s position as one of the eighteen first class county sides but would Glamorgan really have to leave or be forced to quit the county championship, as some fear?  There are currently non-represented English counties – Devon, Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Cheshire, Berkshire perhaps – which might welcome the chance to take the county’s place in the County Championship if Welsh cricket was separated from the English set-up.

 This sounds very much like special pleading, however. Wales has an international football side, and this has not prevented Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County and Wrexham from playing in the English football professional system so why need Glamorgan lose its place in the county championship?

 Again, would Glamorgan necessarily be weakened by the emergence of a Welsh side competing independently? Several decades ago, Glamorgan consisted mainly of Welsh players plus a few overseas stiffeners. Today the side is almost entirely composed of cricketers from outside Wales and a handful of Welsh players, so a Welsh team would hardly be drawing on the same resources. Nor need matches be played in Cardiff in competition with Glamorgan.  Swansea has a long tradition of support for cricket and lost out, much to its chagrin, to Cardiff when Glamorgan decided to concentrate most fixtures at Sophia Gardens. Swansea could be the new home of Welsh cricket. Matches could also be played in other venues around Wales, as was previously the Glamorgan practice.)

 Surely, with a genuinely Welsh side playing in Wales in fixtures against other nations interest in the game in Wales and participation (by men and women) could only grow? This could ultimately benefit Glamorgan and perhaps generate a larger cohort of players locally who might go on to play professionally for the county.

 A Welsh side would also give Welsh-qualified Glamorgan players – and there are still a few despite the internationalisation of the county side in recent years – the opportunity to play international cricket for a Wales team. Though they qualify to play for England at present it is only every few years that a Glamorgan player manages to break into the side and no Welsh player is currently in that position. The very best players might still choose to do so. After all, England’s One-Day captain, Eoin Morgan is an Irish national with a Welsh surname.

 And let’s face it Glamorgan has not been pulling up trees in the English cricket system since it last won the championship more than 20 years ago, finishing bottom of Division Two last year (i.e. eighteenth out of eighteen in English first class cricket) with just two wins all season. Perhaps too much time and effort has been put into creating a stadium fit for Test matches and ODIs to the detriment of cricket in Wales generally. (Thankfully, Glamorgan are doing a lot better this year and if current form is maintained could challenge for promotion to Division One.)

 England might stop playing Test matches or ODIs in Cardiff if there were a separate Wales side. But is the role of super-host the best we can hope for when Scotland and Ireland, both with smaller cricket-playing populations, build their game and international reputation? At least some of the revenue that would be turned away if Wales left the England and Wales Cricket Board to set up its own board (and lost the right to host England matches) could be recouped through Welsh international matches.

 The recent World Cup which brought together the ten best one day cricket countries, has shown how much pride can be derived by the smaller countries from appearing in tournaments such as these, and occasionally outplaying the more senior sides – Afghanistan came close to winning their match against India. Scottish, Irish and Dutch cricket are also going to gain a lot of media coverage – and income from attendance and sponsorship – from their tournament.

 Surely it would be good to see Wales attempting over time to appear in events such as the World Cup or to put forward teams for a league competition, as well as regularly playing versions of the game against comparable countries in Europe and some of the aspiring African and Asian nations? This could serve as an encouragement to young people to take up the game and help to raise performance standards throughout the sport in Wales.

 Who knows, one day we might like Ireland give England a run for their money?

 Rhys David is Chairman of Nova Cambria

July 27th, 2019

www.clippings.me/rhysdavid

www.novacambria.wales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to end Wait and See

The plan by First Group to quit its UK bus operations could release one of the building blocks needed to create a more integrated transport network across Wale.

There is a tendency in Wales in economic matters to wait to see what happens, an expectation that external agents will always determine what happens and that the limit of Wales’s influence is to try to ameliorate any ill-effects. Yet, what is needed very often is a much more pro-active approach whereby the initiative is taken in Wales to shape what happens, in the best interests of those involved.

Just such a case has occurred with the announcement by First Group that it is considering selling its UK bus operations to concentrate instead on the US market. Now, it just happens that First Group for better or worse runs the buses in Wales’s second city, Swansea, having inherited the operations of the former South Wales Transport and United Welsh, the two previous operators of the bulk of services in the area.

Aberdeen-based First (also operators of the Great Western Railway franchise) has made its intentions to quit the UK bus market following pressure from an activist investor, unhappy after a series of bad rail investment decisions hit profits. In West Wales First Cymru runs local bus services not just in Swansea, its operations extending across to Neath, Port Talbot, Bridgend and Maesteg in the East and Haverfordwest, Tenby and Carmarthen in the west, plus express services to Cardiff.

Various bidders will no doubt emerge for First’s operation, including those in Swansea, but it is doubtful if any of them will come from private sector companies within Wales. So, as Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price pertinently asked in questions to First Minister Mark Drakeford in the Senedd early on June 4th, does this not provide an ideal opportunity to extend within Wales the principle of public ownership of transport services? This could create another building block towards the creation of an integrate transport system in Wales, which could bring together control and management of rail, road and other public transport services. After all, the Welsh Government has taken a step in this direction with the acquisition of Cardiff Airport.

Firstly, however, it is worth offering some background. Britain’s bus services were deregulated under the 1985 Transport Act, with the promise of bringing lower fares, new and better services through greater competition, and, in consequence, increased usage. Previously, scheduled bus services had been run by National Bus, (which had brought together a patchwork of state-owned, semi state-owned and private companies), municipal bus companies and a small number of private operators.

At the time of deregulation more than threequarters of bus turnover was in the hands of the public sector but to raise revenue for other purposes many local authorities took the opportunity over succeeding years to sell off their bus operations to private sector companies, principally Arriva, Stagecoach , First Group, Go-Ahead and National Express. Only 12 municipal operations remain, including Cardiff Bus (UK’s third biggest) and Newport Bus. Three other local authorities run buses in Wales, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire and Pembrokeshire but only on a very limited number of routes where no alternative provision is available.

The Government held back from deregulating bus services in London. Instead, it vested overall transport powers in Transport for London, which directly runs London Underground, London Overground and Docklands Light Railway, and franchises bus services to ten private operators, including German state-owned Arriva (Deutsche Bahn), Dutch state-owned Abellio, and French state-owned RATP. It is also responsible for Crossrail and London’s roads.

Deregulation has failed to deliver its promises and the London model, whereby services come under the office of the Mayor and the London Assembly, has proved much more effective. The 30 year plus period of private operation outside London has created private monopolies rather than genuine competition.  The Competition Commission noted in a report the emergence of “geographic market segregation” whereby the big five operators (Arriva, First Group, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach) leave each other to operate in their chosen territories, undisturbed by competition. [1]

The companies are free to cut services as and when they choose in this unregulated environment and have increasingly been doing so as subsidies from local authorities for uneconomic routes are withdrawn, leaving many parts of the UK, including Wales, with limited or no provision. Services have, nevertheless, been mostly profitable for the operators and fares have increased since1995 by more than 150 per cent against a rise in the cost of living of not much more than half that figure.

 The Welsh Government recognised  in the case of Cardiff Airport that it was important the facility was in the hands of an operator with a strong public service mission and First Minister Mark Drakeford in his reply to Adam Price indicated there was no current intention to sell the airport back to the private sector.

There is an equally strong case for an early approach to be made now by Welsh Government to establish whether First Group would be prepared, preferably in advance of the wider sale of the subsidiary, to divest First Cymru to a Welsh Government-owned not for profit entity.

The price First Group might demand is not clear and will depend on the profitability of the Welsh operations and the value of the assets (the bus fleet, engineering workshops and depots). First Group might also not want to break up its business before or at sale time, though the transfer of assets between transport companies is an established practice. Though It may not be the best yardstick as it was a much smaller company, ComfortDelgro acquired south Wales bus operator, NAT, which now runs services in Cardiff, Newport and the Vale of Glamorgan, for £14m in 2017.

The mechanisms by which such a transfer to the public sector could be achieved and the structures required will need to be explored but the opportunity has been created for Transport for Wales to be given the wider responsibilities that its title implies. As set up, its remit as a not-for-profit company is to provide support and expertise to the Welsh government on Welsh transport projects. Unlike Transport for London it does not own or manage such projects on a day to day basis. Its role is merely to plan, commission and arms-length manage. It employs only a relatively small staff.

It has a very limited bus remit, its main workload being in the rail sector where it was responsible for procuring the most recent Wales and Borders rail franchise (won by Keolis Amey of France/Quebec. It is also charged with bringing forward the South Wales and North Wales Metros. A current task is to investigate the causes of the decline in bus patronage in Wales, with the aim of proposing a range of solutions and exploring what has worked elsewhere. [2]

Transport for Wales would need to be reconstituted to take on an executive role but a new body with statutory powers could represent a first step towards creating a provider that could work much more effectively to integrate transport in Wales across buses, rail, airports, seaports and roads. Alternatively, as an intermediate step, the Swansea Bay City Region could be given the task of running bus services, putting it on a similar footing to the English cities that have accepted devolution deals, and which now have transport responsibilities in their portfolios.

The example of Cardiff Bus and Newport Bus, both of which run modern fleets could be adduced as evidence of how good public service provision can work and produce returns for the taxpayer rather than profits for the shareholder. Public pressure for moves towards clean air technology is also much more likely to be effective when directed towards operators within the public sector than to those operating as private companies. Since acquiring NAT, ComfortDelgro has chosen to recycle some of its older London buses for use as school transports in Cardiff. Wales, is of course, already familiar with cast-offs from rail companies and the London Underground on its rail network.
There is also a wider economic case. Large sums of money are spent by the Welsh Government subsidising public transport in Wales through the concessionary fares offered to bus pass holders. Bus companies also qualify for a UK Government fuel rebate to help keep services viable. Except in Cardiff and Newport, a proportion of Government bus pass funding is finding its way into the profits of companies based in England, Scotland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Singapore. It would be much better if this money was recycled in Wales in the creation of better overall transport provision.

The expertise question will no doubt arise, but it has already been demonstrated by the comparative success of Cardiff Airport since it was acquired from its absentee Spanish ownership that public sector control can work in commercial areas. (Local authority-owned Manchester Airport is the prime example of this, turning the northern city into a commercial and financial powerhouse). And unless Wales tries and risks failing, it will never acquire skills of this sort.

If Wales fails to acquire First Cymru in one form or another, the business might well be acquired by Abellio, Arriva, or RATP. Would it really make more sense for Welsh bus operations to be owned by the Dutch, German or French governments than by the Welsh government?

Rhys David is chair of Nova Cambria, the Welsh think-tank

June 1st, 2019

[1] Where competition has occurred, it has usually involved a new entrant seeking to undercut on existing routes rather than developing new ones. This has resulted usually in the incumbent having to cut less profitable services to protect revenue and profitability. In Cardiff Singapore-owned New Adventure Travel, (NAT) has been challenging the municipal operator. Cardiff Bus has recently reported losses and has been forced to re-order its services and schedules.

[2] Keolis Amey Cymru trades under what is in effect a fig leaf name -Transport for Wales Rail Services – which is the branding that has now replaced Arriva Trains Wales on Wales and Border Services. This carries the suggestion of a stronger public sector involvement than is the case.

For better and worse

Consideration of the US ought not to be all about Trump. There are some respects in which they do less well than us, but others surprisingly where we could still learn some lessons, writes Rhys David

How much more would you like to pay? That’s the message on the screen when the salesperson in a US coffee shop or restaurant, or a small shop owner, pivots the till point credit card reader around to face the buyer after swiping. The technology is new, but it represents a sideways development rather than an advance, adding an inefficiency into US transactions that has been largely eliminated in the UK, and much of the rest of Europe, through the widespread adoption of contactless payment.

The new devices – about the size of a small tablet computer – overcome the embarrassment on both sides of asking the purchaser whether they want to add a gratuity. Instead, the till does the job, asking the customer whether they want to add another 15 per cent (the starting point), 20 per cent or even 25 per cent. There is the option of making your own choice – 30 per cent perhaps or 10 per cent, or, perish the thought, no tip at all. (Anyone who has watched Larry David (no relation) arguing with the maître d’ and getting his car blocked in the car park in comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm after refusing to supplement the tip that had already been added will know this step is taken at your own peril.)

As the tip must be added after the amount has been rung up, it means contactless is much less widespread for small transactions, such as the purchase of a coffee or a newspaper, than in Britain. To authorize the extra amount that the customer has added it has become necessary to move away even from chip and pin (the predecessor of contactless in Europe). Instead, after you have added your tip on the till, you need to add a digital signature to authorise the extra amount being collected using a finger on screen or special pen.

There are other ways, too, in which the US – birthplace of so much modern technology – seems behind the times. Amtrak trains are large, comfortable, staffed by cheery conductors in crisp uniforms – and slow and infrequent. The 215 miles from Boston to New York takes four hours, admittedly having to cross several spectacular and presumably slow-speed long bridges over estuaries on the way.

The 220 miles on to Washington takes a further three hours, in both cases rendering air travel a preferable option for the time conscious. By contrast the 250 miles from London to Newcastle can be accomplished in 12 minutes under three hours and the 170 miles to Leeds in two hours twenty minutes, and British railways are not even very fast by world standards. My journey from Boston to New York took nearly five hours because of that familiar railway issue – signaling problems. Nor are the trains very frequent. The Boston-New York service runs at two-hour intervals, two trains leaving within five minutes of each other, one slow and the other slower, followed by a two-hour gap.

This journey between populous cities – Boston is 4.5m, New York is 8.2m and Washington is 7.4m, with other big cities en route – would clearly be highly suit able for the equivalent of Europe’s or Japan’s high speed trains, reducing the journey to New York from the two other cities to 90 minutes or so, less than the time it would often take to travel to the nearest airport, check in and wait for a possibly delayed take-off. The vigorous opposition of the airlines to any competition brought about by private sector seed funding, as would be needed in the case of new railway infrastructure, has made this politically impossible in the free market US. It is not a fight Donald J. Trump is going to take up.

One battle he has engaged in, however, is trade, seeking to punish China for what he sees as unfair practices, rewriting agreements with Mexico and Canada, and lamenting the large trade balance in Europe’s favour. This does ignore the extent of US ownership of European assets and the scale of US-owned manufacturing in other countries, including in Europe. These operations generate substantial income for the US from repatriated profits. The US is also the world’s biggest provider of financial and other services and its technology companies – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – dominate in their fields.

Nevertheless, the extent to which US manufacturing has retreated can come as a shock. In places like Saco, once a centre of textile machinery manufacture, the once US industry has left only vast mills converted to apartments and offices in its wake, and has lingered on for only a couple of decades further south in the Carolinas and Georgia where much of it moved post-war. Most recently it has been the turn of the US-owned motor industry to suffer a similar fate.

The US industry’s output is still huge, as is to be expected in a market of nearly 18 million units a year, but sales of cars by foreign manufacturers, from Europe, Japan and South Korea, from their US plants and imported vehicles now exceed by roughly 2m. units those built by the US big three – GM, Ford and Fiat-Chrysler America. The average US content of even these suppliers’ vehicles is only 38 per cent. Ford has thrown in the towel as far as supplying passenger saloons is concerned, deciding that in the US market it will concentrate on trucks and SUVs.

Whether a switch to electric vehicles will bring a return of US manufacturing through the arrival of new carmakers such as Tesla, and the possible emergence of other new entrants into motor  manufacturing, such as the technology companies, Apple and Amazon,  is unclear but the traditional US carmakers appear to be behind their international competitors, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai and BMW among others,  in developing battery alternatives.

Yet, as the restrictions placed on Chinese phone technology group, Huawei, shows, when it comes to action designed to protect US business interests, US administrations can and will act with a decisiveness for good or ill, that other governments would shrink from.  The US may yet see an upturn in manufacturing, whether driven by reshoring – the repatriation of activities previously dispatched overseas that has already begun – or trade barriers. The American public will ultimately decide whether the extra costs this is likely to impose on it are acceptable.

If some weaknesses in processes and some chinks in US commercial invincibility – particularly in older industries – can now be discerned, there are many respects in which in ordinary life the US does get it right.  This is why it remains such an attractive country. The friendliness and levels of service provided  by customer-facing businesses remains impressive, extending even into fields such as car hire, where the European experience – overstretched booking clerks, less than satisfactory vehicles, phantom damage appearing later as large additions extracted without consultation from debit and credit cards – provide a much better experience for the visitor.

In New England, and perhaps in other areas too, the problems faced in Britain by the residents of many rural areas – closure of shops and other facilities, making necessary a visit to a supermarket many miles away for even necessities – appear to be under better control. Remoteness in some parts is admittedly responsible for keeping the chain stores at bay, and rendering home delivery too expensive, but their absence has allowed the ubiquitous village store to appear to thrive. Unlike the British Spar, Premier, local Co-op or independent, these stores manage to offer a range of services to the community and to be focal points for meeting up and exchanging news and information.

The village store is where you might go not just for a loaf of bread, a pint of milk, or breakfast cereal but to actually buy and eat your breakfast, cooked on the spot, or to get a fishing licence, wood for the fire, a mid morning (or afternoon) cup of coffee self-served from one of several insulated jugs on a conveniently set up table, and many grocery varieties, some hardware, plus a limited range of clothing, gifts and novelties. Interestingly, unlike most British convenience stores, huge displays of beers, spirits and wines from around the world are missing, drink appearing to play a much smaller part in American life than it now does in Britain.

This surprisingly is true of another institution – racing where the contrast with the UK could not be starker. At Belmont Park, home of the Belmont Stake, one of the races in the US Triple Crown, entry into the park is a mere $5 and this entitles the holder to visit every public part of the ground, including the grandstands and to bag a place next to the finishing line. Or, you can stay in the huge park grounds and watch the racing on the big screens dotted around. Absent are the champagne tents, the Guinness tents, the gin tents, the fish and chip bars, pulled pork pagodas, the burger vans, and the other inducements to drink and eat to excess of the UK racecourse. Present are hundreds of families with young children enjoying a picnic.

There are other things they do well in the US, too. Under the wing of the federal National Parks Service the register of National Historic Landmarks (NHL) brings together thousands of buildings, sites, structures, objects and districts deemed worthy of preservation because of their significance in the development of the US, including presidential homesteads and business leaders’ Victorian-era houses. Sagamore Hill on Long Island, for example, gives a fascinating insight into the life of the first Roosevelt  – Theodore – who assumed the presidency after William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Roosevelt is now mainly remembered for his big game hunting exploits and his house is indeed full of such trophies, displayed as animal heads on walls, elephant feet as footstool, rhino horns as inkwells, and bearskins as rugs.

However, the museum in the grounds in Long Island also shows another side to Roosevelt, who only went on his hunting safaris so he would not get in the way of his successor. He later disapproved of William Howard Taft’s actions in the White House and stood as a dissident Republican against him in the 1912 election, winning enough support to let in Democrat, Woodrow Wilson. In office Roosevelt was a reforming president challenging corrupt politicians and businessmen and breaking up the monopolies that dominated industries such as oil and banking. He also started the US national parks.

American historic properties under NHL  management appear sober and serious, telling a story in a straightforward way without feeling the need to push relentlessly the various dimensions of the inclusivity agenda, which has become part and parcel of  the approach generally adopted by the UK’s heritage custodians, notably the National Trust and English Heritage, whether it is the need to entertain the young or project guilt for whatever historical sins have become the latest anathema.

For all its reputation as the land of free enterprise and enemy of public sector meddling, in some respects the US can now seem in certain respects much less in thrall to commercialism than Britain. Surprising, occasionally frustrating, but always interesting – this is what makes the US a great place to visit from time to time. It offers an insight – without having delved into its politics too deeply – into the directions in which western society is moving, many of which we might not want to follow, but perhaps some others we might.

RAD June 3rd, 2019

Rhys David is chair of Nova Cambria www.novacambria.wales

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Bashful Businesses

Rhys David

Charles visits Rachel’s’ Organic Dairy in 2017, a successful Ceredigion business founded in 1982, but taken over by Americans in 1999.

Why do so many Welsh businesses get taken over? Just when you think a Welsh company has established itself in an interesting new niche or is proving successful and innovative, along comes a bigger company, almost invariably from outside Wales, to swallow it up.

Just a few weeks ago Broomfield Alexander, the Welsh accountancy practice, joined rival firm Baldwins, itself part of a wider, London-based business services group, Cogital. The hundred year Cardiff-based practice will continue to operate as before, advising businesses in Wales but as part of a bigger organisation. It could lead to new business and more jobs for Wales. Control, however, will have passed outside.

Service sector companies – like Broomfield Alexander – which were previously seen as much less likely to be absorbed than their manufacturing counterparts, have been disappearing into non-Welsh ownership for some time. Remember Cardiff solicitors Leo Abse & Cohen? Since 2015 they have been part of Australian group Slater+Gordon. Or, Wrexham-based recruitment specialists, Gap. They are now owned by Japanese staffing company, Trust Tech.

There have been many other recent examples, from roadbuilding contractors Alun Griffiths (now part of Tarmac, itself a subsidiary of Irish aggregates giant CRH) to bus operator N.A.T., which the oddly-named Singapore group, Comfort Delgro (also a London red bus operator) acquired in 2018. Ownership of the rock that Wales is made of can be traded, too. In April this year Aim-listed Sigma-Roc took a 40 per cent stake in Narberth quarry owner, G.D. Harries & Son, with a view to ultimate full control.

Does it matter? One can hardly blame owners, who may have devoted their working lives to building a business, making considerable sacrifices on the way and risking their own funds, family life and security, from accepting offers, particularly if, in the case of privately-held businesses, there are no obvious successors within the family or the management. It is after all their property and with appropriate limitations they should be able to dispose of it as they see fit. Perhaps we should view it as a tribute to Welsh entrepreneurs, of whom there are now far more than there used to be, that they appear on the radar of businesses elsewhere, not just when they are in need of rescue but when they seem to have developed products or found niches that acquirers find interesting and wish to add to their own portfolio.

Yet, the nagging feeling remains that something important is being sacrificed in this apparently one-way traffic and that what is being lost could be helping to develop a more rounded, more prosperous and more competitive Welsh economy. The consequences are wider than that, too.

A whole ecosystem surrounds successful companies, creating jobs and other opportunities beyond the core business. This is put at risk when firms disappear inside bigger rivals. Companies headquartered in Wales need suppliers, from cleaners and caterers, marketing and public relations advisers, personnel specialists, builders, plumbers and electricians to IT specialists, accountants, auditors, solicitors and a range of other consultants. Many of these relationships will remain intact but inasmuch as a strong motivation for take-overs is rationalisation and efficiencies it is inevitable some of these services will henceforward be organised from the central location and will involve the introduction of external providers, often headquartered in the big English cities.

It would, of course, matter less if Welsh businesses were active in acquiring businesses across the border and further afield. One or two, such as Wynnstay and Leekes, have been, but the majority are not. Our long and porous border is more non-return valve than two-way pipeline.

It is, it must be conceded, not just a Welsh problem. A similar case could be made about the drift into overseas ownership of businesses that most people would imagine were quintessentially British, from Lucozade to Lea & Perrins. What has been happening in Wales is in many ways the British experience writ small, and part of a process – consolidation across business sectors – that has been happening since the beginning of capitalism, but which has accelerated enormously in recent years under the impact of globalisation and its enabling handmaid, technology.

The food industry offers one example of this process at its extreme so it is perhaps worth examining the drivers there, especially as food is one of the areas in which Wales would like to believe it has a strong future. At the primary growing level, output is increasingly coming under the control of giant groups such as the big grain producers and traders, Cargill and Archer Daniels in the US and Europe’s Louis Dreyfus; a big chunk of the global food processing that follows is handled by a small number of multinationals such as Nestle, Unilever, General Mills, Nissin and Danone; and it is increasingly sold by national supermarket oligopolies led in their different territories by Tesco, Walmart, Carrefour and Aldi.

All these groups like talking with similarly-sized organisations. The supermarkets want to deal with giant processors as big as themselves for most of their requirements so unless producers in Wales and elsewhere are part of bigger food manufacturing groups they will be confined to the “local produce” racks at the end of an aisle deep inside the store. This is why Rachel’s Dairy, Brecon Carreg and other Welsh waters, (Ty Nant, Princes Gate) and meat processors, such as Oriel Jones a’i Fab among others, have ended up in big corporate hands and why it is so difficult to build scale and remain independent. (It is possible to stay local as the example of West Country-based Yeo Valley Farms, a rival yogurt supplier to Rachel’s Dairy, shows, but it requires a lot of determination and support.)

This effect is apparent even with apparently huge brands if their owners see no other way of taking them outside their domestic market. HP Sauce, a British institution, but largely unknown outside the UK, is now owned by Kraft-Heinz, the world’s fifth biggest food and beverage company, and HP production has been incorporated into a much bigger plant in the Netherlands, as attempts are made to take it to a wider world consume base.

This illustrates another dilemma, especially where it is the brand rather than the business itself which is the acquirer’s target. If provenance is not important (as it is in some cases, such as Scotch whisky) economies of scale will usually demand a shift to other bigger, more central locations as part of a rationalisation process. And for reasons of distribution, as we frequently see within the EU, this will usually mean the countries of central Europe or eastern Europe, or close to huge container ports, such as Rotterdam and Hamburg, and to Continent-wide road and rail networks. Peripheral areas will invariably lose out, as we may yet see when the key decisions in the projected Tata Steel-Thyssen-Krupp steel merger are made.

The trend towards scale operations is occurring not just in the food industry, however. Companies big, medium-sized and small, across manufacturing and services now search for businesses engaged in similar activities, and which appear to have developed a successful strategy or interesting new products and innovations. This is often done as an alternative to carrying out expensive internal development work. The pharmaceutical industry has taken this further than most, slimming down product portfolios, closing or moving operations and seeking out university spin-outs and other start-ups for new drug discoveries rather than risk spending large amounts of time and money on research that may prove fruitless.

With its modest population and small industrial base Wales is hard-pressed to influence these developments but does this mean it will have to remain a passive bystander, buffeted by whatever trends occur across global business? Can its small businesses never hope to become medium-sized and its bigger businesses never make it on to the world stage? It will be tough but some countries – Ireland and Denmark are examples – have managed to create strong niches for themselves in global business alongside the global brands, despite having relatively small populations of around 5m. They are also now much wealthier than Wales. We need to understand how they have achieved this success, while Wales has remained a largely dependent economy, constantly requiring external investment and support to change and develop.

The scale difference is apparent from the turnover figures of the top companies in the three countries. Ireland’s CRH, founded in 1970 and now established in international markets, had a turnover last year of €27bn., and Development Capital Corporation, founded 1976 stands at €13.9bn. Denmark’s AP Moeller-Maersk weighed in at €192bn and second-placed NovoNordisk at €117.9bn. Wales’s s two biggest domestic companies, Iceland and Admiral, reached only £3bn and £2.96bn respectively. (In April this year the Euro stood at about 1.16 to sterling.)

A start has perhaps been made in Wales and this offers some hopes for the future. The Welsh economy has transformed over recent decades, as the multinationals that moved in during the post-coal era have retreated to their home countries or moved operations to eastern Europe or Asia. With encouragement from Welsh Government, local government, business representative organisations, universities, award schemes, and the Welsh media, and especially the Western Mail, a new ecology of small and medium-sized companies has sprung up. More Welsh people have decided to go into self-employment for one reason or another and many have done well and created jobs for others. Recognition has come, too, from politicians including Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, of building the Welsh economy around grounded companies – those that have been formed in Wales and have good reason to continue to be based here.

We need, however, a much better understanding of the processes at work that might bring greater success, leading ultimately to an economy that will much more closely resemble the successful Irish and Danish, and other successful small nation European models. As well as ensuring firms in Wales can secure access to the funding they require and putting in place appropriate financial institutions, other even more deep-seated issues need to be addressed. Does our school system, for example, prepare young people well enough for life in a what has become a largely post-industrial economy? Are our universities working closely enough with Welsh industry on future products and services? Can we do more to retain Welsh young people within the Welsh university system or to attract Welsh graduates back to Wales?

Are the new businesses we are creating operating in areas that are likely to be relevant to future? In other words, are enough of them going to add value rather than merely fulfil a service or manufacturing need that could be overtaken by artificial intelligence in the decades ahead or be swept away by bigger businesses elsewhere? Just as importantly, does an historical animosity towards capital linger and hold us back? Are we comfortable as a society with individual success and wealth? Do we use rugby as a proxy for success elsewhere, believing that if all goes well at the Principality Stadium, we do not need to try as hard in other areas?

The Scots recognise the importance of becoming a thoroughly modern economy and leveraging their universities to this task. In March the Scottish Government asked Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli of Glasgow University to report on how Scotland’s universities can lead economic growth through industrial partnership and advise how Scotland can learn from other innovative European countries. The research will be short and sharp, reporting in the autumn this year to government, the universities and public agencies. (Compare and contrast the time taken to decide whether or not to build a new road around Newport.)

On his appointment Sir Anton said, “Already across the country exciting partnerships with major industry, SMEs, spin-outs and social enterprises are underway, with many success stories to be celebrated. I hope that the outcomes from this report will offer the chance to build on these successes, learn from international best practice and put Scotland on the road to becoming the best place in the world for industry to partner with universities.” Wales should be doing the same, not waiting until 2025 and inviting a team from Scotland to come down to give us lessons in what they have achieved.

Maybe we will need to have a longer spell as a feeder economy, creating businesses that will grow and then attract outside attention. Perhaps it is going to take decades before enough small companies in Wales grow to become medium-sized businesses capable of looking beyond Welsh borders to expand. If this is the case, we need to find ways in which the funds released from Welsh businesses that are sold get invested back in Wales in even more innovative products, creating wealth for more people going forward. We need to ensure that at least some of the businesses that are developed become the agents of consolidation in their sector not the consolidated.

But perhaps most of all we need the capacity within our universities to carry out relevant research and the willingness to commission it. The economic departments of our Welsh universities, unless I am much mistaken, can tell you all you want to know about a range of topics from the macro-economic policy of developing economies to multiple deprivation in Rhyl West. They teach business students from around the world who can then return to help their own economies prosper. There is a serious gap, however, in knowledge about the Welsh business sector, its size, its constituents, its characteristics, its requirements, its prospects, its strengths, its weaknesses, where investment is going and where it is needed.

As well as having world-class universities Scotland benefits from having a dedicated institute studying the Scottish economy – the Fraser of Allander Institute. We may not have had in Welsh ownership a House of Fraser to provide the core funding for such an institution – and it is most unlikely the current HoF owner, Mike Ashley would fund such a body today, given the parlous state of department store finances. Are there, however, no Welsh-based or Welsh-born or other charitable donors who would be willing to do so? Should the Welsh Government take the lead? Properly structured it could provide the key to telling us how to structure the development of a profitable Welsh economy for the rest of this century and beyond. It could repay the investment handsomely.

  • Rhys David is Chair of Nova Cambria.

 

A Cardiff Cymro at War: Welsh and British Identity in the Near East Theatre of World War One

 

Wales was a melting pot at the start of World War One and some soldiers will have had a foot in the prevailing Welsh and English cultures of Wales.

For the first 17 years of his life, leading up to World War One, Dewi David’s Sunday routine in the Cardiff suburb of Splott will have been the same: chapel with his parents and Sunday School at Eglwys Jerusalem Methodistiaid Calfinaidd in Walker Road, followed probably by a visit for tea or supper to one of his family’s many relatives in the area.[1]

In 1917, however, Dewi’s Christmas was spent in another Jerusalem as one of the Welsh soldiers who entered the Holy City two weeks before. The Turks had been forced to surrender their four centuries-old control of Palestine in the face of advancing British Empire forces under the command of General Sir Edmund (later Lord) Allenby. By this time Dewi had been in other ancient settlements familiar in stories to a chapel-attending Welsh young person – Matarieh (where Mary rested on the flight to Egypt), Khan Yunus (where Delilah was born), Gaza (where Samson brought the temple down), Beersheba (where Abraham and Isaac spent time), Hebron (where Sarah died), and Bethlehem (where Christ was born). Sitting in chapel in his early teens he could hardly have dreamt that he would be camped before Christmas 1917 near Calvary and would spend the day itself on the Mount of Olives in a German religious settlement hastily abandoned by retreating German units that had been supporting Ottoman forces.[2]

Our image of Wales in World War One has largely been formed by the heroism of the 38th (Welsh) Division in France and their sufferings in the assault in July 1916 on Mametz Wood near the town of Albert on the Somme. We also know about the horrors of the trenches, particularly once wet weather and consequent mud had set in.[3] Dewi, however, was among thousands of Welshmen who served in other theatres, notably the Middle East (or Near East as the territories closest to Europe were then called). They served in the only other Welsh-designated division, the 53rd, or in other divisions or support units such as the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The 53rd, a Territorial unit that pre-dated its earlier-numbered confrère, was from August 1915 part of the British army that tried to seize the Gallipoli peninsula during the Dardanelles Campaign, a conflict that cost more than 100,000 British, French, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, and Turkish, German and other lives. The Division went on to defend the Suez Canal against attack by the Central Powers from both east and west,[4] moving later into an offensive phase that took it, fighting its way, across the Sinai Desert, past the stronghold of Gaza and through the Judaean Hills to Jerusalem.  Its capture at a difficult time in the war in France was memorably and evocatively described in Parliament by Prime Minister David Lloyd George as a “Christmas present to the British people”.

Gallipoli, where action was first seen, was trench warfare as brutal as that encountered in France and Belgium but in even more difficult, precipitous terrain where the enemy occupied the heights and could rain down fire on the men below.[5] The 53rd’s later campaigns in 1916 and 1917 were, by contrast, highly mobile desert warfare, accompanied by searing heat, never-ending sand and constant flies, and made worse by severe shortages of food and water. No less difficult scrambles through the Judaean hills followed as the army advanced in the latter half of 1917 deep into Ottoman territory. Many, like Dewi, who joined up as a volunteer on his 17th birthday, St. David’s Day 1915, would spend the entire war away from home, not returning until April 1919.

In October 1918, at Megiddo, the ancient Armageddon of the Bible, on a plain that had been the scene over the course of millennia of mighty battles between great empires, the Turks and their Central Powers allies were defeated, shortly before the November armistice in Europe. They were forced out of the war and made to quit their Ottoman territories outside the motherland in a campaign that made Allenby a national hero in Britain and gave him his title, Viscount Allenby of Megiddo. In Wales it was celebrated as a victory in which Welsh units had played a powerful role.[6]

Two issues particularly have interested historians of Welsh involvement in World War One. How great a degree of enthusiasm did Welsh people exhibit for the war, how did this differ across the social and linguistic divides and how did this square with the pacifist tradition that had developed with the growth of Non-Conformity across Wales in the two previous centuries?  Secondly, how Welsh were the Welsh-named units that fought in the various theatres and how Welsh did they feel? Which Welsh customs and characteristics did they take with them into war? Did men from different parts of the United Kingdom (and beyond) meld together to form part of a wider British identity?

On the attitude of Welsh people to World War One different lines of evidence have been enlisted to justify often modern beliefs and prejudices. Robin Barlow has argued persuasively that a range of reactions can be discerned in the Welsh response to the war and the call to arms, reflecting significant differences in a then fast-changing society.[7] Attitudes also evolved as the war proceeded, after it had become obvious the quick adventure many had expected was a fantasy. Contrary to previous assertions, Barlow has demonstrated that there was a slightly lower propensity to enlist in Wales than in either England or Scotland. Rural and industrial areas felt differently, as did Welsh and non-Welsh-speaking areas, the former in both cases showing less enthusiasm for the cause.

One of the special factors in Wales was undoubtedly the magnetic appeal of Lloyd George, without whom any Welsh reluctance might have been greater. No doubter himself of the rectitude of a war against German militarism, the one-time Criccieth solicitor skilfully mobilised large swathes of Welsh opinion on the side of the little nations of the world – in this case Belgium, Serbia and Montenegro – who could be presented as being bullied by the bigger boys, the Germany of the unbalanced Kaiser Willem II and Franz Josef’s Austro-Hungarian Empire. For Welsh people, although umbilically attached to a benevolent neighbour to their east, the comparison was meaningful.

Already quasi-canonised in Wales for his work as Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing welfare benefits and for his earlier stand as a young solicitor against malign church practices in Welsh parishes, Lloyd George helped to make pacificism unpatriotic, to the extent that even prominent intellectuals were quick in 1914 to take up the war cause. The Welsh scholar, Sir John Morris-Jones, entered the fray, attacking in bellicose terms “Germany’s new religion, the nationalistic creed of Nietzsche”,[8] and collecting with fellow Welsh academic, Professor Lewis Jones, tales of Welsh heroism and derring-do for an anthology on Wales’s martial past.[9]

Gentry ladies, many of whom had sons who served and were to die in the war also rallied around. Profits from the 2/6d sale of the Morris-Jones’s book were donated to the National Fund for Welsh Troops, which sought to provide additional comforts for Welsh regiments at home and abroad. Joining Mrs Lloyd George on the fund committee were, among others, Lady Ninian Crichton-Stuart, Lady Glanusk, Lady Edwards, Lady Beatrice Ormsby-Gore, Lady Herbert, and the Hon. Violet Douglas-Pennant.[10] Even in the avowedly radical south Wales coalfields, Charles Stanton, a firebrand syndicalist and miners’ agent, became a dedicated supporter of the war as did the even better-remembered former miners’ leader and M.P., William Abraham (Mabon).

Statistics can tell us much about the keenness of different socio-economic groups and ethnicities to join up, and we can also glean much from contemporary utterances by politicians and other opinion-formers, such as churchmen and union leaders, and from newspapers and speeches. We need the testimony of individual soldiers, however, to know more clearly what they thought and felt. This is where 50 surviving letters that Dewi sent home can help.[11] Starting with short, cautious missives confirming he was in good health and spirits, they grew in length under the weight of his experiences to offer in response to his father’s and sister’s letters a wide range of views, on Wales and Welshness, his native city of Cardiff, conscientious objectors, suffragism and other contemporary issues, as well as the usual soldier’s complaints – poor supplies of food and water,  inexplicable orders, out-of-touch commanders and favoured treatment of men in other theatres.

As a soldier Dewi was not typical of any one group but crosses several social divides. His family being native Welsh-speakers and chapel-going (his father, Thomas, was a Jerusalem deacon), he came from a tradition that might have been expected to be somewhat more sceptical about the war. He was, however, an urban dweller, living in a significantly “English” Welsh city – Cardiff – which had grown as rapidly as anywhere on earth in the preceding 25 years, drawing in people from all over the United Kingdom.[12] These, it can be inferred, were more likely than the homogeneous rural Welsh to have been fired up to support an Empire war and it was their lead that Dewi seems to have followed.

Unusually, the Davids were almost autochthonous to the region. His parents were from the still largely Cymric Pentyrch and Gwaelod-y-Garth, then outside the city but now incorporated, and spoke the distinctive Glamorgan Welsh dialect. Their neighbours in recently-built Moorland Road, were almost entirely incomers, employed in the largely artisanal jobs that had been created by the city’s coal/steel/shipping economy – railway porter, coal trimmer, engineer, carpenter, boilermaker’s labourer, engine driver, tailor, flannel merchant, general shop assistant, chef, labourer, goods clerk. Many of them would have had no deep roots in the area and little of the cultural attachment to Wales that he and Welsh soldiers from deeper in Wales would have had.

Dewi had joined because his slightly older friends had also enlisted but virtually all of these were what might also be termed Cardiff English, the sons of individuals drawn into the city in the previous two or three decades. Their names were Mills, Pippen, Somers, Ropke, Hansford, London, Hardcastle and Milner, and not Williams, Davies, Evans and Jones. After elementary education several of these young men had gone on to Cardiff’s first “grammar” school, the Municipal Secondary School (the M.S.S.) in Howard Gardens[13].  And, like several of his friends Dewi had joined the General Post Office (GPO) as a messenger boy at 15[14]. As such, these Cardiff individuals will have had much in common with the wider nature of the 53rd Welsh, which included men from Herefordshire, Cheshire and elsewhere, as well as Wales, and would fight in the Near East alongside divisions from London, East Anglia and other parts of Britain as well as Australians, New Zealanders, Newfoundlanders and Indians.

Dewi’s letters, 120,000 words in total and now part of the Imperial War Museum’s national collection in London, offer evidence of the duality engendered by this foot in both camps, Welsh-Welsh and English-Welsh, proud of Wales and his Welshness but growing up in an environment in which the dominance of English ideas and attitudes was even more prevalent than today. In Cardiff, as in many other cities that had grown with the industrial revolution of the previous century, pro-Empire, Anglo-centric views of the world prevailed and will have been shared by most of the population. [15] The Army, where he will have met men from other parts of Britain for the first time, would be a melting-pot that would only intensify this common sentiment, creating bonds that overrode national identities within the United Kingdom.

This Anglocentric, Empire-oriented view is reflected both in Dewi’s choice of language and the expressions he uses.  He writes exclusively in English, though he does pepper his writing with Welsh (and the odd French) expressions. Censorship may account in part for this but his English-only education in the MSS is probably more responsible. This was a time when Welsh was being lost and many Welsh speakers, perhaps particularly those who had moved to the big cities, (though not the Davids) were abandoning Welsh for their children as a hindrance to advance in an English-speaking world.[16] The age-old Welsh dread of the threat to the language – a fear expressed a few decades earlier in the last line of the Welsh national anthem – occupies his thoughts in one of his letters.[17] After describing how he had been mixing with good Welshmen in the 158th, he writes:

“You know full well that I’ll never lose yr hen iaith [the old language] – leave it to me, I hope I am a genuine Cymro – and, well that’s one of his chief duties, isn’t it? – “Fy Nuw, f’anwylyd, a’m iaith” [My God, my loved ones, my language].”  

Even for a Welshman, however, “England” is used in Dewi’s letters as a synonym for “Great Britain” and Ireland, a modern solecism that was probably then widespread (and perhaps offers a partial elucidation of the notorious Encyclopaedia definition). At no point does he use the word Britain, preferring instead the then widespread nickname, “Blighty”.

Thus, from Fayoum, in Egypt, he wrote to complain about exorbitant local traders:

“A quid here lasts about as long as five Bob in England.”[18]

and later, while on the trek through Sinai to Gaza, musing on his job polishing the equipment of the two horses he was looking after at the time, Cuthbert and Araminta, he writes:

“I am sure my manicurist would weep to see these hands after that sticky duty dubbing but I console myself by thinking that we are but cleaning harness for ‘England, Home and Beauty’ as they say in the Brasso advertisement.”

There are other examples, too. In a complicated reference to George Bernard Shaw’s satire, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, he observes how women in Egypt usually trail unwearyingly on foot behind a man on an ass:

“It wouldn’t do for Miss Warren to preach the new belief of the ‘women’s rights’ creed out here.  The men wouldn’t take it so calmly as in England.”[19]

Dewi’s reading at the time was the English-language classics, his requests to his parents being for books by Charles Dickens, Edgar Wallace, Mark Twain, Sir Walter Scott, and the now largely forgotten Ian Hay, and two contemporary periodicals, London Opinions and the Weekly Telegraph. His local and Welsh news came through the long since defunct Cardiff Times. On one occasion he does ask his parents to find him something suitable in Welsh but whether in response they sent him a work by the Welsh Dickens, Daniel Owen, is not known.

His own writing style was humorous and highly literate, and full of references to the Bible, nature, music, history and geography. Yet, for all his serious reading, in speech he grew to be more and more strongly influenced by his companions. As the war proceeded and his tour of duty lengthened, Dewi (and no doubt his brothers-in-arms) filled their conversation and writing with slang phrases such as ‘abso-blooming-lutely’, ‘s’welp me’, ‘kybosh’, ‘ole chulip’, ‘fakamajig’ and others, and routinely cut words, such as ‘them’, or ‘him’ back to a basic understandable ‘em’ and ‘im’. Dewi, too, gradually slips, like many of his contemporaries into the use of Eye Dialect as he becomes more of the old soldier and less the raw and nervous recruit.[20]

It has, indeed, been observed that by the end of the war the default language that many British soldiers spoke was Cockney.  Londoners were disproportionately represented in the forces, and their form of slick, urban conversation clearly appealed to the mood of the men and to the camaraderie which long periods of service together engendered and hence quickly spread, even to units such as the 53rd.

Dewi, a good grammar school education behind him, even if of only short duration, was able to add his own compelling metaphor and imagery. In apologising for his failure to find his sister a Christmas present in Jerusalem, he tells her “the miserable paltry specimens of the Birmingham jeweller’s art (overseas department, remember)” that he inspected were “a gross insult to the average man’s intelligence” and “would not have deceived even the dullest member of a West African missioner’s flock”; in recounting his pleasure after eating the contents of  a parcel he says he “felt as contented and benevolent as the fattest old alderman who ever sat down to the weightiest table at the Lord Mayor’s spread,” and he “wouldn’t have changed places with a diner at the Carlton”; in thanking them for some glasses he had received, that the “goggles” were “Bond St. fit” and hung on his “nasal promontory” a treat; and that some unwelcome remarks he had heard were “enuff to make a crocodile weep champagne”. For Dewi a camel is his “long-faced chum”, being sea-sick is “feeding the fishes”, a brush is his “trusty desert sweeping instrument”, conversation is “chin music” and between you and me is “ongtre-noose”.

Yet, while he quickly adopted Army parlance, Dewi found many of the men he met somewhat exotic on first encounter in 1915 and 1916. With gaps sometimes needing to be filled he spent very brief periods with a London Division, where he might have picked up some of his Cockney and with the 54th (East Anglian) Division, “very decent people”. He found some of his fellow Welshmen different to himself, too. He is sent “back up the line” in Palestine, he reports in one letter, to the 158th Brigade not his usual 159th and finds himself with a “north Wales crush”. “The Fusies, you know, ‘rwan’ like,” he tells his parents.[21] British soldiers named their surroundings after familiar places back home. The North Wales soldiers had followed Army practice in naming areas after similar and familiar places at home. “The Vale of Clwyd is close at hand and we are somewhere near Bettws-y-Coed,” he reports of the areas being occupied by the 158th in the hills.

He also tells his parents what he considers to be an entertaining story about a visit from a north Wales preacher at the YMCA while he was with the Royal Welch Fusiliers (RWF), which again emphasises the differences he observed.

“I went over to finish the letter and take advantage of their tables, but I failed to write a word. There was a service on, conducted by a Welsh chaplain from Aberdaron, look you. I quite enjoyed it, and he captivated the hearts of his congregation, especially those who had never heard a ‘pregethwr’ [preacher]. … He could hardly speak English properly … and the Cymraeg style he had was amusing …. It brought back memories to me of Sundays in the past when I listened to the ‘old school’. Tonight, he gives a humorous lecture at the same place and I’ll be there. So, you’re not the only ones who are privileged with those entertainments, although I’d sooner listen to yr hynod [noted] Kilsby Jones at Jerusalem any day to a lecture on the desert.”[22] The language used by this preacher is not clear, but one can guess it was perhaps a mixture of Welsh and English to meet the needs of his congregation.

Unlike fellow soldiers from more rural areas or smaller towns, Dewi will have met people from overseas in his first job as a 15-year-old messenger boy working out of the GPO in James Street in Cardiff’s docklands. His day will have been spent taking telegrams to boarding houses calling seamen to their ships or to men on board the many ships thronging the docks. This will have brought him into contact with the many Arabs from the Gulf who joined Cardiff-bound vessels at the Royal Navy coaling station in Aden, many of whom settled in Wales.  Whatever the impression he had formed through these no doubt fleeting encounters, abroad the attitudes that shine through his letters are those of the contemporary Briton, and not favourable.

The Greeks, camp followers who set up canteens to serve soldiers at their bases in Egypt, are represented as venal, never losing an opportunity to rook their powerless victims. He thanks his parents for a Postal Order:[23]

“You can’t imagine what it is like to have nixes. It will come in jolly handy for such luxuries as are obtainable from the canteen, although it goes against the grain, you bet, to fork out to Greek proprietors. Naturally, or purposely, they don’t forget to shove on the prices. I suspect the latter”.[24]

The Arabs, too, he believes, are only too willing to do them down in the bazaars, with their “rotten old piastres, worth tuppence ha’penny”. Moreover, he doubts their sincerity:

“The Moslems are very pious if taking a praying carpet out in the street and kneeling down bumping your forehead against the pavement has anything to do with it, but I doubt whether they’re always so devoted. They seem to like English fags because they always pester us for ‘Cigaretta baksheesh Engleezi’ which translated from the Ancient Greek means, ‘Give us a fag, gratis.” [25]

Nor does he approve of their treatment of women.

“The inhabitants of the outlying villages pass along the road by our camp to market in the town and it’s always the donkey or the woman who carries the load. The man, her husband, rides on another donk, doing and carrying nothing. Lazy blighters, what?”[26]

On occasion they could be a source of amusement as when he tries to cash a Money Order in a Post Office in Ismailia and encounters a bureaucratic Egyptian counter clerk, who nevertheless knows of Cardiff. He describes how he approached the official and handed over his document:

“’Hi matey, Where’s my five quid’.” He says, ‘Are you Sapper David.’ Says I, ‘Be’old ‘im in the flesh’.”[27]

He is sent back twice to get different signatures from the Provost Marshal’s office before he receives his money and has the following exchange:

‘’’Do you leeve in Cardeef’. ‘Yes’, I said, ‘near the biscuit factory on the mud.  Can I go now, or do you want to know whether I was born in Upper Zinc Street, or Lower Zinc Street? Come and have a drink with me, will you?’ He says: ‘I tank you no, I do not drink ze beera’ and all the clerks seemed to think it was a huge joke.”

Despite in this case finding someone who had heard of his home city, his advice to anyone coming to Egypt, is:

“Bring plenty of ‘tin’ [money], go to Shepheard’s Hotel and stick there.[28] You’ll only spoil a holiday coming up the line as far as we are to study the peculiar customs and manners of John Cherry Blossom.”[29]

These sentiments – of an 18-year old – would not be appreciated (or openly expressed) nowadays but were no doubt authentic of their times and of soldiers from across Britain.

Nor are the Turks, the main enemy any more highly regarded, though he praises them when back in the hills after the capture of Jerusalem for maintaining a humanitarian approach when it came to water supplies.

“Gosh! I’ve thanked the Koran many times for giving old Johnny 10 commandments, one of which forbids him to poison water – he sticks to it, too, fair does [do’s], which is a jolly lucky job for us. Water. Gosh! D’you know what happened yesterday. There was one biscuit tin of water, three men washed, two men bathed, (one was myself), and then I washed a shirt, towel and socks in it.”[30]

The French, as civilised fellow-Europeans and co-combatants are less harshly treated, though there is a hint he saw a certain dandiness in their character. On a rare break in Cairo he decided to visit a French barber, one of the many foreigners then living and trading in Cairo’s big European quarter.[31]

 “In goes this child to a swell ‘coiffeurs and shavers’ establishment, where there were about umpteen pier glasses [mirrors] hanging around the walls. Sat down and a Frenchman worked the oracle on me – a proper high-faluted style – Parisian style, you know.  ‘You want ze moustache to keep, m’sieur’, he said, serious as a judge, and, of course, not wishing to insult the poor feller, I kept as straight a face as poss and said polite-like, ‘Non, m’sieur, shave the blighter off, he get too much in the way, comprenez?.  … Lathered and shaved me OK, with never a pull or a scratch like my old Army pattern [razor] plays on me, and he was as dainty as a blessed girl, s’welp me Bob.” Then the blooming ceremony started, which fair startled me – first, he rubbed a block of ice over me dial [face], and then he sprayed about five scents over me and then shampooed me and sprayed some more till I didn’t know if I wasn’t in for an aquatic gala. For sure, I was some swell by the time I finished in that place, I tell you, cos he brushed my hair and put a blooming fine parting in it – straight as a die and looked the real goods. I don’t know how the deuce he managed it, cos blowed if I could ever get one there before. I was so pleased that I gave him 2 piastres for himself and told him on the QT that he was a blooming marvel, only he couldn’t comprunny simple language like that. Then he had a bloke there who brushed your togs and chapeau when you left. … Well that little lot cost me 6 piastres but it was worth it every inch. You can judge for yourself how swell it was – I was actually having a shave next chair to a major on the staff – absolutely (Lummy, where’s my swagger cane – Swish! Haw! Bar Jove!), and the manager bowed me out too and fairly beamed when I told him it was a trés bon little shanty of his.”[32]

Yet, while this Welsh-speaking Welshman could under peer pressure very easily become the archetypal World War One Tommy, acting, thinking, sounding and speaking like his fellow-soldiers from other parts of Britain, a feeling of being distinctively different and Welsh also permeates his letters. In Egypt he describes how he and a few of his Cardiff colleagues share a tent with a postman from Tonyrefail.

“who is my champion when we have good-natured arguments about Wales and Lloyd George and I may tell you that we are able to hold our own”.[33]

Dewi himself may well have differed from his colleagues in believing, like many Welsh people, that the Welsh Wizard was the key to victory. And, he evidently followed current developments in the war avidly.

“I have just read Dafydd’s speech at the Eisteddfod [in 1916] and really can’t find words to express myself. He is a marvel and I think the country need have no doubts as to his ability in the capacity of Secretary for War. Why a man with that spirit – the Welsh yspryd – could overcome any obstacle likely to crop up. I’d back him up against any sausage-eating Bethmann Earwig they like to put up.[34] You can tell he’s a Cymro alright by his speech and by Gum! I’m prouder than ever that I am also a Cymro and that the same blood runs in my veins. A Welshman in the field myself, I can only say “Cariwch ymlaen, Dafydd bach, cewch i mewn a ennill i ni”.[35]

Dewi was in no doubt either that Welsh soldiers – carrying on the traditions outlined in the anthology, Gwlad fy Nhadau, were among the most martial of Empire troops. When it came to battle, the Germans fighting with the Ottomans are, as they would have been to most British Empire soldiers, “vile Huns”, but in Dewi’s view they were no match for and indeed in mortal fear of the brave Welsh. Dewi, whose main role was as a Royal Engineers signaller, sending and receiving Morse code messages and laying out cables to forward positions and retrieving it, describes one action in Palestine on the march towards Jerusalem. This to his mind encapsulates the respective fighting qualities of the Welsh and their German and Turkish enemies.

“When the Welsh got to business they were greeted with shouts of ‘Come on you Welsh so and so’s, not Turks this time, you got Germans’. And, so it was, too, there was a plentiful sprinkling of those vermin in front of us but that only made those mad, reckless, splendid Welsh madder than ever and those Huns ran faster than old Johnny [the Turks]. Y’see they can’t skulk in concrete dug-outs here [as in France] – it’s all plain fair and above-board hill-scrapping and they don’t like that – not they. When they see the Welsh coming up over the hills like cats from stone to stone, with the sun playing on those shining little things [presumably their weapons], it’s either ‘Kamarad’, ‘Allah!’, ‘Allah!’, or a sprint towards Constantinople. I simply have to tell you this because the glorious old 53rd gave ‘em of their best and you know what that’s like – bless ‘em. Proud of ‘em? Why there’s nobody to touch ‘em.

“Anyhow, they’re wonderful, they’re marvels, they’re Welsh! If I had my way I’d give ‘em all a V.C. and a 1,000 piastre’s worth in the canteen. However, directly after the dirty work was done we were relieved and I have been terribly busy, engaged in that pleasant pastime of picking up all our cable. Blooming hard work and worst of all the blessed weather broke again and it simply poured down. When it pours here you can betcher life it does pour some, and there we were washed out of house and home – or rather bivvy – out on some blessed hills trying to pick up blooming cable thro seas of mud and lakes of rainwater.”[36]

There is more praise later for his unit after they had been sent down to the plains at Ludd after several months in the hills, only to be told after a two-day trek – “downhill all the way with all brakes on for hours at a stretch” – to turn around and return immediately. The men were left only to speculate on this reversal of fortune but Dewi sees it as evidence of their irreplaceability.

“What benefit can it possibly afford anyone, I would like to know, by heaping ridicule on the heads of us poor innocents. Anyhow, it just goes to prove there’s no other boys like our little rascals to scrap in those blamed hills – simply can’t do without the old “Fighting 53rd –  the flower of the British Army – second to none.”[37]

Some exaggerated pride is evident here but Allenby himself was full of praise for his Welsh troops. On their role in the decisive breakthrough at Gaza he wrote:

“When time was ripe, the Welsh Division brilliantly consummated the victory, storming the rocky slopes of Khuweilfeh, and stubbornly maintaining that position against repeated counter-strokes, fiercely pressed all through the first week of November [1917]. … On 9th December 1917 the 53rd and 60th Divisions joined hands to the south and west of Jerusalem. In co-operation, these two Divisions swept the enemy from Jerusalem’s precincts, and they share the honour and the joy of having been the immediate agents in setting free the Holy City after continuous bondage. In the battles which scattered her armies and drove out of the War the Turkish Empire, the achievements of the young and inexperienced troops – who formed the majority of the 53rd Division – rivalled the exploits of those veterans who had already set an example which won, and will for ever retain, the Empire’s admiration.”[38]

But while Welsh soldiers in the Near East, such as Dewi, reflected in most respects the attitudes and even the forms of speech of their fellow-combatants from other parts of Britain, were there other characteristics specific to Wales that survived four years away from home? On the Western Front the authors Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, both officers in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, noted appreciatively the men’s love of singing. Graves observed that Welsh soldiers sang hymns, often in Welsh, whereas other regiments were more likely to sing popular music hall numbers of the day.

Though they will have sung Welsh hymns at the service Dewi attended, the more open, desert and hill country spaces in which the 53rd Division operated may have been less conducive to communal hymn-singing than the trenches of the Western Front, where death was an ever-present danger and spirituality probably closer to men’s thoughts. The hymns Dewi mentions are Victorian and not popular Welsh favourites – notably Rocked in the Cradle, Here We Suffer Grief and Pain, When He Cometh, and Art Thou Weary – and his references are chiefly intended to raise an ironic point about their experiences out East.

The Welsh love of singing – hymns and airs – could come more easily to the fore once a year, however, on St. David’s Day, his birthday. In 1916 in Egypt he reports that some of his colleagues had been for a ride and had brought back a plant that looked like a leek. In 1918 writing to his sister he tells her he has a lump in his throat from hearing the Divisional Band strike up Men of Harlech.

“Now it’s Deryn Pur, and here she comes, Rhys ap Thomas, I’m nearly blubbering.”[39]

He wishes he had been at home to join them at a concert for St. David’s Day but says their band had given them a treat ‘with a long programme of those beautiful airs, second to none’.

Even if there is little evidence that men in the East routinely sang hymns, music was still important and soldiers in the Near East probably had more opportunity to create entertainment for themselves than men in France and Belgium. Dewi himself recalls performing songs himself – notably the now largely forgotten but then well-known Tosti’s Farewell – at an American lady’s house in Cairo to which he and some of his fellow-soldiers had been invited. More importantly, the men of his unit formed themselves into the Palestine Pops, a cross-dressing Pierrot troupe, that specialised in musical numbers of the day and in sketches.

“The funny man comes from our company and he is a genuine card. …  As for the pierotte, she looks fine, painted up with rosy cheeks and pencilled eyebrows, and long dark tresses. She brings tears to our eyes (tears of mirth, however) when she sings the poignantly-emotional ballad, ‘If You Were the Only Boy’ etc. with her partner. The appealing way in which she stretches her arms out and presses her hand on her heart in the song is quite the last word in melodrama. She’s got the mezzo soprano falsetto voice absolutely taped off, too. Sometimes it cracks at the critical moment and either goes up or bumps down about two octaves. (In ordinary life this prima donna is a Sapper of R.E.s)”[40]

His favourites, however, were the Welsh Rarebits, a troupe of experienced musicians formed in late summer 1916, pre-dating the official World War Two Entertainments National Services Association (ENSA) by some 23 years. Divisional headquarters during the long trek across the Sinai Desert decided the 53rd should have an official concert party, perhaps recognising the extent of musical ability available and the efforts the men were already making to keep their own morale up.

Wally Bishop, member of a Cardiff musical family serving in the RAMC, was asked by his Commanding Officer in Egypt if he knew any other musicians who could help to form a band. He volunteered a pianist, a violinist, a piccolo player and suggested a choir be formed, too. The eleven founding members met under the shadow of a quince tree at Der el Belah and continued to entertain their fellow-soldiers for the rest of the campaign.[41] The première took place in Sinai’s Wadi Ghuzze, a wide dried-up river bed flanked on either side with steep hills. The 5,000 strong soldier audience sat in terraces, watching a stage lit by acetylene floodlights, their cigarettes pinpointing the darkness.[42]

Dewi explains to his sister:

“The Welsh Rarebits were the only demoiselles we’ve got, barring the charming Buddoo [Bedouin] damsels who are now millionairesses on the 15 tomatoes for 5 piastre touch, and of course it’s only natural that a fellow likes to be deceived and feels like straightening his tie and parting his hair before he goes to a concert. Best thing a fellow can do in the EEF where leave is almost as extinct as a rest, eh?”[43]

Given the ubiquity of the piano in Victorian and Edwardian households, and the absence of many of the forms of entertainment that are now available through mass media, it is perhaps not surprising that Bishop was able to put together a concert party that would prove so entertaining. In a distinctively Welsh touch the war’s end was celebrated with a concert by the 100 strong 53rd Division Welsh Male Voice Choir at a celebratory dinner at the Metropole Hotel in Alexandria in January 1919. The programme offered several great Welsh favourites: The Sailors’ Chorus by the poet, Mynyddog, set to music by Dr Joseph Parry, Myfanwy, Men of Harlech, and Martyrs of the Arena. Supporting acts included vocal, piano and violin solos by serving men.

Dewi, his letters reveal, came from a more Welsh background than many of those with whom he signed up, but was much closer to these fellow Cardiff citizens than to the rural Welsh soldiers from other less populated areas of Wales that he met, especially those belonging to the RWF regiments of the 158th Brigade. His attitudes were those of many young British men brought up on stories of “England’s” imperial mission. Like his fellow-soldiers, he had no problem with Empire, accepting without question the British place at the top of the international order and the superiority of Englishmen, Welshmen and Scotsmen over other races. As one midshipman on being posted to HMS Defence in 1914 observed: “I knew little or nothing about foreign policy beyond the fact that the Mediterranean belonged to us”.[44] Indeed, though conscription was never introduced in Ireland, tens of thousands of young Irishmen joined up with the same dedication to the cause. Many of their brothers too young in 1914 and 1915 to join up made their way, however, into the Republican ranks that took Britain on in 1916.

Dewi remained throughout his service a proud and patriotic Welshman – stressing the importance of this identity in letters to his parents. He was a fully engaged and unquestioning Briton as well, however, in a society that was less complex and more homogeneous than today.  For many men of military age like him, buying into the British view was completely natural, and once enlisted they were not willing to harbour doubts, nor were their parents. Indeed, Dewi reserves some of the few bitter comments he expresses in his letters for those who had not joined up as he did at the first opportunity, and for those with relatively soft jobs in the Army or outside.

Opinions were to change during the war as losses mounted and the impact on families grew. In the post-war world Wales became a centre for peace activities, playing a significant part in the establishment of the League of Nations. Plaid Cymru’s formation in 1925 would also create a platform for national sentiments and aspirations to be expressed in a different and more political form. A war to re-establish the status quo was going to leave behind a different world.

These were developments that would follow in the troubled twenties. It is only from the contemporary war letters, such as Dewi’s, however, that we can learn why young Welshmen enlisted, their views on their homeland and its place in the world, how they felt about service in the different theatres and about their fellow-soldiers and foes. Dewi David through his innocent and cheerful but copious correspondence offers insights into all these questions.

Rhys David

Cardiff.  December 2018

rhys.david@btinternet.com

 

 

Rhys David is a former journalist with the Financial Times where he held senior editorial positions. He is a Council Member of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, a director of Nova Cambria and a Fellow of the RSA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Demolished in 1920, Jerusalem M.C. Church was one of three Welsh language chapels in Splott, serving a local Welsh-speaking community attracted to the area after 1888 when Merthyr Tydfil’s Dowlais Ironworks (later Guest, Keen & Co.) invested in a new coastal plant in Cardiff docks, the arrival point for the shipments of Spanish iron ore that had begun to replace exhausted local reserves inland. Many of its workers – a significant number of whom had Welsh as their first language – moved to Cardiff to live nearby.

[2] Sanatorium Kaiserin Augusta Viktoria, a guest house built by the architect Robert Leibnitz for Protestant German pilgrims, one of several religious sites constructed by the Germans and others in the Holy Land in the preceding century.

[3] Llewelyn Wyn Griffith and Jonathon Riley. Up to Mametz and Beyond. (Barnsley, Pen & Sword, 2010) passim.

[4] For an account of the war in this theatre, see Stuart Hadaway, Pyramids and Fleshpots, the Egyptian, Senussi and Eastern Mediterranean Campaigns 1914-1916. (Stroud, The History Press, 2014).

[5] John Masefield, Gallipoli (London, William Heinemann 1916). One of the earliest accounts of the horrors of this campaign was written by the Poet Laureate, shortly after the withdrawal of British and Empire forces.

[6] Welsh soldiers were first through the gates of Jerusalem, a source of pride to Welsh families, some of whom like Dewi’s parents saw Allenby’s entry captured on newsreel in local cinemas. Dewi’s father wrote to say they had viewed the footage at the Gaiety Theatre in Cardiff’s City Road but had failed to pick him out.

[7] Robin Barlow, Wales and World War One. (Llandysul, Gomer Press, 2014), chaps. 1 & 2.

[8] Writing in the Welsh-language publication, Beirniad in 1915.

[9] Sir John Morris-Jones: Gwlad fy Nhadau, Rhodd Cymru i’w Byddin [Land of My Fathers’, Wales Gift to its Army]. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1915).

[10] Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart, second son of the Marquess of Bute and Liberal M.P. for Cardiff, Cowbridge and Llantrisant, was killed aged 35 on October 2nd, 1915 at the Battle of Loos, provoking an outpouring of feeling in Wales. His statue by William Goscombe John, stands in Gorsedd Gardens, Cathays Park.  Ninian Park, former home of Cardiff City F.C. and Ninian Road are named after him.

[11] Extensive extracts from the letters are included in Rhys David, Tell Mum Not to Worry: A Welsh Soldier’s War in the Near East 1915-1919, (Cardiff, Deffro, 2014). ISBN 9 780993 098208. The letters in full are published in a companion volume Tell Mum Not to Worry: The Letters. (Cardiff, Deffro, 2014). ISBN 9 780993 098215.

[12] Cardiff’s population had grown from 6,342 in 1801 to 26,630 in 1851 but in the last census before the start of the war in 1911 had reached 209,804.

[13] Cardiff’s first “grammar” school, the MSS was founded to bridge the gap identified in learning between the pre-existing school system and the new University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire. Its buildings were destroyed by German bombing in World War Two and it was later rebuilt on another site as Howardian High School (now closed).

[14] In 1913 Dewi achieved the highest marks in the United Kingdom in the civil service examinations for entry into a career in the then Government department.

[15] In the preceding two decades the city named new streets in its Roath suburb after great British triumphs – Waterloo, Blenheim, Marlborough, Kimberley, Ladysmith, Mafeking, Harrismith, Trafalgar, Crecy, among them. Kitchener had already had a school named after him in Canton in the late 19th century. This martial pride continued after World War One with the naming of streets near Roath Park Lake after naval commanders, Cunningham, Jellicoe, and Beatty.

[16] The only Welsh letter Dewi is known to have written was to his Sunday School to thank them for a parcel they had sent. He asked a Bangor man to check his Welsh and was told much to his satisfaction that it was faultless.

[17] Letter. May 28th, 1918.

[18] Letters. April 13th, 1916. “Bob”, slang for shilling in pre-decimal currency.

[19] Letters. September 8th, 1916.

[20] “Betcher” is just one example of Eye Dialect where a conventional or colloquial pronunciation is transferred into written language. It is so called because it is seen on paper as well as heard. “Ses”, “not ‘arf”, “nuff” are other examples.

[21] Letters. May 28th, 1918. North Wales Welsh speakers use ‘rwan’ (abbreviation of yr awr hon”) for English ‘now’, whereas in south Wales ‘yn awr’ is preferred. Fusies are the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

[22] John Rhys Jones was a leading 19th century Congregationalist minister appointed to churches in England as well as Wales. He became known as Kilsby Jones after serving in the village of that name in Northamptonshire.

[23] As a 17-year old volunteer, (claiming at the recruiting office to be 19) Dewi had voted his Army pay to his mother at home but after several months depending solely on Army supplies and what he could buy with Postal Orders from his parents he rescinded this instruction.

[24] Letters. From Egypt, June 23rd, 1916.

[25] Letters. April 13th, 1916.

[26] Ibid.

[27] November 4th, 1916.

[28] Shepheard’s Hotel, established in 1841 by Englishman Samuel Shepheard, became Cairo’s leading hotel until destroyed by fire in 1952. It was the headquarters of the British Army in World War One and a meeting place for Allied officers, politicians and spies in World War Two.

[29] Letter. April 13th, 1916.

[30] Letter. June 8th, 1918.

[31] Many Britons who lived in the city will have patronised Welsh-named businesses that appear in advertisements in programmes: sporting goods retailers Roberts, Hughes, (which also boasted branches in Alexandria and Mansourah, and Davies, Bryan, (slogan, Everything for Kit Renewal) with branches in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Khartoum.

[32] Letter. August 25th, 1917.

[33] Letter. November 4th, 1916.

[34] Dewi’s name for Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, the German Chancellor.

[35] Letter. September 8th, 1916. At Aberystwyth Lloyd George had been mobbed by an adoring crowd as he got out of his car to attend the annual festival. In October the same year Lloyd George had been in Cardiff to unveil statues – among them Boudicca, Llywelyn, Owain Glyndwr, and Sir Thomas Picton – in the newly-built City Hall, re-establishing in patriotic Welsh minds the connection between Wales and past military glory.

[36] Letter. March 23rd, 1918.

[37] Letter. April 14th, 1918.

[38] C.H. Dudley Ward, History of the 53rd (Welsh) Division. T.F. 1914-1918. (Cardiff, Western Mail 1927).

[39] Letters. February 27th, 1918. (The letter will have been completed after March 1st.)

[40] October 10th, 1917

[41] Bishop describes in his autobiography, how the newly formed party agreed on the need to have a “female” member and bought women’s clothing – stays, shimmy, petticoat, stockings, gaiters, a low-cut dress in gold and black trimmings, and blonde wig. Another item, bloomers, apparently had to be explained to 22-year old Bishop by one of his married colleagues. Waldini, Front Line Theatre. Front Line Theatre, (Cardiff, Private Publication, 1947).

[42] Son of a piccolo player, Bishop (1894-1966) went on to make music his life. Employed as a cinema organist after the war, he lost his job with the advent of the Talkies and spent several years appearing with unemployed musicians as Waldini and his Gypsy band in Cardiff’s Roath Park. During World War Two he was invited by impresario, Jack Hylton, to entertain British and Commonwealth Forces at home and abroad.  After the war the group appeared during the summer months at holiday resorts throughout the UK, most notably Llandudno, and Ilfracombe in Devon. For the last two years of his life he toured with his all-girl band The Fabs, entertaining troops again.

Source: Wikipedia.

[43] June 28th, 1918.

[44]Hadaway, Pyramids and Fleshpots, p32.

Reflections on Wales 2030: A 10 Point Plan for the Welsh Economy

The wider context

Before Plaid Cymru gets down to policy formulation and manifesto preparation, the wider context in which the next British Parliamentary elections will be held needs to be considered. Over the past two decades we have seen the centre ground abandoned by voters across Europe and the US in what some see as a conscious rejection of “we know best” approaches by a closed-off political elite for whom Davos – not Dowlais, Dartford, or Duisburg – is the lodestar.

In the US this surge in populism or rather nativism[1] as opposed to internationalism has been manifested in Trump’s election and in Britain by Brexit, but it is just as prominent elsewhere, even more so in some cases. In Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, and Austria, the left has faded, and rival parties of the right have had to tack towards their more right-wing competitors or include them in coalitions. In the Visegrad grouping (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) parties that would have been considered far right are now in power and in the first two have even sought to dismantle established liberal norms such as judicial independence, much to the EU’s horror.

Even in stable Germany two party politics has weakened under the pressure of the Alternativ fur Deutschland. The traditional centre left and centre right groupings, the CDU and the Social Democrats, have had to govern as a coalition in the last two Parliaments, a breakdown of political alternation that for the 50 years after World War Two characterised much of European politics. Polls have shown support for “strong man” authoritarian, get-it-done rule growing, even in some hitherto stable democracies.[2]

Finally, in France a centrist president, having won barely more votes than his right and left opponents in the first round of France’s most recent presidential elections, has become an isolated and embattled figure, struggling over Christmas 2018 to keep the cobblestones in  Paris’s grand boulevards out of the hands of protesters, and able to secure approval ratings only in the low 20s from a disillusioned populace that has concluded he is not the break with the past he promised to be.

In Britain the rise of UKIP has not been accompanied by representation in domestic Parliaments (except in Wales) but it won the vote for Brexit, persuading a majority to accept its key strategy rather than that of all three traditional UK parties, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. It took more votes than any other party in the most recent European elections. In Scotland the SNP has been the beneficiary of this nativist/populist surge though it presents itself as a bastion of the kind of views the more internationalist-minded support.  (Its equally successful counterpart electorally in Catalonia, which won on a nativist platform, has been put down by force by Spain’s left-wing populist party, Podemos.)

In Spain, as in Greece populist parties from the ostensibly far left and not the right have been the ones to break open the traditional left-right duopoly of politics, demonstrating that “a curse-on-both-their-heads” movement can win through from both ends of the political spectrum. It can also arise spontaneously without direction or central management – the Gilets Jaunes in France.

Where does Plaid Cymru stand in this modern maelstrom? Plaid has in the past been a populist/nativist party, pursuing Wales First policies (more economic and political powers for its unit, Wales, the creation of jobs for people in Wales, support for the domestic language and bilingual education and usage, and opposition to incomers, especially monoglot non-Welsh-speakers moving into Welsh-speaking areas). In recent years, however, in a tilt away from its north and west heartlands towards more populous and hence vote-rich south Wales, it has sought to portray itself as left of Labour. This policy seemed to work best in 1999 when Plaid was rewarded with its best performance to date in Assembly elections, the public having decided in the referendum two years earlier to go down a populist/nativist route to demand (albeit narrowly) more local control, and evidently concluding that the party that had fought so hard and so long for just such an outcome could best be trusted to manage the process.

This new leftist approach with a strong emphasis on social issues had some logic during the early years of the Blairite New Labour revolution when Labour became an enthusiastic supporter of neo-liberal economic, free market policies. It was closed off firstly by Rhodri Morgan’s clear red water philosophy, which began the process of regaining Labour its stranglehold (albeit moderated later by Liberal and Plaid coalition partners). The election of an unashamed Corbynite, Mark Drakeford to Labour’s leadership, has now made a more-Labour-than-Labour approach completely unrealistic for Plaid.

So, the questions for Plaid are these. What has it learnt from the rise of populism over the past two decades? Where are the votes of the vast bulk of moderate centre/centre left voters in Wales going to go in forthcoming elections? Will they renew their support for, or return to Labour, confident it will best serve their interests under its new leader? Just as saliently, if Brexit goes ahead and UKIP recedes, having been seen to have largely done its job and not to be able to develop a credible set of policies on other issues (or implodes through internal scandals), will plague-on-all-their-houses forces gather around anti-Assembly advocates? It would be easy to dismiss nascent stirrings as a phenomenon that will quickly evaporate but the same was said two decades ago of UKIP and look what they achieved. Polls already show the antis winning list seats in the Senedd and they could credibly cast Plaid as just another of the old parties. Do we really want this debate to re-open?

This should raise serious warning flags about criticising the Assembly years since 1999, even if this is seen as a way of attacking Labour. The first paragraph of Adam Price’s document, Wales 2030: A 10-Point Plan for the Welsh Economy, claims the Welsh economy has remained at a standstill for 20 years at the bottom of the UK’s prosperity league, and that, while Scotland has had a devolution dividend, Wales has made no relative progress since 1999. Though the qualifier “relative” is important, the impression that will be picked up is that devolution has failed. This is untrue – there have been gains across many fields.[3].

In employment Welsh activity rates now match those in the rest of Britain – an historic achievement for which both the main parties can perhaps, and certainly will, claim credit, Labour for Assembly policy, the Conservatives for Westminster measures. Rates in Wales have historically been five percentage points lower than the UK and many economists thought the gap would never be closed.  We need to know more about the composition of Welsh activity rates before closing the book on this one – full-time, part-time, male, female etc., – but it has happened. Employment has grown to record numbers in a slowly rising population and in some recent months in 2018 Welsh unemployment was lower in percentage terms than that of the rest of the UK.

At the end of Wales 2030 these questions are posed. What has been the dividend? Has it all been made worth it? Again, these questions are put to stress how important the election of a Plaid government in 2021 will be. However, opponents are likely to say that if Plaid – which has had self-government as its raison d’etre for nearly 100 years – now thinks it has been pointless, what use is it to anyone? Save the money by getting rid of the politicians and bureaucrats in unloved Cardiff Bay!

A much better pitch would be – “these are the ways in which Wales is better since 1999 but this is how it could be much better still! Put the government of Wales in the hands of those who fought for it for so long and believe in it wholeheartedly, unlike their opponents, and let’s build on progress to date”. “Give Wales a Future”, “Give Labour a Break – Give Plaid a Chance” encapsulate this. The latter would tie in with the idea that Plaid believes in devolution in a way the other parties do not. It would also stop short of merely indulging in ritual criticism of Labour, by suggesting the party has not totally failed devolution, but is now exhausted and needs time out of office to revive its ideas. It will be tough, but the voters might just be persuaded that alternation of government in Wales could bring better results than one-party rule.

If it is to break through the 10-14 per cent ceiling that has kept it captive for most of the past nearly 100 years, Plaid needs to be able to present itself once again as a new, exciting and insurgent party and not just as a Wales-leaning variant on the London-based parties, and especially Labour. It certainly does not need to be seen criticising the institution the creation of which it spent so long seeking.

Policy Development Implications

Crucially, Plaid must make it clear it is on the side of the communities that make up Wales and of the community that is Wales itself. This may mean de-emphasising and even rejecting much of the rights-based, individualist focus that has dominated the political thinking of all parties over the past few decades, policies that will have little traction with the voting public Plaid is seeking to attract. Greater prosperity for Wales will be achieved, it should argue, through a re-invigorated approach to economic and education policy, drawing on a revivified (and if necessary reformed) administrative machine supporting the Senedd. (It should not be a matter of inventing a host of new institutions and re-booting others. Existing levers, including a not insubstantial civil service, should in most cases be adequate to put in place the changes needed, and if not should be reformed rather than duplicated.)

Policy needs to be more challenging across the whole spectrum of issues and not simply a matter of trying to come up with tweaks to existing economic, educational, social and cultural approaches. Within the economy, a decisive shift away from the cultivation of anchor companies (which seem determined to melt away despite decades of taxpayer support, as in the case of Ford) towards grounded companies as Wales 2030 suggests, is right and should be boldly and clearly stated. A greater role for the state within the private sector, possibly made easier by Brexit, (provided EU state aid rules no longer apply under any new deal) can be justified, too. The “nationalisation” of Cardiff Airport has, for example, preserved civil aviation in Wales where under private sector control the site of this essential modern facility would by now probably be a housing development. This should be a spur to finding other areas where the state can help.

The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee has written convincingly to show that the role of the state as pump-primer and key shareholder has been important across capitalist economies, including the US, yet it remains anathema to successive UK governments, which have sought instead to diminish its role. (The state of Lower Saxony has a blocking shareholding in Volkswagen, which has survived successive EU legal challenges. France has a 15 per cent stake in Renault. French, Dutch, and German state organisations own a significant share of Britain’s energy, water and transport undertakings).

Providing it can find competent managers to fulfil board roles – and this is a big if – a Plaid Welsh Government should look to guide the development of crucial businesses in Wales, intervening where necessary to ensure key locally-owned employers are enabled to stay in Wales. (It is not just in the Missing Middle, however, that policies are needed to ensure the survival and growth of successful local businesses. Our only FTSE company, Admiral, could be subject at any time to a hostile or agreed take-over by a big European or US insurance giant that wants to acquire its customer base. Brains, our biggest food and drink and hospitality company could be sold, like London brewers, Fuller at the start of 2019. Would Plaid have anything to say on issues such as these?)

In transport, a Wales-first approach is also needed and here Labour has taken useful steps that could be built upon. In Transport for Wales we have an embryo Welsh transport authority whose remit could be gradually extended beyond rail to buses and other transport media as well. We still have two public sector bus companies in Wales, Cardiff Bus and Newport Bus, but Cardiff Bus has recently reported a £2m loss.  The profitability of its routes is being nibbled at by the blue and white buses of Singapore-owned N.A.T.  We need to avoid a trajectory where Cardiff Bus will be so weakened by unnecessary competition in what is a natural monopoly that Scottish-owned First Group or Germany’s Deutsche Bahn[4]-owned, Arriva, come riding to the rescue, motoring away again with the profits and Government subsidies generated by Welsh bus passengers, together with the management jobs in the depots of both businesses.

In education the laissez-fair approach that has characterised successive UK Governments’ approach to universities for the past several decades, leading to a bloated sector of more than 170 UK institutions, some of poor quality, needs to be reversed in Wales. If universities exist to supply society with the leaders it needs across a range of disciplines, Wales’s institutions are not achieving this and, indeed, are not set up to do so – in contrast with those in Ireland and Scotland. Our four top universities equip individuals from England and elsewhere to return to help their home countries thrive and prosper, alongside a minority of Welsh-domiciled students.

They bring income to their host towns and cities both through student spending and relatively highly-paid employment for staff (although at some unquantified cost to the community as well)  but if their impact is largely as providers of “offshore” services they are not serving Wales as well as they might and are diverting resources that could be more wisely spent elsewhere in the education system. We have, for example, a weak business sector which could benefit from much closer co-operation with the university sector, yet a few years back the proud claim of Cardiff Business School was that it was the top-rated business school “in India”.

No-one would argue that universities – as the name implies – should be anything other than open and outward-looking, but to the extent they are in Wales? This may require much less of a focus in our top universities on attracting other UK and foreign students, itself the unintended and damaging consequence of the conversion of higher technical institutions into “universities” and the lifting of the cap on student numbers.

While a leavening of UK and overseas students and teachers is desirable, we are essentially training citizens of other countries to return and help those countries to prosper. In some ways the techniques used to recruit overseas students differs little from those applied to attracting foreign companies – location (outstanding natural environment), quality of workforce (skilled university lecturers), and community (friendliness of people). Unlike overseas-owned factories, however, which it is hoped will remain, most foreign students will leave after a few years or move to somewhere else in Britain and the EU, without leaving a significant footprint in Wales. A sudden change would clearly be very damaging but a gradual shift, through specifically-designed incentives, towards greater provision for students from Wales is desirable.[5]

The need to rescale and adapt to meet Welsh needs, is nowhere more apparent than in health, where Wales like the rest of advanced-economy Britain is incapable of providing enough medical staff, (GPs, junior doctors and consultants, nurses, physiotherapists, care workers and others) to look after the Welsh population. Instead, Britain strips the countries of Eastern Europe, and Africa and Asia of their doctors, nurses and other health professionals as if Zimbabwe, Thailand and Romania among others were selflessly training far more individuals than they needed themselves and could afford to export medical professionals!

Wales could carve out a new approach for itself by pledging to return our newer universities to (degree-giving) technical college status, concentrating on engineering, Information technology, management and other largely vocational courses. This could give Wales a head-start in the ambition (espoused by UK Governments of all stripes) to rebuild and re-energise Britain’s manufacturing sector. Do we need nine institutions styled universities for a population of 3m?

Fetishizing the idea that 50 per cent of the population should go to university, the UK (and Wales) has neglected the more than 50 per cent who currently do not. These are the very individuals for whom the jobs that used to exist in basic industries have disappeared over the past four decades. Policy should seek to support more effectively, and offer equal funding and treatment to, those who do not wish or do not have the aptitude to go to university, but who, just as importantly, may want to live and work in the communities they were born into in Wales. These are the very people who, if neglected, will drift off to the far right, which will be seen, however implausibly, to have a greater understanding of their situation. Voters need to know there is a Welsh party that understands their needs, is firmly on their side and will act.

The aim throughout the education system, starting at school level, should be to create pathways across the whole range of economic and political activities so that the most talented are offered a career in Wales. Our national game, rugby, offers lessons. Most of those who play with distinction for Wales are ordinary men from across (mainly) south Wales. They do not come from privileged backgrounds and they have not (with one or two exceptions) been imported. Most have not been to university.

The school system seems to work well here in filtering through and encouraging those with talent, and the WRU and the four Welsh regional sides are then able to take on talented youngsters and progress them through to cap level at various age grades. Some manage to prosper in this framework while still pursuing academic careers – Welsh players have simultaneously trained to become solicitors and doctors while still playing at the highest level. Even those who do not have a parallel professional route are in many cases able to develop after retirement from the game other Wales-based activities that use the training – hard work, discipline, mastery of technical detail – that comes from playing rugby at a high level.

Music offers a similar example, particularly for Welsh speakers. Schools have sadly cut back music provision but local, Urdd and National Eisteddfods provide a competitive environment that has enabled Welsh musicians and especially singers to succeed in music, both popular and classical. Both these sectors have created pathways so that anyone in Wales can rise to the top, not just in Wales but internationally. This makes both very different from other sectors where people trained in Wales to higher levels are usually only equipping themselves to move outside Wales. We even have programmes making it more likely the most able young people will leave Wales and not return, such as the efforts to get more talented students to apply for Oxbridge!

We have spent a long time tinkering with our education system which until several decades ago was functioning quite well. (It was capable, after all, of propelling a Welsh miner’s son from Aberdare into running the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, and the son of Polish immigrants from Cardiff to Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University.) We need to recognise that its failures, such as they are, stem at least in part from the feeling many of those put through it have that they will not find satisfying work at the end, especially if they are unlikely to attend university, and want to stay in Wales. This is at the root of the disaffection with school life of many young people, and especially boys in poorer communities. We should look to the two successful Welsh sectors mentioned above – rugby and music – to see if we can establish similar pathways so that individuals with aspirations in other areas can be channelled from school onwards in directions that will enable them to achieve their goals.

In summary, important as developing a battery of new proposals, Plaid needs to go further and establish itself as the party that is most attuned to what the needs of Wales are and is prepared to elaborate these, however, many sacred cows get slaughtered in the process. Policies need to be radical and daring, simple to enunciate and understand.

The above are just a few areas were radical approaches are needed. They must amount to more than the creation of a host of new institutions. A National Infrastructure Commission, a £2bn National Investment Bank, a National Energy Company, and a Metro Development Corporation may be part of the solution, but they are unlikely to raise more than a sceptical eyebrow across most parts of Wales. Even worse, they will appear just grandiose spending plans, with little of the outlay ever likely from experience to work its way down to meet the needs of the man on the Abercwmboi omnibus (if they still have one).

Plaid needs to show it understands the mood of the public as evidenced not just by Brexit, but by a general disillusionment with politics and politicians. There is no reason why Plaid should not have a whole range of the progressive policies favoured by elites in its locker. The Welsh public has after all been broadly accepting of the social and other changes of recent decades, even if most would be reluctant to stand in the rain in support of them. Let others be in the vanguard – and take the flak – for pushing further on the environment (Greens), minorities (Liberals) and claimants (Labour). These policies need not be the face of Plaid Cymru, which will lack a distinctive position in the political spectrum if it champions others’ causes and neglects its own. Plaid has a broader cause to support – Wales and its communities.

A new more nativist approach should be at the heart of Plaid’s offer. There is no contradiction, after the gains made in other areas affecting individuals over recent years, in saying a stronger focus is now needed on community rights – the right to a decent job in one’s own environment, the right to a decent public realm, the right to good transport and education.

Nor need it imply any lesser commitment to the internationalism that has been a feature of Plaid thinking since its earliest days. Wales’s credentials in this area, from the support for the League of Nations through to partnership with Lesotho are strong in any case and not under threat. Welsh people are unlikely to want to offer any less support to people in other nations in future – standing up for one’s own society does not mean neglecting one’s duty to others.

Indeed, if Wales is to play a fuller part in addressing international needs, it must build a stronger economy at home, using all the tools at its disposal. The strong presence the Irish have built up in international organisations and especially world charitable activity is illustrative as well as admirable. That has followed, rather than preceded the establishment of a strong, confident Irish economy, built on the foundations of decades of Ireland-first polices.

 

 

 

Rhys David

27th January 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Nativism is defined here as a preference for putting one’s own country’s interests ahead of internationalism, as represented by globalism, unrestricted immigration and universal human rights. Those holding this view do not entirely reject these trends and processes but would argue they have been placed too far ahead of domestic considerations by an often-unelected elite who stand to benefit most from their adoption.

[2] Even in the US, support for the idea that democracy is the best form of government has been falling.

[3] The Creation of a Wales Transport Authority, the South Wales Metro (when delivered), the re-opening of passenger services (Llantwit Major, Ebbw Vale), the proposed new Cardiff Parkway station; Welsh income tax provision, Land Transaction Tax, eschewal of PPI contracts. In the social sphere, Commissioners for Old People, Well-Being of Future Generations etc, recycling rates, plastic bag tax, separate health service structure.

[4] German state railways

[5] This could be done through h student fee system.