Today we’re coming to Wales with a simple message - as the economy turns a corner, we must make sure that people here share in the rewards.
This goes well beyond the political debate of today - it’s been an issue for decades. Governments of all colours have come and gone, but even when the British economy has been doing well, living standards here in Wales have been lower, unemployment has been higher and child poverty has been greater.
We’re determined to tackle this head on. We want this to be the government that finally sorts this out. There is nothing inevitable about a country’s fate and certainly not somewhere with as proud a history as Wales. If the right decisions are made now - and if we have the courage to see them through - then this vital member of our family of nations can and will succeed in the century ahead.
So what does Wales need to prosper? It needs more businesses coming here and creating jobs. It needs taxes that reward hard work. It needs better infrastructure: roads, homes, rail and broadband. All of these things are the building blocks of a stronger economy and fairer society - it’s how together we build a recovery that everyone can share in.
But for too long decisions about Wales’ future have been directed by bureaucrats hundreds of miles away in Westminster – and it has suffered as a result. Wales could benefit hugely if the government at Cardiff Bay was responsible for raising more of the money it spends.
So we’re delighted to tell Western Mail readers that the coalition government is going to cross the next milestone in Welsh devolution. We’ve already taken important steps forward – granting a referendum on giving the Welsh Assembly law making powers. But we are going to go even further as we take forward the key recommendations of a commission on devolution led by Paul Silk.
First of all, Wales must have the tools to invest in the transport infrastructure it needs. The Welsh Assembly has said it wants to prioritise upgrading the M4. They don’t want Wales to have to compete in a tough global race with a road network from a bygone age. Now, through the devolution of some finance raising powers, the Welsh government will have the money to get this project started.
Second, Wales will have control over its stamp duty, bringing in money that can be spent on big Welsh priorities like much needed affordable homes.
And, third, Wales will have the opportunity to decide whether some of their income tax should be devolved. This is hugely important - one of the best ways to raise living standards is to cut peoples’ taxes. People work hard for their money and we want them to keep more of it. That’s why, in the last Budget, the coalition raised the personal allowance once again. From next April, you won’t pay any income tax on the first £10,000 you earn. This is a tax cut for over 1.1 million people in Wales and the typical taxpayer will be £705 better off as a result. This is real practical assistance to help people make ends meet.
But Wales shouldn’t depend on London for these decisions. So the Silk Commission proposed that there should be a referendum on devolving certain income tax powers. And that’s what’s going to happen. We’ll provide for a referendum to take place so that people in Wales can decide whether some of their income tax should be devolved, in the same way as it is in Scotland. We’re meeting with the First Minister Carwyn Jones this morning to discuss the nuts and bolts.
This is a government that believes in devolution and is determined to deliver on devolution. If you get the balance right between the UK Parliament and a devolved institution then you can get the best of both worlds – and that’s true whether you live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Although there’s a long way still to go, there are a number of reasons to be cautiously optimistic in Britain today. The economy is growing. The deficit is falling. And in the past 3 years, more than a million people have got back into work. The challenge now is to make sure that all parts of the country share in the recovery, and no more so than Wales. We want young people growing up here today to know that there’s a future for them - that they don’t have to move to London or go abroad to get on in life and achieve their dreams. This is our mission for Wales - and that’s what today’s announcement on devolution is about. We’ve got a plan, it’s working and now we’ve got to finish the job we started.