Plaid Cymru the Party of Wales Manifesto

Plaid Cymru - The Party of Wales Manifesto 2001

Part 11
Making Wales Work

The Party of Wales' programme in the next parliament

Section 1
Creating Sustainable Prosperity

As has already been noted, one of the main priorities of the Party of Wales's MPs in the next parliament will be to press the Westminster government to implement policies which will release Wales' potential to become one of the most prosperous countries in Europe.

We therefore call for a fundamental change of direction in monetary and economic policies. In Wales, we must implement a programme that builds on our natural advantages and which is based on the principles of sustainable development.

1 (i) The monetary and economic framework

  • Taxes and public spending

    As we press strongly for a radical change in the monetary and fiscal policies of the United Kingdom, one of our main demands will be that the principle of redistribution - geographical and social - be made a major element in policy. There is no conflict between this and general success of the economy, as over-heating in Southeast England is leading to serious problems for the economy and the environment.

    We shall challenge the presumption against public spending that has been such an integral part of governments' policies over the past 20 years.

    We call upon the Chancellor to use his budget surplus to invest for the future rather than to clear the national debt. The fact that the economy is improving is to be attributed mainly to new wealth resulting from the technological revolution, and we demand that all strata of society should benefit from it. Effective public services, accessible to all, are one of the essentials of a civilised society, and what we would wish to see is a move closer to the Scandinavian model, where successful and competitive economies go hand in hand with a contented and just society.

    We shall call for a Commission on Taxes to redesign the system so as to create a fairer society. We recommend a more progressive tax system with a greater number of income tax bands and raising the higher rate to 50% for earnings over 50,000.

    The commission should also investigate the role of indirect, particularly 'green' taxes. The Party of Wales favours moving towards such taxes, as long as they are designed in a way that avoids unfairness.

    We emphasise the need to use revenue from such taxes to maximise their effect and to protect sectors hit by them. Tax on road fuel is one example where measures are needed to reduce its effects in particular circumstances such as the crisis in the countryside.

    At the same time, we oppose the use of green or any other indirect taxes in order to raise revenue by stealth for the Treasury.

    We recommend the use of regional tax incentives, such as a reduction in the level of Corporation Tax, or a reduction in employers' National Insurance contributions to, in order to raise the level of economic activity and prosperity in Wales and other depressed areas. Such measures would be much more effective than uniform reductions throughout the United Kingdom. The UK government must press the Commission of the European Union for the right to operate in this way.

    Small businesses are an essential part of the economy of Wales, and so we call for fundamental changes in business taxes, with taxes based on turnover or profit in order to give small businesses a better opportunity, and to ensure that those making large profits such as supermarkets shoulder a fair share of the financial burden.

  • Suspension of PFI

    It is estimated that using PFI as a means of raising money has caused a 5 billion underspend in public investment. As it is a serious obstacle to effective public investment, we call for it to be suspended.

  • Minimum wage

    We support the raising of the minimum wage to 5 an hour and ending the differential for younger employees.

  • Review of the Barnett formula

    As part of our commitment to a regional policy aimed at redistributing wealth, we shall call for an early review of the Barnett formula. We have already noted our reason for this at the end of Section A in Part I.

    Rather than a system wholly based on population, as is currently the case, we recommend using income per head and need as criteria. This would increase substantially the National Assembly's resources.

  • European Money

    We call for a general audit on additionality and the European Structural Funds. We must insist that complete additionality operate in every area of European money, and that the UK Treasury provide the necessary public match funding. In addition to the structural funds the same principle must be ensured for the relevant agricultural programmes. Because it operates as an obstacle to the redistribution of wealth within Britain we shall support demands for the abolition of the Fontainebleau agreement.

    1 (ii) Developing a sustainable Wales

    As the foundation of our existence and all our prosperity nothing is more important than the protection of our environment. It is an issue which must permeate all areas of policy rather than being treated as a separate subject.

    That is why the Plaid Cymru has based its Economic Development Strategy for Wales on the principles of Sustainable Development, social justice and equality of opportunity.

    If we have sufficient resources, Wales has the potential to be a pioneer in this area. We believe that GDP on its own is a crude and misleading indicator of the condition of the economy. We therefore call for a more comprehensive indicator, such as the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, to be used.

    The need to protect the environment implies a radical change of direction, particularly in our attitude towards economic development, with a need for every effort to increase wealth and improve the quality of life to be compatible with maintaining the environment.

    Inevitably, as pollution and environmental damage respect no boundaries, the protection of the environment requires action at a global level. This is considered in greater detail in section 4 (v) One World.

    Similarly, the European Union has a part to play in this, through the coordination of environmental taxes for instance.

    At the same time, there is a need for more local action.

    The National Assembly's commitment to promoting sustainable development must be regarded as a positive opportunity for development.

    It must be remembered that sustainability means social and cultural regeneration as well as the protection of the environment, and economic prosperity is essential to that.

    Our aim therefore is to seek out and facilitate developments that are compatible with sustainability. Amongst those things for which we shall be arguing at the Assembly and Westminster will be a shift in emphasis and resources towards indigenous industries, and a more selective approach to key inward investments.

  • Renewable energy

    The development of renewable energy is one area in which Wales has an important contribution to make, and a favourable planning policy is needed that will enable local communities to benefit from such developments. Not only is renewable energy a key sector in its own right, it is also essential as an energy-source for the future.

    As our dependence on fossil fuels must be reduced and since nuclear energy is not an acceptable option, we shall press for very substantial growth in renewable energy. The United Kingdom is dragging its feet in comparison with Denmark and Germany, and the Department of Trade and Industry's attitude needs to be radically changed in order to release the potential.

    We call for the promotion of the whole range of technologies, although wind (on and off shore) and energy crops are currently the most promising economically. Adequate resources for research into and the development of alternative transport fuels, and to harness the power of wave and tide, are essential, as is a much more ambitious programme for energy efficiency in the home and in businesses.

  • Other opportunities

    We also call for the targeting of emerging sectors, particularly technologies such as optronics, biotechnology and the treatment of contaminated land and decayed industrial sites, ensuring the harnessing of Welsh research expertise and resources.

    The aim is to promote new technologies that have the potential to reduce environmental damage as well as improving economic efficiency. Substantial investment in higher education and research will be crucial.

    To ensure this, we must have an employment strategy that brings together education, training, vocational advice and opportunities in Wales, which will include high investment in education and training in order to move the economy towards higher value products, with priority to providing ICT networks and training. Targets to close the gap between the earnings of men and women and to deal with economic underactivity and under-employment are essential.

    Spreading prosperity and employment throughout Wales will be a key component in the Plaid Cymru strategy for the economy of Wales.

    We believe that there is a need for greater emphasis also on the social economy - the Third Sector. Care must be taken to ensure that the advantages of economic development reach the least privileged, thus reducing deprivation and giving everyone the chance of a job.

  • Waste

    The first lesson is to learn not to see waste as waste but rather as a valuable raw material, and to this end requirements for a percentage of recycled materials should be set as an incentive for the market for businesses in the public, voluntary as well as private sectors. There is here a very important opportunity to create new and sustainable jobs and to raise the level of skills in the potential workforce.

    Business support should be available for this purpose. We are in favour of implementing the European directive on landfill, and deplore the fact that the Governments of Wales and the UK are seeking to postpone implementation from 2006 to 2010. As for incineration , its use should be allowed only if it can be shown that it causes no damage to health.

  • Water

    This is one of the most important natural resources in Wales and must be used economically in order to protect the natural environments from which it is drawn. The danger that there will be a demand for more water to be transferred to England is a real one. First we must ensure that our own needs are met, and then require favourable terms for any further transfers.

    We wish to see the continuation of the very highest standards in sewage treatment, as in Welsh Water's Green Seas initiative

    1 (iii) Creating a future for the countryside

    The current crisis in agriculture is the worst ever, and it has struck the countryside as a whole.

    While UK governments have been unwilling to support agriculture through the crisis of the past years, the Party of Wales considers it to be an industry of the greatest importance, with a substantial proportion of the population of Wales still dependent on it.

    Agricultural policy must be based on quality and not just on price competitiveness and the precautionary principle should apply to issues of food safety

    A combination of different factors has led to a drastic reduction in farmers' incomes, and thousands leave the industry every year - there was a decrease of 4,000 in the number of those employed in agriculture during the last year, with the greatest reduction in the number under 35 years of age. Most Welsh farmers are approaching retirement age.

    We consider therefore that early retirement schemes and aid for new entrants are essential for a viable industry, and we shall push for such measures as a matter of urgency.

    The role of women in agriculture and the rural economy should be more strongly respected and supported.

  • Diversification and added value

    The future of farming must be considered within an integrated rural development framework, in which the emphasis will be on promoting a wide range of businesses and appropriate industries that will enable higher value products to be created.

    We need a planning framework that respects the environment but that facilitates appropriate development. Farmers must be enabled to diversify, and to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by cultural/heritage tourism, sustainable forestry and renewable energy, to mention just three examples.

    Similarly all encouragement must be given to the development of local processing, including small abbatoirs, in order to add value. As part of diversification, more should be done to promote alternative crops, particularly energy crops, and to provide sufficient aid to do so.

    With the increasing popularity of organic produce, farmers need every opportunity, help and encouragement to convert to organic, and to join agri-environmental schemes.

    We believe that Wales should pursue the opportunity to market itself as a source of high quality food, produced in an environmentally sustainable way with high standards of animal welfare. Plaid supports the de facto moratorium on genetically- modified organisms in the European Union and will continue to work, on the basis of the precautionary principle, for Wales to be a GMO-free zone.

    We shall also press for measures to reduce supermarkets' domination in the market and to promote farmers' cooperatives in order to strengthen their ability to compete.

  • A voice in Europe

    Since MAFF has failed to advance Welsh interests over the years, eg. the way in which milk quotas were introduced in 1984, and the failure to get support for energy crops in 1998, we shall press for the Assembly to have the right to speak up for the farmers of Wales in Europe. In particular, it is the Assembly Secretary for Agriculture who should lead the UK team in the discussions on reform of the sheep meat regime, in view of the fact that the sheep premium contributes 90 million to the economy of Wales, and a large proportion of British lamb is produced in Wales.

    We support the need for further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, as long as the changes are introduced gradually and take into consideration the social and economic consequences. CAP is costly, is poorly targeted, and places huge bureaucratic burdens on farmers. Neither does it do enough to reduce the environmental damage caused by conventional farming.

    We support the principle of decoupling payments from production and linking them with environmental gain, but care must be taken to ensure that Wales does not lose out badly in this respect.

    We believe strongly that financial support to farmers should continue, in order to guarantee a secure food supply in an uncertain world, to support communities in rural areas, and to protect the natural environment.

    We shall call for agri-environmental measures, such as Tir Gofal, to be strengthened and for European funds to be additional to government contribution rather than disappear into Treasury coffers as currently occurs.

  • Town and country compact

    We must reject the idea that there is a conflict between the interests of urban dwellers on the one hand and those of country people on the other. The present government has failed to show that they understand the great concern of country people about their future, and this in turn has led to suspicion of town dwellers.

    Better understanding is needed on both sides, between urban and rural society,as well as between environmentalists and farmers.

    The Countryside Act was introduced without sufficient attention to the views of country people, and we believe that the Hunting Bill has had far more attention than it deserves.

  • Forestry

    The contribution of sustainable forestry to the rural economy is very substantial. There will probably still be a role for coniferous forestry, but the emphasis must shift to broad-leaved woodland which has great potential in terms of added value, high quality produce, and increasing biodiversity.

    1 (iv) Sustainable transport

    Transport is an area that has suffered particularly badly under governments' niggardly approach towards public spending, and towards meaningful planning for the future. The consequences are congested roads and a public transport system that is amongst the worst in Europe.

    This in turn has caused major environmental damage locally and nationally, and significant ill effects to health. Lack of public transport also causes social exclusion particularly for women and disabled people.

    Inconsistent policies have been another problem, with the Tories doing a U-turn on road building and a lack of strategy for the needs of Wales.

    Persuading the Government of Wales and the SRA to establish a Wales and the Marches franchise for train services was an important step forward. The Party of Wales has pressed for the reorganisation of train services on these lines for a decade. Yet this is only the beginning.

    We welcome the Government's intention to increase expenditure substantially, but we are concerned that there is neither a detailed timescale for implementation nor certainty about the level of investment after 2003. We also believe that there is over- dependence on private finance, as with the London tube.

    The essence of our transport policy is the provision of investment for integrated transport, with priority being given to safety and environmental considerations, and an emphasis on social inclusion, by making reasonable public transport available to all.

    Good communication must be developed with the rest of Britain and Europe, and within Wales, with interchange between the different modes - car, bus, train, bike or walking.

  • Restoring Railtrack to Public Control

    The Conservative Government's arrangements for privatising railway tracks were fundamentally flawed. This has led to serious problems of accountability and concerns for passenger safety which have not been resolved by the Labour Government. Returning control of the tracks to public hands would cost far less to the taxpayer than the present approach which is aimed purely at maximum profits for shareholders.

    The next few years will see direct and indirect government payments to Railtrack increase from BR's subsidy in 1994 (800m) to nearly 2.5b. There is every justification for converting these payments into state-owned shares giving the taxpayer over 51% of the rolling-stock, and so controlling policy and expenditure by Railtrack.

  • Establishing a National Passenger Transport Authority for Wales.

    This would franchise all the train services in Wales, in collaboration with the Strategic Rail Authority in the case of cross boundary services. It would also include local Passenger Transport Boards in order to integrate bus services. We also call for the transfer of the budget for railways to the Assembly. 1 (v) Homes

    The right to a good home being one of the essentials of life, adequate investment in suitable homes brings benefits in terms of economic development, health, education, the environment and quality of community life.

    Although much of the responsibility for housing has been devolved to the National Assembly, the UK policy framework has a major effect on what it can do.

    In the first place, of course, adequate resources have to be provided to implement a public policy so that there is affordable housing for people on low incomes.

    It is a cause for concern that that the increase in expenditure under the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) is so trivial in Wales as compared to Scotland and England.

    We shall also call for the policy restrictions on local authorities that prevent them from investing in housing to be removed.

    In particular we call upon the government to reform the method of calculating the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement (PSBR), so that borrowing for housing purchase and renovation and the provision of new social housing does not count against it.

    Local authorities should have the same freedom as housing associations and private landlords to borrow money for purchase and renovation. We call for the same level of VAT to be placed on house renovation as on newbuild and that this should also apply to self-build.

    Housing stock should only be transferred to Registered Social Landlords where it will lead to better provision and service, and where tenants vote in support of it.

    Efforts to raise the standard of housing in disadvantaged areas should occur in the context of comprehensive and integrated programmes for the regeneration of communities in their entirety.

    Community Regeneration Trusts, in which there are tenant board-members, have a great deal to offer in this area.

  • Fair rents for councils

    We shall call for changes in social security regulations, particularly housing benefit. In particular the unfairness whereby local authorities, as opposed to private landlords, may not receive all the benefit paid on behalf of a tenant, must be removed.

    The current situation leads to a lack of money for authorities in areas where a large number of tenants get housing benefit.

    As a result rents in general have to be raised for everybody else which creates an unacceptable situation in which the poor have to subsidise the poorer.

  • Helping local people

    We shall call for measures to help local people buy houses in areas where prices have risen beyond their reach.

    Planning permission should also be necessary to convert a dwelling into a holiday home.

    Key Recommendations

    A substantial increase in public spending to improve services and redistribute wealth

    Replace the Barnett formula with a system which will pay fairer attention to the needs of Wales

    A full audit of European money and full additionality ensured

    Higher taxes on earners over 50,000

    Promotion of sustainable industries such as renewable energy

    Scheme to help young farmers and early retirement

    Railtrack brought under public control and responsibility for railways transferred to Assembly

    Strengthen the ability of local councils to provide housing

    Help for local people to buy houses when prices are too high

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