Wales politics

Wales prosperity catching up, says Carwyn Jones

Image caption Despite receiving billions from the EU, the economic performance in the south Wales valleys and west Wales has slipped

Prosperity in Wales is catching up with the rest of the UK, First Minister Carwyn Jones has claimed.

He was challenged at question time in the Senedd about new figures on the economy.

They showed the performance of west Wales and the Valleys slipping further behind the European average, despite receiving billions from the EU.

Opposition AMs tackled Mr Jones after it emerged gross domestic product (GDP) fell 2% in 2008.

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said the statistics should be a "badge of shame" for the assembly government.

Billions in European aid had been poured in to raise prosperity, but Ms Williams said Wales had done so badly it could expect to qualify for more money.

She said other places had used European regeneration funding to lift people out of poverty.

The money Wales had received was supposed to make it a more prosperous nation "but we've ended up poor enough to qualify yet again," Ms Williams said.

The European Union's Statistical Office last week said GDP in west Wales and the south Wales valleys in 2008 was 71% of the average of other European regions - 2% down on the previous year and the lowest in the UK.

Wales had nearly £1.6bn from the EU in 2000-06 and has received another £1.5bn since 2007. With match funding, it represents an investment of more than £6bn, most of which has gone to the west and the valleys.

Mr Jones insisted Wales was a more prosperous nation and said the situation was better than the GDP figures suggested.

He said household incomes had increased in Wales since 1999 and had "outstripped" the UK average.

"So when it comes to gross disposable household income Wales is catching up pretty quickly with the rest of the UK," he said.

"The situation isn't as bad as the GDP figures describe, because looking at other measures, measures that are used by economists, it's quite clear that actually Wales is catching up. There's no question about that, and the gap between ourselves and the rest of the UK has narrowed over the last decade."

Frozen budget

On the NHS, Mr Jones told the Conservatives' assembly leader, Nick Bourne, that he did not see the need for a separate fund to pay for cancer drugs.

Mr Jones said the assembly government's decision to freeze its health budget was "the best that we can do and we've stood by the people of Wales and protected the health budget as best we can".

Mr Bourne, whose party wants health spending to continue to rise in line with inflation, accused the first minister of being complacent about the availability of cancer drugs.

Mr Jones agreed with Plaid Cymru AM Dai Lloyd that introducing minimum prices for alcohol of at least 50p per unit could help deal with an increasing problem of alcohol abuse.

"I think it's very unfortunate that some supermarkets sell alcohol under cost price for them to buy it in the first place. I don't think that is responsible," the first minister said.

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