" Doing Something"
About The Special Areas
Salvation Must Come From Wales Itself
From Our Welsh Correspondent
The Depressed Areas arc on the front page. The plight of Jarrow or Merthyr Tydfil had hitherto inspired an occasional article, members of Parliament said from time to time that "ecenething should be done." Then there were the marchers. Meanwhile the prosperity of Birmingham and London (and the Woolwich Arsenal) grew apace.
Then came three shocks to prosperitycomplacency in quick succession: the Commissioner for the Depressed Areas' Report, the visit of King Edward to South Wales, and the announcement of Lord Nuffield's Christmas present of two million pounds for the Areas. Even governmental optimism was shaken, and " bold action" was promised immediately.
Extremist as Usual
As usual, the pendulum has swung from one extreme to another. Apathy (" can anything be done?") has given place to a frenzied demand for a vigorous policy C. something 'num be done "). And in the process of that change, organisations that have borne the brunt of years of struggle against indifference and even cynicism have been brushed aside as inadequate and amateur.
No one would suggest that these interim attempts at restoring industry were perfect. They were hopelessly handicapped by the neglect of a government that did not seem to care. And there was little enough support from those authorities and industrial concerns which would have profited by their work.
The Development Council
The National Development Council of Wales and Monmouthshire had begun to achieve considerable success in its necessarily limited programme. It was formulated in 1932, under the presidency of the Earl of Plymouth, " with the object of furthering the extension of existing industries and the development of new industries within the area."
Among the contributing authorities are the Glamorganshire County Council, the County Boroughs of Cardiff, Swansea, Merthyr and Newport, and most of the boroughs and urban councils of South Wales.
It has often been emphasised in these columns that the salvation of Wales must come, in the first place, front Wales itself. In other words, unless local authorities and commercial undertakings are willing to co-operate intelligently in the work of revival, any outside support—whether it be a government grant or a princely gift— will merely be an artificial stimulus, a temporary fillip instead of a permanent strengthening.
At last there are signs that this elenzentary truth is being realised. The Welsh Trading Estates Company has begun its work of sponsoring new industries, the Land Settlement Scheme is gradually being consolidated. and the prospect of a Government policy other than that of planned depopulation is bound to stimulate local interest—and this is as important a factor as a subsidy.
The plight of the Depressed Areas is too rarely seen as a whole. Either it is a concern of bankers and industrial magnates —envisaged in terms of a shareholder's meeting and the announcement of a drop in the dividend. Or it is a newspaper " story"; a matter of Christmas parties for poor children and free boots for men on the dole. Each attitude is part of the whole, but it is high time that public opinion was directed to the basic problem, an amalgam of the financial and the philanthropic, the material and the moral.
For Wales is a nation, not an item on an agenda-paper. And the Development Council has done a great deal to reawaken Welsh interest in Wales for a start. This it has done principally through its admirable paper, Wales and Monmouthshire (monthly, 6d.), which contains wellinformed articles on local occupations as well as on the heavy industries, on national institutions as well as on trade returns. The emphasis on industrial depression (and particularly on the disasters of export trade) has too often obliterated all interest in the hundred and one aspects of the life of Wales that have survived, and which may yet prove her salvation.
But the practical man will object that "culture and all that " won't bring back trade. To that the answer must be: Do you seriously expect a return to pre-war conditions, when the market was still cornparatively free and foreign rivals had only begun to think about doing a little trade on their own account? Because if you don't expect such a return, then an alternative must be found. Mr. Saunders Lewis has put the matter briefly thus: " We need to begin our enquiry into methods of recover), by finding in Wales some purchaser and some purchasing power on which Welsh products would have an indisputable prior claim. That purchasing power is the purchasing power of the Welsh people."
Local authorities, tradesmen, business men—everyone, in short, can at once put this principle into practice. Recovery will have begun. And if the practical man still feels that an interest in the cultural tradition of a nation isn't good business, he can buy Welsh tweeds, Welsh pottery, Welsh food because they happen to be good. They happen to be cheap as well, for if value for money is to be computed in terms other than that of the chain-stores and their serf-employees and stucco-fronts, it is obvious that it will be found where there has been a long tradition of craftsmanship, for who ever heard of a country farmer not getting value for money?
Call it "economic nationalism," if you will. It has at least the elements of common sense, and it does not need a Whitehall fiat to put it into practice. As a solution, this is of course an over-simplification. But it need not be repudiated altogether for that reason. The proper unit for Wales is Wales itself, and, while it is doubtless impossible to translate the principle into practice in the case of heavy industries, there is no reason at all why light industries and local crafts should not receive immediate and necessary help in this way. They too must play their part by marketing their goods intelligently, by making their work better known (and here the Development Council is at work).
Whatever plans may be forthcoming to rehabilitate South Wales as a whole, they should take into consideration the industries of Wales as a whole at the same time. An excessive dependence on a spectacular export trade has already cost Wales dear. We cannot afford to let it happen again.