Chief Statistician’s update: developing a trade survey for Wales

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

Welsh Government’s ‘Economic action plan‘ seeks to pursue prosperity for all by supporting an economy that increases both our wealth and our well-being.To provide effective assistance for the Welsh economy it is important to understand current business activity in Wales… how many people do businesses employ? How large is their turnover? What do they buy and sell? Who do they trade with? Do they trade with other countries?

In light of EU exit, there is even greater demand for more accurate and detailed information. Policy-makers require accurate industry and product level information to underpin evidence-based policy making and investment decisions at a country level. In 2018, the Welsh Government published ‘Trade policy: the issues for Wales‘. This outlined the desire for an improved evidenced based approach.

Increased evidence would enable to allow the Welsh Government to:

  • have a better understanding of the Welsh economy, including the impact of EU exit and the interlinkages between Welsh businesses and those in other parts of the UK and abroad
  • be able to more accurately assess potential impacts of the UK’s proposed future trading relationships on Welsh businesses and the wider economy.

Much of this data is already available, and is produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). ONS and HMRC produce statistics for the UK and based on these figures estimate the numbers for different countries and regions in the UK. However, Wales isn’t simply a smaller version of the UK, we have our own distinct business landscape and areas of expertise.

The current regional estimates do take account of the different business landscape across the UK, but producing reliable estimates can be complicated. For example, consider a single business that has branches across the UK and produces a variety of different products. From the UK level information it might not be clear what the Welsh branches of the business are producing and what happens to the goods and services they provide.

HMRC produces regional statistics on the exports and imports of UK businesses. If a business has branches across the UK, HMRC looks at the number of employees it has in each part of the UK to allocate a proportion of their overall trade. This might be okay if all branches of a business do the same thing, but in reality different parts of a business may specialise in very different activities.

There are further gaps with understanding trade in Wales, for example, a lack of information on trade taking place within the UK (e.g. how much does Wales trade with England?). The value of Welsh trade with the rest of the UK is believed to be several times greater than that of Welsh international exports. However we don’t have the data to support that assumption – there are currently no official statistics available on this topic for Wales.

To better understand the activities of businesses in Wales, we are carrying out a pilot trade survey to find out exactly what is happening on the ground. This will allow us to sense-check the current regional statistics and, more importantly, provide solid evidence on which to base future economic decisions.

This is an exciting but challenging development. It will be the first bespoke trade survey for Wales and we will be using the pilot to understand what questions businesses can answer easily and how they can differentiate their activity across sectors and markets.

The survey should be going to businesses in the autumn, and we’ll hopefully have first results in spring 2020. We’ll provide more updates on this blog in future but please get in touch if you’d like to be kept informed about this survey.

Stephanie Howarth
Head of economy, skills and natural resources statistics


27 August 2019