Adrian Robson: Missed bin collections. Bus station delays. Failing youth offending service. Cardiff is being let down.

8 Oct

Cllr Adrian Robson is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Cardiff City Council.

In May 2022 Cardiff electors go to the polls to elect a new Council. It will be hard-fought especially as the political landscape has changed since the Council was last elected in 2017.

The 20 seats won in 2017 was the highest number of Conservative Councillors elected since the unitary authority was formed in 1995. We were up from the seven seats won in 2012, overtaking the Lib Dems to become the official opposition. We won back some of the four-member large swing wards and had successes in west and central wards which hadn’t returned a Conservative since the 1980s.

We were also very close to winning another six councillors. But despite our achievements, Labour was able to soften the impact by gaining from the Lib Dems, leaving them with 40 of the 75 seats.

In Cardiff, we have also learned that people view local and national elections differently. The 2017 Council result was just weeks away from the 2017 General Election where we lost our Cardiff North MP. In two key by-elections in October and November 2019 we held a seat and gained a target seat just weeks away from a disappointing 2019 General Election in the city.

With an imminent by-election in Heath (a Ward which in both in 2012 and 2017 returned one Conservative councillor, one Labour and an independent) and with Labour now at 38 of the 75 councillors, the backdrop to next year’s all out elections is set.

Like every local authority, Cardiff has had to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. Like every authority, our Council staff have admirably risen to the challenge. But unlike every local authority Cardiff changed its waste management shifts to a four-day week in the middle of the pandemic. The decision to alter the collections this February led to thousands of missed collections, including hygiene collections left out in the sunny weather and a reported three-month overtime bill exceeding £120,000. A neighbouring authority was called upon to help clear the backlog. And seven months on, the garden waste collection is still only being collected monthly rather than fortnightly with no certainty of a fixed timetable.

The Labour administration has fallen short in many other areas and this is a snapshot of a few. Residents in the north and west of the City have not forgotten about the closure of two Household waste and recycling centres under recent Labour administrations, with one being shut despite a clear pre-election promise from some Labour Cabinet Members (including the Labour councillor for Heath Ward) that a new site would be operational first.

The sorry saga of Cardiff’s bus station rumbles on. Demolished in 2015, a new smaller bus station is not expected to be completed until 2023. The effect that this massive delay has had on the perception of bus travel into the city centre is unappreciated by the administration.

In July 2020, HM Inspectorate of Probation published their inspection into Cardiff’s Youth Offending Service. The report was dire. It rated the service as “inadequate” – the lowest possible rating and gave the service a score of zero out of 36, including findings such as:

“There were outdated policies and procedures; a lack of adequate management capacity; an absence of effective systems and processes for management oversight of both risk of harm to others and safety and wellbeing……Children’s needs were not being addressed…”

As a result of the report, Cardiff Conservatives put forward a motion of no confidence in the administration, which they narrowly defended, but it remains the worst Council inspection report I have ever seen in my tenure.

But probably the greatest irritation to many residents in large parts of the city (aside from missed bin collections) concerns the southern arc which has been identified by Labour. It is true that if the ‘Southern Arc’ of Cardiff, from Ely in the West to Trowbridge in the East (approx 60,000 Cardiffians) was considered a single local authority, it would be the poorest in Wales. Labour locally along with their masters in Welsh Government have demonstrated complete hypocrisy continually blaming Westminster for causing the poverty whilst failing to mention that for decades they have had the MPs, the MS’ and the majority of Councillors in this arc.

The focus on these wards during this administration has had little impact in improving deprivation levels – in fact it has been a case of levelling down services in other parts of the city rather than levelling up in Cardiff south. There is real demand for change in these communities which next year present opportunities for Conservatives, albeit Cardiff’s southern red wall will need a lot of work to topple.

I know that Cardiff Conservatives can deliver for the Welsh capital to make it the successful city that it can be for its residents and on the international stage, and as the elections approach we look forward to explaining to voters and those further afield how we will do so.

After the Brexit Party, could the Conservatives crack the Red Wall in South Wales?

17 May

On Friday, our Editor wrote up a list of Labour constituencies in England wherein the Brexit Party got at least ten per cent of the vote at the last election, and that was more than the Labour majority.

But the ‘Red Wall’ extends to Wales too – and in 2016 not only did UKIP win seven seats in the Assembly, but the Province actually voted Leave, to the horrified bafflement of its governing class.

So let’s have a look at the Welsh seats on the same basis as Paul yesterday. As before the format is: name; BP vote; Labour majority; BP vote share, BP position.

If we’re strict about the rule that the Brexit Party vote must exceed the majority, we get only one result:

  • Torfaen: 5,742   3,742   15.4 per cent   3rd

Even here, assigning half the 2019 total for the Brexit Party to the Conservatives doesn’t put the latter over the top – although it does cut Labour’s majority to less than 1,000 votes.

What if we set that side, and admit all the seats where the Brexit Party vote topped ten per cent? That yields another six:

  • Blaenau Gwent: 6,215   8,647   20.6 per cent   2nd
  • Caerphilly: 4,490   6,833   11.2 per cent   4th
  • Cynon Valley: 3,045   8,822   10.1 per cent   3rd
  • Islwyn: 4,834   5,464   14.1 per cent   3rd
  • Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney: 3,604   10,606   11.2 per cent   3rd
  • Rhondda: 3,773   11,440   12.6 per cent   4th

Once again, simply moving half the Brexit Party vote into the Tory column doesn’t see any seats changing hands. But similarly, we suddenly have some closer races. In Islwyn, the Labour majority falls to under 3,000 votes.

For the sake of not missing any potentially interesting seats, let’s expand our range a little and add Aberavon and Llanelli, where it polled over nine per cent, and Ogmore and Neath, where it polled over eight per cent. Here’s what we get:

  • Aberavon: 3,108   10,490   9.8 per cent   3rd
  • Llanelli: 3,605   4,670   9.4 per cent   4th
  • Neath: 3,184   5,637   8.7 per cent   4th
  • Ogmore: 2,991   7,805   8.5 per cent   3rd

One again, we have a seat where the Conservatives picking up half the Brexit Party’s vote would in itself cut the Labour majority to below 3,000, in Llanelli.

A couple of additional points. First, it can’t be assumed that the remaining Labour vote in all these constituencies is solid – in Neath, for example, it more than halved between 2017 and 2019.

Second, the Conservatives could easy pick up more than 50 per cent of the Brexit Party’s vote. Even in last week’s Senedd elections, which as I explained on Wednesday were a mixed bag for the party, it ended up effectively winning five of the seven seats won by UKIP five years before.

Taken together, that means that whilst this doesn’t produce the same tantalising list of potential Tory gains that the English list does, it is possible to see how the re-alignment of British politics could have further to go, and how it could see them start to make previously unthinkable inroads into yet another Labour heartland.

After all, to win even a handful of these would be a dramatic signal of the changing shape of the Tory coalition. After all, when Margaret Thatcher took 14 Welsh seats in 1983 that included three of the four constituencies in Cardiff – and she nearly got the fourth too.

Boris Johnson hit 14 without a single seat in the Welsh capital. And if Torfaen, Islwyn, and Llanelli end up following Gower and become competitive marginals, his path to the Conservatives’ best-ever Welsh performance may yet bypass the city altogether.

Dan Boucher: The future of the union is at stake in the upcoming Senedd elections. Conservative voters cannot afford to bow out.

7 Apr

Dr Dan Boucher has previously stood in Westminster and Senedd elections. He lives with his family in Swansea.

One distinctive aspect of Welsh politics since the advent of devolution in 1999 has been the tendency of some Conservative voters not to vote in Assembly or Senedd elections, as they are now called, on principle because they don’t believe in devolution.

This is a very relevant consideration when reflecting on the fact that if everyone who voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election votes Conservative in the 2021 Senedd elections, the Welsh Conservatives will form the next Welsh Government in May 2021, ending 22 years of continual Labour Government.

The same was also true at the last Assembly (as they were then called) elections. If everyone who voted Conservative in the 2015 General Election had voted Conservative in the 2016 Assembly Election then the Welsh Conservatives would have formed the Welsh Government in May 2016, but they didn’t.

Is there any reason to believe that things might be different this year?

Quite apart from the fact that the latest polling shows a significant drop in support for Welsh Labour, and an increase in support for the Welsh Conservatives, such that Labour are now just two per cent ahead, there are some underlying changes that could make 2021 a different experience from 2016. One of these is the increasing talk about Welsh independence.

The Yes Cymru campaign for an independent Wales was initiated shortly before the last Assembly election but was too new to have any impact on its outcome. Since then, however, the movement has grown – with a number of marches in Cardiff, Methyr and Caernarfon – and some polling suggesting support for Welsh independence, while still a minority view, has grown from around 12 to 39 per cent.

Of huge importance, the Yes Cymru movement has even impacted Welsh Labour – at one time an unequivocally unionist party. 2017 saw the formation of its own pro-independence movement – Labour for an Independent Wales – and the selection of three pro-independence Labour candidates in May’s Senedd elections. To allow the implications of this to sink in, one only has to pause and try to imagine an equivalent development within Scottish Labour!

In a context where it seems clear Labour won’t be able to form the next Welsh Government other than in coalition with Plaid Cymru, it’s inconceivable that Plaid won’t make pressing for an independence referendum the price for its support.

Indeed, that scenario is judged to be a sufficient cause for concern to have already come up in UK Cabinet discussions. Of course, Labour First Minister, Mark Drakeford rather suggested to Andrew Marr that he would not agree to a coalition on these terms, but given that where there is no guarantee Drakeford will continue to lead Labour after the election, this development surely has the potential to completely reconstitute the Senedd elections for many Conservative voters?

Anyone who has campaigned in Wales will know the experience of talking to the cohort of Conservative voters who don’t vote in Assembly elections. Invariably they will say something like, “I always vote Conservative in the Westminster elections but never vote in the Assembly elections because I think we should be governed from Westminster. I voted against the creation of the Assembly and think it’s a waste of money.”

In the past when encountering this view on the doorstep, one would respond by pointing out that as there now is a Welsh Assembly and Welsh Government, their decision not to vote was denying them a voice on key issues like health and education. By not voting in Assembly elections they were making themselves less and not more like the voters in England because they were cutting themselves off from the opportunity to vote on what many regard as the single biggest election issues, the NHS, which in Wales is wholly governed from Cardiff.

However, voters who would rather give up their ability to have any impact on one of the biggest election issues, the NHS, than authenticate an institution they regard as an indecent qualification of the union, are only likely to maintain that position for so long as doing so does not help facilitate what they regard as the greater danger. Prioritising expressing disdain for devolution becomes somewhat irrelevant when independence becomes the presenting issue, especially if doing so could inadvertently help the cause for independence.

Moreover, if this cohort of Conservative voters now concludes that in these changed political circumstances, the priority must be a unionist majority Senedd, such that for the first time they vote in the Senedd elections, then this will no doubt come as something of a relief, as it will also enable them to rediscover their voice on the NHS, Education, Agriculture and Tourism which they have not enjoyed for nearly a quarter of a century.

Then of course, in addition to those Conservative voters who don’t vote in Senedd elections on principle, there are those who don’t simply because they don’t see it as a priority. While their decision hitherto not to vote in Senedd elections is not based on the principle of not wanting to authenticate devolved government, it is likely that many could nonetheless be moved to vote for the first time in these elections because of their commitment to preserving the union and recognition that henceforth, it will be imperative to ensure that the Senedd has as strong a unionist majority as possible.

Some might respond to the above analysis by pointing out that just as some Conservatives only vote in Westminster elections, the same is true of some Labour voters. On this basis surely one might equally well say that if all those who voted Labour in 2019 in Wales vote Labour in 2021, Labour will form the next Welsh Government?

In a context, however, where support for independence remains a minority view, there must be the possibility that some Labour voters whose loyalty to the union is greater than having a permanent Labour First Minister (regardless of whether or not they usually vote in Senedd elections), might vote Conservative on this occasion to send a message to Welsh Labour?

In this sense the 2021 elections could have some similarities to 2019 when Labour voters turned to the Conservatives to honour Brexit, with constitutional concerns trumping normal party loyalties. Some Labour voters might find this an easier proposition to entertain this year given that in a democracy being permanently in power progressively erodes one’s authority. Labour has been in government now for 22 years without interruption. That’s already unprecedented in modern British history and yet it is now seeking another five years, which would take its total innings to 27 years.

At the end of the day, whatever way one looks at it, the upcoming election is distinctive because the new Senedd will not merely discuss how to manage the Welsh NHS and education system within the current devolved settlement. It will also inevitably engage with the independence question and in that context, unionists up and down Wales need to vote to ensure that the only serious party of Government that is passionately committed to the union, the Conservative and Unionist Party, (there are no “Conservatives for an Independent Wales”) is represented as strongly as possible.

Andrew RT Davies: Wales. Here’s how we can extinguish the dangerous flame of separatism.

24 Feb

Andrew RT Davies is the leader of the Welsh Conservatives and Assembly Member for South Wales Central.

One of the many unfortunate, if unintended, consequences of the Blair devo-revolution has been to undermine the Union’s sense of “permanence” – both from an ideological and an institutional perspective.

Designed to see off the nationalist threat, devolution has merely shifted the political narrative into an endless cycle of debates around further powers, with little correlation emerging between the performance of devolved governments and the level of support for independence.

It’s scarcely been more fashionable among constitutional experts (and BBC journalists) to view separatism as inevitable, but I certainly don’t share the view that it’s a foregone conclusion. Far from it.

The patriotic fightback has started and, as the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, these are some of the steps I want to see us take to extinguish the dangerous flame of separatism.

Put ‘Project Fear’ on ice and champion the pride of Britain

As Unionists we can often be guilty of basing arguments in process or economics. All very valid, and all incredibly important, but we need to own the emotive, patriotic argument – remembering and learning the valuable lessons from the victorious Brexit campaign many of us were part of.

We need to put “Project Fear” on ice and champion the pride of Britain.

I’m a proud Welshman. Proud of a Wales that consistently punches above its weight on the sporting and cultural scene, and has been to the fore on the pandemic frontline in delivering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through Wrexham-based firm, Wockhardt.

But I’m also a proud Brit. Incredibly proud of our world-leading armed forces, our pharmaceutical industry, our rule of law and our enviable creative industries.

It’s the very best of our country and a symbol of the greatest union the world has ever seen – socially, culturally and economically. Why would we want to undermine and banish that great unity for division and separation?

But we shouldn’t rest on our laurels and the British state can do more. Why don’t our great institutions such as the Imperial War Museum, National Gallery, British Library project themselves into Wales? That footprint can and should be easily corrected. Let’s do it.

And yes, where appropriate let’s champion the economic benefits too. In Wales, we’ve benefited enormously through the various support schemes delivered during the pandemic by the Government, which have saved hundreds of thousands of Welsh jobs during the recent crisis, and are now saving thousands of lives with Britain’s hugely successful vaccination programme.

I’m a proud Welshman and proud Brit and make no apology for it, and that’s the turf I want to see us fight on. Let’s dictate the terms of engagement, and redouble our efforts to make the positive and patriotic case for Wales, Britain and the Union.

Minister of the Union and inter-governmental relations

There’s no greater champion of the UK than the Prime Minister, and he’s taken the duty head-on with responsibility as Minister for the Union, working alongside the three excellent secretaries of state.

One of the PM’s greatest strengths is on the campaign trail and while it was brilliant to welcome him to Wales last week, it’s a shame current restrictions prevent him from engaging more widely with the public on his agenda to level up all parts of the UK, which will be the cornerstone of securing the Union’s long-term future.

It’s been well briefed in the press that Lord Dunlop’s (as yet unpublished) report recommends the creation of a new cabinet position for the Union, and suggests that it should be elevated in line with the other great offices of state to help keep the UK intact.

Whether this is necessary is a call for the PM, and the PM alone, but one area I have long felt needs attention is inter-governmental relations within the UK.

It’s my personal view the Joint Ministerial Committee requires urgent reform/reprioritisation to improve collaboration and decision-making, particularly with Brexit and the significance of UK-wide frameworks.

The devolved leaders are mischievous at the best of times and their aims are not always aligned to ours, particularly Holyrood’s EU-flag-waver-in-chief.

But an overhaul is required to shower them with attention and keep them in check, particularly when they pretend they have responsibility for areas they do not.

Unleash the opportunities of Brexit

While it may seem counter-intuitive, particularly given the strength of feeling in Scotland on the issue, Brexit provides us with an opportunity to reaffirm the benefits of our Union, and to shift the focus onto a positive discussion around the country itself.

The UK’s new found agility has allowed us to save lives thanks to a dynamic procurement strategy and rapid rollout of Coronavirus vaccinations, in comparison to the European Union’s overly bureaucratic and beleaguered jabs programme. Team GB at its best!

But there are other tangible benefits to Brexit, with the automatic repatriation of a vast array of new powers to these shores, including the devolved nations.

We need to ensure the new Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) delivers for our poorest communities – levelling up our country – and reaching people who were for so long ignored.

This is an exciting opportunity for the Conservative government to transform all four corners of our country, and a game-changing regeneration scheme would be a powerful cocktail to the politics of division, separation and hate.

Devolution should never have been about power-fanatics in Cardiff Bay, Holyrood or Stormont – it’s about local communities

The biggest failure of Welsh devolution has been the hoarding of power in Cardiff Bay with people in north Wales feeling as disconnected with the Senedd as they ever did with the EU.

Devolution was meant to bring power and decision-making closer to communities, and it’s not too late to ensure that’s the case, albeit the UK government will have to be the driving force.

It’s important UK government spending is effectively targeted and given the PM’s ambition for large-scale projects, I’d like to see the designation of “Union Highways” that would unblock Wales’s arterial routes on the M4, A40 and A55 and boost important cross-border growth.

Where devolved government fails, let’s help local authorities and the communities they serve.

No more referendums, no new constitutional chaos, but a sole focus on recovery

People in all corners of the country want to see politicians across the UK working in partnership to focus on defeating Coronavirus and the other challenges we face.

And whatever happens post-May, the UK government should stay strong. The Scottish referendum of 2014 was a once-in-a-generation vote, one which the separatists lost. End of.

The energy and resources of governments at Westminster, Cardiff Bay, Holyrood or Stormont should be focused on our post-pandemic recovery. Anything else would be unforgivable.

And as we emerge from this crisis, Conservative energies must be focused on improving everyday lives and rebuilding our economy, which will be the best antidote to the constitutional fanatics.

So let’s back Wales, back Britain and get on with the patriotic job of building back our country better than ever.

Robin Millar: The Shared Prosperity Fund will unleash Wales’ potential – and take back control from unaccountable bureaucrats

3 Feb

Robin Millar is the MP for Aberconwy.

Welsh devolution began twenty years ago with a promise. We were told that it would bring power to a local level and empower us to fix the problems we saw around us. Fundamentally, it was about giving people in Wales the power to improve our communities.

The dream was a noble one – the Welsh dragon will roar! But the reality is rather different. Devolution in Wales means power pooled in Cardiff and funding funnelled through the Bay. The sad truth is that our home here in North Wales has been overlooked and underfunded by a Cardiff-centric Welsh government. It is an experience familiar to many in central and West Wales also. For many, the Welsh dragon has gone to sleep.

And as the people in North and Mid Wales suffer low levels of infrastructure investment, and as parts of Wales experience some of the worst educational outcomes and highest rates of poverty in the UK, people are asking why? Even their representatives are asking, is there another way?

My local council, Conwy, is crying out for the resources to do the things that local communities and businesses want to see delivered. Its essential public services – to an ageing population – are hampered by a funding calculation that favours young people. Sam Rowlands, the council leader, has plans to deliver growth and attract new business through an innovative, sector leading, multi-million-pound Tidal Lagoon scheme and an extensive programme of investment in digital, road and rail connections.

Local leaders, like Rowlands, do not lack ambition as much as opportunity. They can be given what they need to deal with the issues they see in their communities and unlock the goodwill we have seen burst out in the pandemic. To be clear, this is not an original idea – the Welsh Local Government Association agrees with us. Its new Manifesto for Localism puts “greater fiscal autonomy and flexibility” for councils at the centre of its plan for recovery from the pandemic.

But sadly, this is not the view of a controlling Cardiff where “we know best” saturates government thinking in the Senedd.

In two decades, Wales has become one of the most centralised states in Europe. Councils must make do with money measured in Cardiff for centrally dictated objectives; community groups are pitted against each other in a fight for favour and funding. Organisations which enjoy high degrees of autonomy in England – like schools and NHS trusts – have their policies set directly from desks in Cardiff. In North Wales we know only too well that this has been a recipe for stagnation and failure – Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has spent five years in special measures.

The “enlightened bureaucracy” of the Welsh Labour government in Cardiff has not worked for Wales in its administration of EU Structural and Investment Fund money either. The EU has pumped more than £1 billion into the Welsh government to deal with regional inequality. The net result? A multi-million quid cable car which broke down over 250 times, a £300 million “Communities First” fund that closed after a fraud scandal, and a countryside littered with abandoned “innovation centres”’.

During the pandemic, the UK government has so far pumped more than £5 billion into Welsh government to support high streets, zoos, charities, businesses and more – but £1 billion is still languishing in Welsh government bank accounts, unspent. Businesses and community groups are refused grants, or offered loans – and the people who run them worry how they will survive or if they will ever open again.

It is hard to see how any council could have done worse.

But there is hope. People are wising up. After twenty years of micro-management from the centre, it only took a few hours for the lockdown ban on “non-essential purchases” to fall apart as the people of Wales disagreed – and raised the largest, fastest public petition in the history of Welsh government to complain. The pointing fingers are now following the money and the power – back to the Labour government in Cardiff.

For all these reasons and more, the announcement by the Secretary of State for Wales, that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) will work directly with councils is a ray of light piercing the gloom.

This is a game-changer. While over half of EU money has been diverted through Cardiff, just nine per cent has gone to councils in Wales – compare that with nearly 30 per cent that typically goes to councils in England. But the new SPF will bypass the Cardiff bureaucracy and organisations and go straight to people on the ground.

As Janet Finch-Saunders MS, our local Senedd representative, says, this is an exciting opportunity to work together in Aberconwy, in a way we have not been able to before; to see much needed investment channelled to the projects people want and into the places they care about.

And we won’t be the only local leaders to be stirred by the prospect of this community governance.

Up and down the country, Wales – like Aberconwy – is humming with the untapped energy of small businesses who are engaged and rooted in their community (95 per cent of businesses in Wales have less than ten employees). There are councillors, social entrepreneurs and volunteers, people of endeavour and vision in every town and village, eager to be trusted and empowered – and funded – so they can improve their communities.

There will no doubt be a fuss about working this way as an “attack on devolution”. It will come from those in Cardiff or who like things the way they are. But this is setting right what the Senedd has sucked upwards under Labour – powers and control from people and communities. And we have seen that is not working. Now it is time to deliver directly and do something different; to entrust the people who can be held accountable by their communities.

For most people, Cardiff feels as distant as Westminster. Unaccountable bureaucrats – who tell us which supermarket gifts we are permitted to buy or what we can drink – have not delivered. Give people the money to make a difference in their own communities. Unlock the potential that is waiting in Merthyr and Mumbles, from Llandudno to Llanelli.

And just maybe, the Welsh dragon will wake and walk our streets once more.

Dan Boucher: Welsh Labour has been given twenty-four years to transform the economy – and failed

5 Jan

Dr Dan Boucher is a former Assembly and UK Parliamentary candidate. He lives with his family in Swansea.

The British political party that has enjoyed the longest period in government in modern times is Welsh Labour. Indeed, given that prior to devolution they governed Wales from May 1997, when the people of Wales go to the polls on May 6 this year, we will have been governed by Labour in many key areas of our lives for twenty four years! They have enjoyed an opportunity no other modern British party has had. How have they used it?

In November 1998, just months before the first Assembly elections, I attended the launch of the Institute of Welsh Affairs’ seminal book The National Assembly Agenda in Cardiff. The chapter on economic development began: “Of all the measures by which the National Assembly will be judged none will be as important as the challenge of raising the level of economic well-being…much can be achieved through more concerted and dynamic action at the Welsh level”.

In 2001 the Welsh Labour Government launched its first major economic development consultation, A Winning Wales, proposing a National Economic Development Strategy. They recognised that Welsh GDP per head was just 80 per cent of the UK average and set themselves the target of closing the gap by 10 per cent over the next ten years to 90 per cent. In engaging with this challenge, there was great excitement arising from the fact that under Labour we came to qualify (not itself an achievement) for a huge injection of EU regional aid. There was a real expectation that this would transform the Welsh economy as it had that of the Republic of Ireland. We too would become a Celtic tiger!

In the subsequent ten years, Welsh Labour failed to close the gap by one per cent let alone 10. Indeed, notwithstanding EU regional aid, Welsh GDP per head fell even further to the low 70s where it has since remained. In this context Wales went on to qualify for a second round of EU regional aid. Today we represent five per cent of the population of the UK but generate only 3.4 per cent of its wealth.

The last government to control economic development policy and preside over an increase in Welsh GDP per head was the Conservative one between 1985 and 1990. Moreover, under its stewardship, between 1986 and 1996, Wales was one of the few places in the UK, and indeed Europe, to boost manufacturing employment and productivity. In 1995 manufacturing productivity rates in Wales were better than any part of the UK, save South East of England which was only fractionally ahead.

Those years also witnessed what has been described a “golden age” of inward investment into Wales. In 1996-1997 the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) was credited with creating 18,000 new jobs, 15,000 through inward investment. By contrast, in 2019-2020, the Welsh Government boasted creating just 2,738 jobs by inward investment.

At a lecture I helped organise in 2016, a former Director General of Economic Development from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul expressed shock at the low levels of inward investment between South Korea and Wales. In all this we were not helped by Labour’s decision to abolish the Welsh Development Agency, absorbing its function into the Welsh Government in a move that Brian Morgan, (one the authors of the 1998 National Assembly Agenda) said: “will probably go down in history as the worst policy decision made in Wales in living memory”.

Indeed, while economic development is devolved, the most successful framework for it in Wales has actually been provided by the UK Conservative Government’s City Deal programme, which has resulted in the creation of the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal, the Swansea Bay City Deal, the North Wales Growth Deal and the Mid Wales Growth Deal. Meanwhile, under Welsh Labour business rates in Wales are now the highest of any part of the UK.

Welsh Labour has been given twenty-four years to transform the Welsh economy and failed. May 6, 2021 will be a key day in our history. We cannot afford what would be getting on for 30 years of uninterrupted Labour government. What makes this change particularly critical now is Brexit. Having failed so transparently to deliver in a context they passionately believed in, EU membership and massive EU regional aid, it does not bear thinking about how they will fare in a context about which they clearly remain deeply uncomfortable, notwithstanding the fact that the people of Wales voted for Brexit by a majority more than nine times greater than that to create the Welsh Assembly.

We now urgently need a Welsh Conservative administration in Cardiff Bay to work with the UK Government to drive up productivity and living standards and make the most of Brexit trade deals for all parts of the Welsh economy.

Drakeford’s ban on “non-essential items” sounded like a bad idea – and the results speak for themselves…

26 Oct

When the Welsh government announced it would introduce a 17-day “firebreak” lockdown, some accused it of being disproportionate in its response to Covid-19. But that’s been nothing compared to the backlash it has received over its ban on retailers selling “non-essential items” during the period. There has been huge confusion over what this term means.

Indeed, the internet has been flooded with photographs and comments from customers who’ve been bewildered by barricaded supermarket aisles, or sealed up bookshelves, which are now deemed “non-essential”. On Twitter, one user even photographed a supermarket where it was possible to buy vodka, but not baby’s clothes.

The extent to which people are confused by the Welsh government’s policy was obvious today when it had to intervene in a Twitter argument about sanitary pads. It was reported that a superstore in Cardiff had closed down an aisle with items deemed “non-essential”, including sanitary products and toothpaste.

One shopper Tweeted to Tesco how dismayed she was about the choice to not sell sanitary pads, to which its social media team sent a (now-deleted Tweet) saying the company had been “told by the Welsh Government not to sell these items”. The Welsh government then Tweeted that Tesco had got the advice wrong.

So what are non-essential items, exactly? They have been broadly described as electric goods, telephones toys, games, garden products and homeware. Some of the things that have been photographed being covered up include:

  • Bedding
  • Kettles
  • Heaters
  • Cards
  • Pillows

Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, has said supermarkets should use their discretion to decide what items are “essential”. But many shoppers will feel that this has happened already – with ridiculous consequences. Choosing what constitutes “non-essential” is clearly not as straightforward as the government thinks.

The Sun, for instance, reports that Asda is selling dog treats, Red Bull, Christmas pudding and Slimfast, but not an umbrella, plunger, hairdryer or dustpan and brush. One Twitter user said that Spar was refusing to sell face masks as they were “non-essential“, and another user found smoke alarms were “non-essential”. There have been questions over whether pumpkins will make the cut over Halloween.

On ITV Wales News, Drakeford defended the policy by saying “I won’t need – I don’t think – to buy clothing over this two weeks and I think many, many people in Wales will be in that position too”, in one of the strangest governmental rebuttals of recent.

Vaughan Gething, the Welsh Health Minister, echoed these sentiments, telling a press briefing that criticism on the halt on non-essential items has “taken away from the reason” why a “firebreaker” lockdown was introduced.

Frankly, it looks like a government that has well and truly got its (non-essential) knickers in a twist.