Economy and Transport

“More jobs, less poverty, better lives for all”

A couple of weeks ago my colleague Angela Burns used a variation of the quote above in her article on this site to explain why, after 20 years of devolution, it is essential that next year Wales gets a new government writes Russell George MS.

It must be a government with fresh ideas and new ambition, and this is why the creation of the Office for Government Resilience and Efficiency (OGRE) is fundamental. 

Angela’s article and that final line especially, made me think about my role as a Member of the Welsh Parliament, but also how to make sure that a Welsh Conservative Government next year focuses the entire government on delivering for the people of Wales.

When Paul Davies, as the Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament, carried out his reshuffle in July, I was keen to remain in the brief that I have held for four years now, covering economy, transport and infrastructure.

I don’t like this portfolio just because it impacts on everyone’s daily lives or because in Government I’d be able to green light £1 billion projects but because when done correctly, it does have a significant ability to substantially change someone’s life for the better.

Being in opposition in the Welsh Parliament, dominated by Labour for over 20 years, you don’t get many victories. But in September last year, we were successful in winning a vote and changing Welsh Government policy, ensuring a core conservative view is now included.

Last year the Welsh Parliament voted to say “that the best way to improve lives and communities of those who live in the Valleys is through providing quality, long-term employment opportunities, empowering people to fulfil their potential”. 

And that is what a Welsh Conservative Government would do. 

Now more than ever, we need ambition and aspiration at the heart of governance in Wales – a revolution in devolution – and not to sound like someone from The Thick of It, we need some blue sky thinking. 

The problem with talking about the economy is that for many people it isn’t exactly clear or exciting. However, for me one of the most interesting ideas that can really benefit Wales is the creation of freeports. Now, freeports enable the import and export of raw materials that can then be manufactured in the surrounding area and then exported without paying tariffs and with simplified customs checks. 

This kind of radical idea would not only benefit the ports but would enable sustainable manufacturing in the surrounding area providing long-term and high skilled jobs. The knock on effect from a freeport to the wider economy would be exponential – with more jobs, comes more spending in shops and restaurants, creating more jobs and more people paying tax, which we can then invest in our public services, and cut taxes where possible. And fundamentally, in the right place, can help to end the poverty trap that people are stuck in. 

However, it’s not just blue sky thinking that is needed – it’s ambition. In South Wales £5 billion is going to be spent on the South Wales metro improving connectivity between Cardiff, Bridgend, Newport and the surrounding Valleys. But where is this same ambition for the North Wales metro. Where is the plan for unleashing the potential of North Wales with integrated bus, train, cycle and walking routes, supported by the delivery of Wales’ second motorway – the M55! That ambition is just not there anymore from this current Government. 

Over the last few months, I’ve been finalising what I want to see a Welsh Conservative Government deliver next year and what needs to be included in our manifesto for the election in May. I’ve met with hundreds of people and organisations from across business, charities and academia on what Wales needs, and I’ve been looking at how these can help kickstart the Welsh economy to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

We’ve also announced some of our policies such as the quarter of a billion Covid-19 Community Recovery Fund, the creation of business-rate free zones to directly support small businesses, the cutting of business-rates across Wales as well, our Green Card to give young people free bus and cheaper train travel and of course the delivery of an M4 Relief Road and the upgrading of the A55 to a motorway standard. 

However, it is more than that. Covid-19 has changed the way many people spend their hard earned money. For many years on the first Saturday in December we’ve promoted Small Business Saturday, with more people now shopping locally, we need to ensure that the Government embraces that cultural change and continue to support local businesses to provide local jobs – fundamentally improving our communities.

Now going back to those alligators. 

Many projects which require substantial investment in transport and infrastructure are notorious for running over budget whilst taking longer and longer to complete. A Welsh Conservative Government will end the silo working and ensure that through OGRE projects do more than just deliver what they say on the tin. For example, I want to see Wales’ coastline fully utilised for tidal energy however, I also want to see those projects deliver flood protection for our coastal areas. By working together, my colleague Janet Finch-Saunders MS and I can deliver more. 

But we must always remember that we’re here to deliver for the people of Wales; that no matter how up to our necks in alligators we get, we must remember our initial objective – more jobs, less poverty, better lives for all. 

Russell George is the Shadow Minister for Business, Economy and Infrastructure, and Mid Wales and the Member of the Senedd for Montgomeryshire.

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