Gareth Bennett AM
Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
Thanks to the Minister for today’s progress report on the Welsh Government’s ongoing Valleys initiative. When opposition spokesmen and politicians discuss your plans, we normally do have a little bit of prelude about lots of Valleys plans that have been before, and Adam’s given us that prelude again today, a very informed one, but we know that we need to get away from the past failures.
We in UKIP are hopeful that this initiative will lead to some progress in the Valleys and there are good things contained in the update today. We think, overall, any initiative is a good one as long as it has good intentions and it means to be meaningful. You stated last time around that what you didn’t want to do was to create any new bureaucracies, you didn’t want a secret conclave of politicians, but what you did want was to bring the people of the Valleys into the discussion, and I agree with you that we don’t want to create things that appear to be more tiers of government. It is crucial, I think, that we do bring the voice of the Valleys into this discussion and that we allow people in the Valleys to have a meaningful say in plans for their own future. So, I’m encouraged by the talks of the local authorities that have been involved, bringing events like summits and workshops into play, so that we do get that engagement with local people.
But of course, Adam has raised the issue that, in some ways, this kind of reacts against perhaps the city region plans, which will be focusing on the Valleys approximate to the M4 corridor. Whereas, what you want to do with the Valleys plan is to actually bring investment into the upper Valleys. Of course, we do have to consider what the Valleys actually constitutes and that there is a meaningful difference between the southern corridor end and the upper Valleys. I know you acknowledged there is a difference, we don’t want to get too much into it, because investment in the Valleys as such is a good thing, but I think there is a distinct difference between the two ends of the Valleys. So, we have to be a bit focused about where we do put any investment.
Going back to the public engagement, how will you ensure that the voice of local people will continue to be represented in your plans and will that voice lead to meaningful change? You did mention the relationship with the city regions and the shape of it at the moment isn’t perhaps as you would like it to be, so if you could shed a little bit more light on that, that would be good. The primary need is the need for good quality and sustainable jobs. Yes, they need to be high quality jobs, we need to move away from low skills and try to get people into higher skilled jobs, so clearly that involves a need to retrain people and a big factor is giving an increased opportunity to train and retrain people so that people of all ages in the Valleys will be able to access those jobs.
What specific commitments will be given to retraining? You’re going to have to work with employers, with local colleges, and with careers advisors, so what will your engagement be with employers and colleges and with Careers Wales as you take your plans forward? Particular points that were raised last time, in fact, by Hefin David, who’s got a lot of experience of higher and further education—he mentioned more part-time study and more franchised study was needed, and that local colleges would have to take that responsibility on. So, what are your thoughts on those precise points?
Transport is going to be key. Mick Antoniw and Adam Price have both in the past cited the need for a circle line around the Valleys, which the current plans for the south Wales metro do, to some extent, provide for. So, I think we need to make sure that the metro doesn’t end up just being another route into Cardiff; we do need it to have that interconnection between the Valleys. What will you be doing to ensure that that interconnecting idea remains in place as plans for the metro progress, and can you offer anything to assure us or to help keep the metro from perhaps bypassing these plans in future? Perhaps if it scales down its investment, there is a danger that that interconnecting idea could disappear.
We also have local schemes; a couple of them were mentioned today. That’s very welcome. The canal scheme sounds like a good initiative. I met last week with several people involved with the Rhondda tunnel scheme, so I wonder what part schemes like that will have in your thinking, and are you looking to develop more local transport schemes as we go forward? Diolch yn fawr.
Alun Davies AM
Title: Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services Party: Welsh Labour
Presiding Officer, one of the issues that was raised with us at almost every public event we’ve done over the last two years has been the issue of local transport. Most people raise issues around local buses rather than the metro system, and I think it’s important that we do recognise that in developing the metro, we are developing and delivering a transport network which does go beyond simply the trains that quite often form the highlights of that. So, we will be ensuring that transport links lie at the heart of what we’re doing. When we identified the seven strategic hubs, we identified areas that were accessible by public transport and areas that would be served by the metro in the future, so that we do have a spatial and strategic view of where we will be focusing investment in the future, and the metro will form an absolutely essential part of that.
In terms of the issues that the UKIP spokesperson raises on apprenticeships and training, clearly, we will be ensuring that the employability programme that the Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning has launched is active in the Valleys, and which has a focus on the Valleys. We’re also developing a shared apprenticeship model in Merthyr Tydfil which will ensure that we are able to develop and learn the lessons of some of the other projects, such as the Aspire project based in my own constituency, which will ensure that we have a means of delivering skills, training and apprenticeships that is sustainable and reaches all the different parts of the Valleys, and the different skills required for sustainable jobs in the Valleys.
But can I say the UKIP spokesperson makes a point of ensuring that local people are involved in the design of all of these different project programmes? We have rooted all that we’ve done in the ambitions that have been shared with us from people in and around the communities of the Valleys. This hasn’t simply been co-produced in the way that the Conservative spokesperson has said, but it’s been rooted in the ambitions and the visions of people throughout the whole of the valleys region. We have spent time and we have invested time not simply in talking with, but listening to what those people have said to us. And one of the key things they’ve said to us, and the Plaid Cymru spokesperson referred to this in his remarks, has been all too often expectations have been raised, only for those hopes to be dashed. What I want to be able to do through this programme of listening and talking, and by publishing a delivery plan, is to be held to account for the promises that we make, so that people here — Members on all sides of the Chamber here — will be able to hold us to account for what we deliver and what we say we will deliver, the timetables and the targets that we set, but at the same time people across the Valleys will be able to hold us to account as well. And I think in terms of winning and rebuilding trust in politics, that is essential for the future.