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Northern lights: Ieuan writes for the Daily Post on the importance on an all-Wales agenda

02/08/2022

Article for Daily Post by Ieuan Wyn Jones AM Leader of Plaid Cymru

When I became a Minister in the Welsh Government in 2007, I knew that I was a trailblazer in more than one respect. Not only was I the first Plaid Minister in history, but I was a member of a pretty rare species, a minister representing a constituency in North Wales.

The previous Labour governments had been criticised, quite rightly in my view, for seeing the world through the viewfinder of the M4 corridor, a view reinforced by the fact that the vast majority of the Ministers represented seats within sight of Wales’ only motorway.

Labour’s response was to make the then First Minister a ‘minister for the North’ and he would come on a fairly regular basis to the North Wales regional committee to answer questions from local AMs and members of the public. But it was all rather patronising, since the Committee had no decision making powers: the real decisions were made by Ministers in Cardiff  Bay.

The Tories have taken a similarly patronising approach, with the appointment of a Shadow Minister for the North. It has no real value, other than for show; a reflection of the fact that they might feel a bit guilty for choosing a leader who represents a region through which the M4 cuts a vast swathe.

When I was joined in by Alun Ffred Jones in 2008, North West Wales had, for the first time two members in key government Ministries. By the end of the One Wales government, we had three Cabinet Ministers and a junior minister from the North, with a geographical spread from Connah’s Quay to Holyhead.

I’m not claiming that ministers from the north are no better or worse at their jobs than ministers from other parts of Wales. That really isn’t the issue. What’s vitally important is that there are voices from all parts of Wales around the Cabinet table and making sure that we have an all Wales perspective to decision making.

One of the early decisions I had to make as minister for the Economy was whether or not to maintain the network of Economic fora across Wales.  I knew that the North Wales Economic Forum had a good reputation for representing the views of business and local government in the region and it had a direct line to ministers.

I was determined that it should not only survive, but I also wanted to strengthen its influence. I learnt a great deal from my meetings with the Forum and I can say that its deliberations certainly influenced my thinking. Some of the ideas in the Economic Renewal Programme stemmed directly from my discussions with leading members of the Forum.

I know that there remains some scepticism about the value of the Government’s office in Llandudno Junction. I don’t share it: the office is a key conduit for influencing government business, and I made a decision to locate two of the six economic sector teams there. We should make sure that the office is used to enable businesses and local government have access to key decision makers.  They shouldn’t be forced to travel to Cardiff for meetings, and I certainly used Llandudno Junction office for meeting organisations and businesses. I hope that the present government will keep up the practice.

The referendum result earlier this year showed just how important it is for the Welsh Government to pursue an all Wales agenda. The pessimists kept telling me that voters in the North would never vote for more powers for the Assembly. How wrong they were, and how right we were to make sure that the One Wales government programme adopted a whole country approach.

All capitals get a bad press the further you are from them, whether it be Cardiff, London, Edinburgh or Paris. I don’t suppose that will ever change. And let’s remember, all Wales benefits from a vibrant and prosperous capital. But no government should ever forget its responsibility to all parts of the country. As an elected representative for Anglesey for almost a quarter of a century I, more than most, understand that political imperative.