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From the Senedd

24/11/2021

By Bethan Jenkins AM

It’s been yet another one of those weeks in the Assembly when the words and deeds of our political opponents have been at odds with one another.

As we know, Labour rode to power in Wales on a ticket of “standing up” for the country. So it stands to reason that the First Minister would stick up for his own constituents – those constituents who work for Bridgend County Borough Council. Those constituents who could lose half their salary under the authority’s badly-managed job evaluation scheme. I gave him the opportunity to stand up for them during First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday.

The First Minister didn’t take this opportunity. Instead, he accused Plaid of turning the whole thing into a media campaign - as if this was somehow worse than his Labour colleagues on the council depriving staff of their ability to pay their mortgages – which speaks volumes as to where Labour sees its priority.

Then the UK Government announced it was closing Swansea Coastguard centre, despite a concerted campaign from local people and those who rely on its services. Almost perversely, ignoring the fact that this closure will undoubtedly put lives at risk,  the Government said there were enough public sector jobs in the city without the coastguard centre.  They failed to mention that the DVLA and Swansea Council are also going through big changes.  The ‘Centre for Cities’ warned months ago that Swansea was among cities most at risk from recession because of its reliance on public sector jobs, yet the UK Government is is hitting the south west region hard and throwing more people out of work. 

When I took local Tories to task for failing to speak up, Byron Davies AM turned on me rather than his colleagues in Westminster, despite supporting the campaign. My question remains – what will the Tories in South Wales West do about it now?

Inaction is a fairly common trait among Plaid’s opponents. I have written to the First Minister to ask how he planned to promote the Port Talbot Peripheral Distributor Road. This multi-million pound project, begun when Ieuan Wyn Jones was Transport Minister, will bring great relief to motorists but also holds the prospect of a big economic boost for the area, as it will provide access to 210 hectares of brownfield site for development.

Given Tata’s growing reliance upon this part of Wales, I thought this provided a great opportunity to place some of its client businesses closer to its Port Talbot operation and so I wrote to the First Minister to ask him how the Welsh Government would market this area.

His response – “Officials will … consider any opportunities that may arise from the completion of the scheme for promoting the area to attract new businesses” – I found disappointing. It’s this lack of urgency that Plaid AMs find so frustrating. It’s inertia, and it’s hard for someone like me, who looks for outcomes, to understand.

Surely, if you are intent on standing up for Wales, you would have your officials busting a gut to bring new business here? Surely, if you are intent on standing up for Wales, you would realise that what this country really needs is more jobs? Surely, if you are intent on standing up for Wales, you would be drawing up a package of urgent measures aimed specifically at helping businesses as the economic crisis continues to worsen?

Wales is caught in a lethal nutcracker, between an ideologically-driven Tory/Lib Dem UK Government intent on taking a Samurai sword to our public services, and a Labour Welsh Government that would rather blame the Tories for everything rather than doing all it can to help.  How long do we in Wales have to continue to be squeezed in these people’s tribal games?