Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
Tories hoping to fare well in the assembly election next spring will be disappointed by their chancellor’s decision to cut capital expenditure plans for Wales. Unsurprisingly, the latest polling shows Welsh voters have reacted badly.
Last month I asked whether the Tories were ‘walking away from Wales?’ The answer, based on recent ConDem decisionmaking, is yes. Welsh secretary of state Cheryl Gillan has failed to win key battles around the cabinet table in negotiations over the CSR, and Wales has been shortchanged by Osborne.
In CSR announcement week we also heard that big ticket investments planned for a military training base at St Athan and the Severn barrage (totalling approximately £30 billion) are to be scrapped. Soon we’ll find out about the electrification of the Paddington-Swansea railway line (£1 billion). Yet even if this important railway investment is agreed, in comparison with the other decisions, it shows the ConDems’ rhetoric about investing in infrastructure to support growth is hollow.
Devastatingly, of the 495,000 public sector jobs planned to go across the UK, Wales will lose 52,000. It used to be the rule of thumb that Wales’ ‘share’ of any financial decisionmaking was five per cent. Clearly we’re going to take a 10 per cent hit when it comes to public sector jobs.
Emblematic of the ConDem cuts in jobs was their decision to cut Newport passport office staffing from 250 to 50. This has provoked fury in southeast Wales where in near-neighbour constituencies like mine we have seven jobseekers chasing each vacancy. So Iain Duncan Smith’s high-handed remark that jobseekers should jump on buses to go to jobs, when jobs are few and far between, is risible. In Wales, we’ve got a culture of ‘chwarae teg’, or fair play.
Labour’s invested in a new railway line from my Blaenau Gwent constituency to Cardiff, but for the future we need a much more focused investment strategy. For example, the eastern valleys need another track on the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line, a new station at Abertillery and new railway points at Newport for valleys job seekers to get to our coastal cities.
Also, in recent years the Plaid Cymru transport minister has prioritised north-south road investment for dogmatic nationalist reasons rather than faster investment in upgrading the Heads of the Valleys Road which is crucial for west-east, Wales-England trade. For the valleys communities this road investment is as comparable in importance for Wales’ economy, as Crossrail is for London. If he wants to pursue his north-south road straightening plans over crucial east-west links, Plaid Cymru’s assembly leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, might need to get himself a Boris Johnson-style blond wig to attract the attention of Downing Street.
Welsh voters haven’t been slow to pick up on the ConDems’ failures in Wales. The latest polling from ITV Wales makes grim reading for Welsh Conservatives and their Welsh Lib Dem supporters. Labour support stands at 44 per cent, yet the Tories at 19 per cent (down two percentage points); and Libs at nine per cent (also down two percentage points) will be troubled. Welsh Labour constituency targets next May for the assembly elections include Cardiff central which has a very high student vote and Cardiff north where many white collar public servants live. On these poll results we look set to win these seats back. And, after recent announcements by an anti-Welsh government, it wouldn’t surprise me if we do.