Welsh Government scepticism surrounding Western Gateway “Trojan horse”

(Title Image: West of England Combined Authority)

Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s economy questions, taken by the Deputy Minister for Economy & Transport, Lee Waters (Lab, Llanelli).

Wales Office suspected of being behind “West Britain” alliance quote

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said the recently-announced “Western Gateway” alliance – a pet project of the now former Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns and rebranding Wales as part of “West Britain” – was undermining attempts to build a Welsh economy.

In a slightly feisty exchange, he went on to accuse the Welsh Government of being too eager to ride on Cairns’ coattails in the past and refusing to take its economic role seriously.

The Deputy Minister suggested “West (of) Britain” came from the Wales Office and the person who that quote was attributed to –  the alliance’s Chair, Katherine Bennett – denied saying it. There are elements of cross-border working the Welsh Government were keen to explore, but:

“….we are sceptical about the intentions behind the setting up of this alliance and giving it, certainly, any institutional character because we fear the UK Government are using this as a Trojan horse to undermine the Welsh Government through whatever comes of the shared prosperity fund…..The chair that’s been appointed, Katherine Bennett, is a very good person and we certainly wouldn’t wish to undermine her in any way. This is not a joint appointment, but we certainly would like a conversation with her about how she feels this alliance goes forward with our concerns in mind.”
– Deputy Minister for Economy & Transport, Lee Waters

First Newport M4 commission recommendations expected before Christmas

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), asked for an update on the commission set up to consider alternatives to the Newport bypass since it was canned earlier this year.

While the Deputy Minister confirmed that the timetable for the commission’s work hasn’t slipped, there were some perceived delays:

“Can I ask why it has taken until October to establish the membership of the commission? And can I also ask: can you confirm that by the end of this year, we will have the interim report, or will it just be an update? And can I ask what appears to be kicking into the long grass, can you tell me if this interim report has been kicked into the long grass, or do you still anticipate the report to be delivered by the end of this year?”
– Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM

The Deputy Minister said the Welsh Government expects early recommendations by Christmas. It’s taken time to establish a “high-calibre” commission, who’ve now published their terms of reference. He was encouraged that the commission intends to look at several interventions beyond road improvements.

In response to a follow up suggesting the bypass had twice as much support as its scrapping, the Deputy Minister said decisions weren’t made based on popularity but on principle relating to the climate emergency. The poll also didn’t take into account the estimated cost, which could’ve eaten into the budget for new schools and hospitals.

“Open mind” on economic region boundaries

David Rowlands AM (BXP, South Wales East) raised Cardiff Council’s complaints about Newport being the centre of the National Development Framework plans for economic growth – complaints which go against the spirit of regional development. Given regional-based working was now desired, wouldn’t it be better to have five regions based on the five Senedd electoral regions?

The Deputy Minister said the Cardiff City Region has been in development for several years with buy-in from local authorities themselves. If the local authorities decide they want to change boundaries then the Welsh Government would keep an open mind – but the number of economic regions has to be at the right number to provide bang-for-buck.

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