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Debating the Valleys Taskforce

September 16th 2019

The Ministerial Taskforce for the Valleys will be debated in the Senedd this week. Helen Cunningham considers what could be the hot topics up for discussion.

As Assembly Members return from recess this week, one of the first items of business is a debate on the Valleys Taskforce. The debate comes at a busy time for the Taskforce, with last week’s announcement of £6.6 million for the Valleys Regional Park and a series of engagement events around the valleys to talk about transport in September and October.

In July, The Minister released an update on the work of the Taskforce, which included seven priority areas of housing, the foundational economy, business support, transport, strategic hubs, an innovation fund and the Valleys Regional Park. It also included the extension of the taskforce area to the Gwendraeth and Amman Valleys.

So, what will be the verdict in tomorrow’s debate?

With AMs keen to work out what the Taskforce is doing and has done for their area, it’s likely that there will be some debate around which area is getting what, and are they getting enough. This is a real challenge for a Ministerial Taskforce that is looking to achieve impact. Previous valleys initiatives have fallen into the trap of spreading resources thinly with inevitable dilution of impact, a trap that we have also suggested the Taskforce has been at risk of falling into. Balancing impact against the question “what’s happening in my area?” is not an easy one and is something that is bound to come up.

The emphasis on empty homes and allocation of £10 million over two years for a scheme to tackle empty homes is also up for debate. Empty homes are real a problem for some parts of the valleys. If you live on a street that has a house that has sat empty for years, often in a sorry state of disrepair, it is welcome news. It appears to have been made a priority exactly because of the local feedback about this issue. By bringing these homes back into use it can immediately change the feel of a place. The question is whether this tackles the causes or the symptoms of some of the challenges in the valleys. Ultimately, empty homes are often symptomatic of wider structural issues at play around low household incomes and buildings that people struggle to maintain for a whole host of reasons. Once this wave of funding has been delivered, what will become of homes that aren’t yet empty, but are likely to become so over the next five years?

Scrutiny by and of AMs?

Involvement of Assembly Members is also likely to be discussed. How the Taskforce is monitored, scrutinised and held to account is something that is important to work out and get better clarity on. There appears to be more involvement of AMs in the work of the Taskforce, with Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney AM Dawn Bowden now a taskforce member and a group of heads of the valleys AMs shadowing the work of the valleys taskforce. How this could marry up with the Plaid amendment calling for the setting up of a special temporary committee to hold the Minister to account on the work of the taskforce -made up of AMs representing valleys constituencies- is also likely to be hotly contested and discussed.

With eighteen months left of the Valleys Taskforce in this Assembly, the debate comes at an important time. We look forward with interest to hearing what AMs will be asking the Minister to consider in their contributions tomorrow to take forward the work of the Taskforce.

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