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Should the next Welsh Government create a Taskforce for the valleys?

December 8th 2020

Helen Cunningham asks what the next Welsh Government can do to regenerate the valleys

South Wales Valleys community

Regional development continues to rise up the agenda. And it’s a busy area. While we continue to await clarity on the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) – to replace EU regional development funding –  Corporate Joint Committees are now statutory forums and tools that are part of the Welsh Government’s vision for regional development. The Ministerial Taskforce for the Valleys is also into its final phase and reflecting on what’s next.

Whatever’s next, the parts of Wales known as “the valleys” – home to a significant chunk of the Welsh population – need a plan. But what sort of plan it should be and how it could be delivered is up for debate.

Creating a valleys taskforce version two is unlikely to cut it. The perceived achievements and shortcomings of that Taskforce will undoubtedly be debated elsewhere over the next six months. Understanding why and how the work of the Taskforce has been constrained could help inform future thinking though.

Timeframe

In the space of five years, there’s only so much that can happen. Within the current taskforces lifespan there have also been two different Chairs and a global pandemic. Some of the biggest investments in the valleys have been delivered over a far longer period. So if there were to be another five year initiative, what would it be able to achieve? Would it be a continuation of current business or take a new direction? Would it have the time and space within which to work to a transformative vision that it delivers on? Rome wasn’t built in a day. To really get into delivering a transformation, it needs at least a decade, if not more.

Resourcing

Without doubt, the current taskforce has faced a resourcing issue, articulated in frank terms by the previous taskforce chair. With, at best, moderate resources, achieving more than moderate results is a tall order. Substantial resourcing is needed to match the scale of the challenge, but also the change that can be achieved. This resourcing must be dedicated to delivering against ambitious but realistic results. Putting money into shifting the economy –  creating more quality jobs, more and better skills and more investment in the valleys, are the things that are really going to drive change. When and how the SPF will come to Wales is another question, but there’s a strong case that a significant part of it is required to be directed towards the valleys and arguably, towards this agenda.

Results

The valleys taskforce has invested in empty homes, a valleys regional park and regional park gateways and a number of projects (including two of our own) under the foundational economy challenge fund, to name but a few areas of its work. No one can say it hasn’t done anything. It has done quite a lot of things to contribute to the multiple priorities it set itself. Are they things that can turn the tide on the economic profile of the area?  While the temptation is to to a lot over many areas, putting more into a fewer number that are at the core of the challenge is where change happens. It comes back to what a taskforce is there to do. Whatever comes next, a relentless focus on the economy is where action needs to drill down to.

As a starter for ten, the future of the valleys should be based on a long-term, clear vision and guiding principles that endure. It has got to be one that doesn’t have to compete for resources and that spends on the things that continue to hold parts of the valleys back – the economy itself.

Helen Cunningham is Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation and leads on a project exploring ways to grow economic resilience in the valleys

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