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Our Valleys, Any future?

July 20th 2017

On the day that the Welsh Government’s Valleys Taskforce publishes its report, Victoria Winckler asks will it make a difference?

The Valleys Taskforce is to launch its report later today, entitled ‘Our Valleys, Our Future’.  The Minister for Welsh language and Lifelong Learning has already given a heads-up on what it is likely to contain in a statement in Plenary on 11th July. So what might we make of it?

What’s not to like?

The big themes of the Taskforce report are getting more people into work, better public services and stronger communities. So far, so good – who would argue for worse public services and weaker communities?

Some of the recommended ways of achieving these aims are very welcome: creating several growth hubs and getting more people into work through a transformation of employability programmes were both key Bevan Foundation recommendations so we’re pleased they’ve made it into the Taskforce’s proposals.

The Valleys Landscape Park is also welcome, as is developing a new approach to delivering public services in selected communities.

The acid tests

The questions that everyone should be asking are whether these fine-sounding announcements will make a difference. When the detail comes out it needs to be scrutinised, and carefully, to ask:

  1. Is there enough new and different to make a difference?

    It’s crystal clear that mass commuting to Cardiff and the M4 corridor, coupled with limited inward investment of mostly branch plants, simply hasn’t worked in the past. It is even less likely to work in the future. Instead, a focus on supporting and developing local businesses, whatever sector they are in, together with investment in workforce skills, is the way to go.

  2. Is there sufficient scale to make a real difference?

    The Welsh public sector has a track record of good ideas, which are then not delivered on a large enough scale or with a sufficient reach to make a difference. Think of the plans to tackle poverty for example. So although there may be talk about improving public services, will this really happen on a scale that you, I or Mrs Jones will notice?

  3. Will it last the course?

    And last but not least, will the Taskforce still be around to be held to account for its ambitions in 2021? Unfortunately there’s a history of ‘valleys initiatives’, from those of the Conservative government in the 1990s to the Welsh Government’s Heads of the Valleys programme in the 2000s, quietly fizzling out.

Looking back, the big weaknesses of past efforts has been the lack of political will to have a big ambition and see it to fruition. Can you imagine if the Cardiff Bay development had been allowed to wither in the way that the various valleys programmes have done.

I will await the full report ‘Our Valleys, Our Future’ with interest. Not only because it is an important policy statement, but because it is the future of more than 800,000 people.

Victoria Winckler is director of the Bevan Foundation.   

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