Six things I would like to see the new Prime Minister do for Wales
Andrew RT Davies, Conservative AM for South Wales Central
It’s probably an understatement to say that I can’t imagine many Nation.Cymru readers are lying awake at night obsessing too much about the identity of the next leader of the Conservative Party.
However, regardless of your political affiliation, it’s undoubtedly a decision that’ll have a big impact on all of our lives here in Wales, particularly as they’re likely to take up the mantle of Prime Minister (although it’s always a dangerous game to assume anything in politics!).
But I’m sure many readers in their quietest moments, particularly the political anoraks amongst us, will have dreamt up their ideal cabinet and policies to shake up the political landscape!
As a Conservative Party member, and Welsh Assembly Member, in my own game of political fantasy government, there are many issues I want to see the next Prime Minister tackle when it comes to their agenda for Wales.
Indeed, if I was walking through the famous black door at No10, I’d like to share some of the proposals I’d like to see implemented by the highest echelons of government at Westminster.
Some might even say it’s a wish list that could even attract support from the most ardent of anti-Tories in Wales – but I’ll leave you as the reader be the judge of that!
So with me in the hot seat, playing my own political version of ‘Fantasy Football’, this is what I’d like to see from the next Prime Minister and Conservative Government:
1.) Clear UK frameworks, shared prosperity fund and an overhaul of JMC
The political shenanigans at Westminster has meant very little progress in the devising of UK frameworks and the post-Brexit UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
This needs to be put right as a matter of urgency and the next government must set out a detailed blueprint that respects the devolution settlement, protects the internal UK market and provides a foundation for a future free trade agreement with the European Union.
The Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) model that currently acts as a focus for the coordination of relationships between the UK Government and devolved administrations and parliaments is no longer fit for purpose. That’s been clear for a long time and has come to a head during the Brexit process.
There now needs to be a grown-up, mature conversation and a replacement body/mechanism implemented that is fit for post-Brexit UK. Ultimately, the strength of any Union is based on its ability to take its citizens with it and benefit from it.
2.) A significant investment in Welsh infrastructure projects
Wales is blessed with some of the most outstanding natural resources in the world, and I want to see us become leaders in the green economic revolution.
We need a ‘Green Deal’ for Wales and the UK that harnesses these qualities and which ensures we protect our environment and properly tackle the recently declared climate emergency.
Regrettably, Wales has fallen foul of poor decisions regarding significant infrastructure projects (M4 relief road, tidal lagoon to name a couple) of late, and this has to be rectified moving forward.
For me, the spiralling costs of another key infrastructure project elsewhere in the UK – HS2 – make it increasingly unviable.
I believe if the costs can’t be reined in it should be scrapped, with the money put into a ‘Union Investment Fund’ which identifies key projects with devolved governments and seeks to improve infrastructure, prosperity and the economic fortunes of all four nations of the UK.
3.) A broadband revolution
As some readers will be aware, I’m backing Boris Johnson in the current leadership contest. He’s set out his stall by pledging to reboot the country by delivering full fibre broadband to every home in the land by 2025.
Poor broadband holds back our rural communities and we need to bridge this digital divide and provide much-needed, high-quality broadband for homes and businesses across rural Wales.
4.) Devolution of air passenger duty
We first called for this power to be devolved back in 2013 and I’ve been banging my head against a brick wall ever since! The power is devolved to Scotland, partly to Northern Ireland and parity should be restored for Wales by the next Prime Minister.
This was a call backed only last week by the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee and which stated the benefits of devolving APD are ‘absolutely convincing’.
Whether the Labour Welsh Government would now cut the tax to make Cardiff Airport more competitive as previously promised is another matter – but if they don’t, as Welsh Conservatives we’ll have a strong low-tax versus high-tax contest going into the next Assembly election in 2021.
5.) A Wales Office restructure?
How this is achieved is open to much debate. In the past, I have put down various proposals including abolishing the Office and replacing it with a dedicated Secretary of State for the Nations and Regions of the UK.
I believe the move would give devolved nations and the officeholder more clout at the top table of government but I acknowledge for various reasons, not least the SNP’s desire to twist anything as a reason for another independence referendum, that this is highly unlikely in the current climate.
At the very least, we need to stop the merry-go-round of Welsh Office ministers and when possible they should represent Welsh constituencies. We’ve got a talented group of MPs in the Welsh Conservative ranks and their talents should be fully utilised in government.
6.) Specific Welsh representation on national bodies and cross-border organisations
As we saw recently in the Countess of Chester debacle, there is no ‘hard border’ to service provision for people in Wales, and many cross into England, and not just for health services. In my view, the unique nature of devolution means such organisations should have a specific Welsh voice and representation on their boards to ensure similar situations are not seen again.
Likewise, key England and Wales regulators should have Welsh representation moving forward to ensure our voice is heard loud and clear. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why there shouldn’t be specific Welsh figures in board positions on bodies like OFGEM and Ofwat – and I believe services for Welsh people would improve as a result. This is an initiative that should be championed and driven by governments – whatever their colour.
Some of the above is easy to deliver and implement, some less so, and undoubtedly others will have other priorities. For various party-political reasons that are well documented, which I won’t bore you with here, I’m backing Boris Johnson.
However, from a devolution perspective, it should be noted that he’ll be the first person to have come through the devolved system in the UK and into our highest public office.
Like all politicians, he has his critics and detractors, but I believe his understanding and appreciation of the intricacies of devolution, makes him uniquely placed in this race to deliver for Wales and all other nations in the UK.
And on that note, I grab my tin hat and bid you farewell!