Carwyn Jones has provided Christmas cheer in Wales this month, by tying up the Welsh government’s budget for next year and providing financial stability in Cardiff Bay.
After last year’s National Assembly elections Labour were left with 30 seats out of the total of 60. So initially the budget vote was tied with Labour’s 30 AMs backing the proposals, and all opposition parties voting against. Plaid had an ambiguous wish list, claiming that the government had not allocated enough money for economic growth, the Liberals wanted greater funding for education, and ironically, the Tories claimed Labour were not investing enough in the health service. After weeks of negotiations Labour and the Lib Dems came to an agreement making an extra £32m available for education in Wales, which sits well with Labour’s values, so a deal was done.
There are more concerns over the Welsh economy as unemployment has risen by 11,000, making Wales the highest ranked nation in the UK with a 9.1 per cent unemployment rate. This includes a shocking 20 per cent increase in unemployment among women. In my own constituency of Blaenau Gwent, the claimant count is at 3,233, the highest in Wales.
With economic growth predicted to be slower in Wales than the rest of the UK times are going to be tough in 2012. In the Assembly, Labour have taken great strides to combat this with schemes like ReAct, ProAct and the five new Enterprise Zones, one of which will be located in Ebbw Vale, part of my constituency. However, with tightening budgets, we need more help from Westminster. Cuts are coming too far, too fast, and smothering potential growth. Labour’s five-point plan would stimulate growth in Wales where it is most needed.
One solution would be to adopt Peter Hain’s proposals for a ‘Heathrow Hub’, connecting Heathrow airport with the motorway network, and Great Western mainline rail services. This would boost Wales’ connectivity making it a more attractive place to do business in the future.
Finally, as the nights get colder, Wales has a strong fuel poverty agenda. Parts of my constituency are 1200 feet above sea level, so I’ve been urging everyone to take necessary precautions to stay out of the cold and keep an eye on any elderly neighbours. The Welsh government has introduced Arbed, a programme that aims to eradicate fuel poverty while combating climate change. So far £61m has been invested in making Welsh homes more energy efficient.