Column published in Llanelli Herald on 8th November 2017
Securing economic growth in Llanelli, when we are living through such unpredictable times, is one of the greatest challenges facing me as an Assembly Member.
One of the things I’ve argued for is something called the ‘Foundational Economy’, or put another way, looking after what we’ve got on our doorstep: the industries and businesses that are there because people are there. The food we eat, the homes we live in, the energy we use and the care we receive.
This isn’t a small part of our economy. It accounts for four in ten jobs, and £1 in every three that we spend.
With that in mind, it makes sense to me that to stimulate our economy, we need to strengthen our public services and make smart investments in our communities.
But this isn’t happening. Instead of investment, we have had seven years of austerity - the longest period of sustained cut-backs that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. And despite the hardship this has inflicted - often on the most vulnerable people in our society - there’s little to show for it.
We have schools here in Llanelli that have had to cut their staff, increase their class sizes and have been reduced to asking parents for money to provide essential equipment.
Many of our community centres are having to close their doors because of a near-constant cycle of cuts.
Essential public services - our fire service, police and health - have been guilty of not paying their own staff enough to put food on their family dinner tables.
When I speak to the people bearing the brunt of this unfair and unnecessary policy, it is clear to me that it needs to be abandoned. But the UK Government disagree. Instead of abandoning austerity, they’re planning on extending it even further. And the UK Treasury is apparently gearing up to inflict a further £3.5 billion of unallocated cuts in 2019-20. This could mean Wales is faced with another £175 million budget hole.
The threat of yet more cuts makes it increasingly difficult for the Welsh Government to mitigate the worst effects. I don’t know how our public services will cope if the hammer of £175 million does fall. And I don’t know how anyone can justify asking them to do so.
The UK Tory party needs to abandon its obsession with cut-backs. There is an alternative to austerity - looking for opportunities for growth and developing an investment strategy that will work for our communities.