Looking back on 2017, it was yet another eventful and turbulent political year and I will remember 2017 for mixed reasons, both happy and sad.
I was pleased that so many Welsh Conservative colleagues were elected to become Powys County Councillors in May and am delighted that a number of them have taken positions in the Council’s Cabinet at a challenging time for local government. I was also delighted that Glyn Davies was re-elected with an increased majority in June’s snap General Election. Both Glyn and I continue to work closely to further the interests of the people of Montgomeryshire in both London and Cardiff Bay.
However, the political year of 2017 will always be remembered for sad reasons – the Grenfell Tower disaster which was the worst domestic tragedy since Hillsborough; and the tragic death of James Corfield which struck shock and grief to the core of our local community. The inquest into James’ death will be held on 12 January where we all hope that the many questions which have been asked will be answered.
There was also the death of my colleague, Carl Sargeant AM. With only 60 members, the National Assembly is a close knit political family and while I often disagreed with Carl and we had many a clash in the National Assembly chamber, he was always a courteous adversary who I respected greatly. He will be sorely missed by AMs of all political persuasions and the circumstances of his passing will certainly have wider ramifications in 2018.
In some respects, 2017 has been a political hangover from the seismic decision to leave the EU in 2016 and as we move forward into 2018, the Prime Minister’s negotiations with her EU colleagues will define our future relationship with the EU for generations to come. As a result, Brexit is likely to be the only show in town and looks set to dominate the political world in 2018 and for many years.
Closer to home, the lack of adequate broadband continues to dominate my postbag and while the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru project has delivered a fibre broadband upgrade for the vast majority of households and businesses in Montgomeryshire, a significant minority of residents remain frustrated and without an upgraded service, in spite of repeated promises to the contrary. In 2018, I will be campaigning to ensure that these people are not left lurch as it would be unjust for those people who have been waiting patiently for an upgrade for months and even years in some cases to be told that they are not going to receive an upgrade.
Also, as we look forward to 2018, the preferred option for the future of health services which serve Shropshire and Powys will be one of the most important decisions made locally and we all have an opportunity to make our views known. After more than three years and £2 million, the Clinical Commissioning Groups have unanimously agreed to recommend that ‘emergency care services’ should be located at Shrewsbury and ‘Planned Care’ should be located at Telford. However, in order for this ‘preferred option’ to proceed, NHS England has to agree the circa £200 million budget which is needed and there also has to be a public consultation. I believe it is essential that the new ‘Emergency Care Centre’ is based at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. It is therefore vital that you, the people of Montgomeryshire, respond to the public consultation when it opens by making your views known.
Finally, I would like to see 2018 mark the start of a Mid Wales Growth Deal to support our economy. The Chancellor’s support for a Growth Deal in November’s budget has paved the way for close collaboration between the Welsh and UK Governments to make this a reality. This is something which I have been calling for over many months. The National Assembly’s Economy Committee, which I’m privileged to Chair, has recently made recommendations to the Welsh Government that a Mid Wales Growth Deal would have the potential to transform the economic fortunes of Mid Wales. Cardiff and Swansea are set to have City Deals and there are plans afoot for a similar arrangement in North Wales. These new regional deals, worth billions of pounds, are re-shaping the economic development priorities of South and North Wales. As a result, all of these regions will see money invested in better transport links, better broadband connectivity as well as other programmes designed to boost innovation, create employment and raise living standards. Mid Wales deserves the same kind of investment to integrate Mid Wales into the wider Midlands economic engine.
I would like to wish you all a happy and healthy 2018.