Joyce Watson: 'Storm Eleanor a wind of change for 2018 in Wales?'

Reporter:

Nick Knight

Storm Eleanor swept through the country this week. A Wind of Change for 2018?

Reflecting on the worst of 2017 – that terrible month in early summer when we were all shaken to the core by terror attacks in Manchester and London, and then the Grenfell Tower fire – I hope so.

At the Assembly, in May, we lost former First Minister Rhodri Morgan. Then, in November, tragically, Carl Sargeant. Two big beasts of Welsh politics and Welsh Labour.

I worked closely with Carl on the White Ribbon campaign to end violence against women, an issue he was passionate about. I was proud to join Labour members in Machynlleth last month to help raise awareness of and money for the cause, a fitting tribute.

Some things never seem to change, one year to the next. For millions of commuters, January means a hike in rail fares. But we can do things differently.

The Wales and Borders franchise, currently run by Arriva Trains Wales, will be taken on by a new operator in October.

The details of the new deal will be made clear when the winning bid is announced in the next few weeks. We already know that the new operator will be paid a flat fee rather than profit from ticket sales – all profits will be invested back into the railway.

Welsh Government has also promised to employ more staff, including keeping a guard on all services.

And the First Minister assured me, at a recent Assembly Question Time, that he is committed to boosting jobs and operations at Welsh train depots, including Machynlleth.

Despite rail infrastructure not being devolved, since 2011 Welsh Government has invested £200 million in the network, funding lots of station improvements, like the shelters at Llandrindod and Llangennech.

It has also funded additional services on the Heart of Wales Line and free winter travel on Heart of Wales and Cambrian services for bus pass holders. I am excited to see what improvements the new franchise will deliver.

Perhaps 2018 will be more breath of fresh air than icy winds.

Among last year’s darker moments, there were encouraging signs, after all. Confounding the cynicism of pundits, for example, young people turned out to vote in record numbers at the General Election.

After nearly a decade of austerity, young people are leading the call for something new, a fair deal across the generations.

Housing is huge issue. Before Christmas, the First Minister announced an extra £10 million to end youth homelessness in by 2027, a cause that Cllr Matthew Dorrance has pushed Powys Council on too.

Also, from April, thousands of homebuyers, including first-time buyers, will be exempt from paying property tax, following the Welsh Government’s decision to raise the starting threshold to £180,000. That will help.

As will abolishing Right to Buy, a policy that has decimated social housing and fuelled property speculation. Ultimately, though, we need more houses.

Powys Council will soon vote on the Local Development Plan for 2018 – it must prioritise people at the bottom, not those at the top.

Email:

nick.knight@nwn.co.uk

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