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News & opinion

26 APR 2018

All change in Wales

In a dramatic and emotionally charged speech at the Welsh Labour Conference, First Minister Carwyn Jones announced he would be standing down this autumn.

While the position of the First Minister has been under heavy speculation, with many feeling the question was only one of when, not if, it was still something of a shock to many delegates.

Unsurprisingly, most commentary of the conference focused on both the departure of the First Minister and the inevitable accompanying speculation as to who would run and eventually succeed him. Already, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance Mark Drakeford AM  who spoke at the RICS roundtable on International Construction Measurement Standards and the Welsh Construction Sector  has declared his candidacy.

A strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Drakeford is already being called the front runner by some. However, at the present time Welsh Labour has retained the old electoral college system for electing its leaders, which has led some to speculate that other candidates may have an improved chance of success.

Speculation has swirled around several names including Cabinet Secretary Ken Skates AM – who has met with RICS on many occasions  who maybe the favoured successor by the First Minister himself, as well as Eluned Morgan and Huw Irranca-Davies. Further candidates may well emerge. The decision will clearly have major implications for the direction Welsh Government will now take.

The present

As noted earlier, the decision on his own future greatly overshadowed the rest of the speech by the First Minister. Whilst the majority of Mr Jones’ announcement was merely a re-statement of existing commitments and action, apart from the commitment to a “fair work” commission” it is still worth reflecting on for the priorities of Welsh Labour. The £50m commitment to capital projects, and the 20,000 affordable homes target, were to be strongly welcomed as symbols of commitment by Welsh Government to housing and an acknowledgement of the vital importance of Infrastructure to the Welsh Economy.

It is unlikely that any of the potential candidates will disagree these should be priority areas. Future approaches to the private sector and methods of financing projects maybe a different matter. Ending Right to Buy and a renewed commitment to Council Houses were other noteworthy highlights of the speech, and underlined policy divergence between the Welsh and UK Governments as devolution deepens and matures.

Signs of continued commitment to small business rates relief, and a recognition of the growing issue of homelessness in Wales will surely also be universally welcomed, as will the funding for apprenticeship and skills training. However, we would urge Welsh Government to keep the apprenticeship program under regular dialogue with stakeholders to ensure it operates with the maximum effectiveness. It is hard to see any potential successor adopting dramatically different policy priorities, rather it is the implementation of policy approaches that the greatest scope for change may occur.