Updated 8th March 2023
Mid Wales Growth Deal
I have been a strong supporter of the Mid Wales Growth Deal and was heavily involved in making the case for such a deal with previous Welsh and UK Governments. Following what I believe has been a frustratingly lack of pace, in January 2022 the Final Deal Agreement was officially signed by the UK Government, Welsh Government, Powys County Council and Ceredigion County Council.
The deal marks a £110 million investment by the UK and Welsh Government. The investment will seek to create between 1,100 and 1,400 jobs in Mid Wales by 2032 and produce social and economic benefits and create business opportunities post-pandemic. However, we are yet to see the details of specific projects come out of this investment. Some likely projects are mooted to include a Mid Wales Food & Drink Centre, investment in the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth and an Advanced Manufacturing Skills Campus.
There is clearly still a lot of work to be done by Powys and Ceredigion County Councils to work up the detail of these projects along with better connectivity and investment for suitable business premises in Mid Wales. I also want to see our local businesses involved in the discussions. I have always said that it is important to engage businesses and listen to their business needs, not just what public sector organisations believe businesses want. I will continue to support the project, but it needs to deliver for our businesses and our local economy.
Levelling up Mid Wales
The UK Government has a Levelling Up agenda. This is hugely important to us in Mid Wales.
The UK Shared Prosperity Fund aims to improve everyday life across the UK, including town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets.
I have been supporting bids from Powys County Council, to the UK Shared Prosperity fund to support several projects in Montgomeryshire, such as the restoration of the Montgomery Canal
Investment in skills, communities, local businesses, and supporting people into employment from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund replaces the previous EU funding which, in my view, was not a particularly fair funding scheme across Wales. Powys did not see its fair share of EU funding as it was not classed as one of the poorest economic areas and consequently missed out on the highest rate of funding compared to other areas of Wales. I feel more positive that Powys will now have an opportunity to receive an equal share from these new funding schemes.
It was announced during 2022 that Powys County Council and Ceredigion County Council are preparing a joint £42 million bid from the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund. I will continue to support Mid Wales bids that offer value for money. The UK Government has a strong record of supporting Mid Wales as we have seen with the announcement of the £16 million investment in restoring the Montgomery Canal.
UK Government’s Community Renewal Fund (CRF).
Through the CRF, the Government is backing 477 locally led, innovative projects with £220 million of funding that will help breathe new life into towns, villages, and coastal communities across the UK.
In Powys, the funding has been allocated to six projects. These are:
- Green Heart of Wales/Zero Carbon Mid Wales - £523,962
- Powys County Council - Go Green To Get Clean. - £408,000
- Powys Localities Initiative - £428,232
- Montgomery Canal restoration feasibility study - £336,666
- Powys Community Skills Initiative - £764,863
- Enterprise Powys - £217,389
Montgomeryshire continues to benefit from the UK Government’s efforts to level up every part of the UK. This CRF funding has been allocated to projects in Powys and Montgomeryshire which have a particular focus on investing within the incredible talent across the county, creating the opportunities to match the skills which we already possess. It has also been allocated to projects which focus on energy efficiency and reducing our carbon footprint.
I will continue to work alongside my colleague Craig Williams MP and Powys County Council on the delivery of these projects.
Further ambitions to create a more prosperous Mid Wales
Boosting jobs and investment
The UK Government is committed to creating at least one Freeport in Wales, with a second possible on an exceptional bid. Whilst Freeports are not exclusively for seaports, no bid is currently being made based around a train station or an airport.
I want this initiative to be implemented in an area of Mid Wales to replicate some of the benefits of a Freeport that are within the responsibility of the Welsh Government, with the aim of encouraging businesses to open and expand with incentives such as reduced business rates and enhanced capital allowances. The area could be expanded to include further elements with UK Government support.
An Apprentice Support Fund
Young people are moving away from Mid Wales to further their education or to obtain better paid jobs whilst people who stay tend to struggle to upskill themselves to improve opportunities for themselves and their families.
By encouraging more people to take up apprenticeships and to stay in Mid Wales, an Apprentice Support Fund would be available to those on an official full-time apprenticeship scheme - regardless of salary – to be exempt from Council Tax.
I am urging the Welsh Government to introduce such a scheme, a scheme that would then taper off, when apprentices move from their part-time learning into full-time employment. Currently, only certain apprenticeships are exempt from Council Tax.
Extending Rural Fuel Duty Relief
Petrol stations in Mid Wales can be few and far between, with local people having to drive a significant distance to fill up, paying an increased price to do so.
There is little choice for people in Mid Wales to switch to public transport, to switch to walking or cycling given the significant distances which many people face to get to their nearest village or town.
By expanding the rural fuel duty relief to areas of Mid Wales, communities could benefit from a 5p reduction, supporting them in getting to work and boosting the local economy. I am going to continue to make this case for Mid Wales.
A Village Renewal Fund
During the pandemic villages and small towns, which make up Mid Wales, came together to support each other and keep everyone safe.
Following the pandemic, communities are looking to revitalise their local area and continue the fantastic work they did together. I have proposed to the Welsh Government that such a fund can be used to support local activities or events which deliver a social benefit, such as dementia cafes, loneliness groups, helping to rebuild communities and to tackle issues which specifically impact rural villages.
Supporting our Tourism Sector
The Welsh Government has announced a consultation into the introduction of a Tourism Tax in Wales. The Local Tourism Levy would be applied to overnight stays in Wales.
In my view, a tourism tax would be hugely damaging to the tourism industry and the wider economy. When I meet industry representatives, they clearly demonstrate the damage which this tax would cause.
We need the tourism industry to bounce back stronger than what it was pre-pandemic with the help of new trends such as staycations and new eco-friendly tourist attractions.
The industry is hugely important for the economy of Mid Wales, supporting our local businesses as well as highlighting Powys as a destination to visit. Tourism is one of the largest contributors to local jobs, local businesses, and the local economy and therefore it is of the utmost importance that we continue to support the industry.
I have continuously called for this policy to be scrapped and I will continue to do so in the Senedd.
I am concerned by the Welsh Government’s introduction of a new threshold on self-catering holiday properties.
The Welsh Government’s new policy means that an increase to the number of days in which a self-catering property is required to be made available for let will increase from 70 to 182 days in a single year. As a result, many self-catering properties will be subject to significantly higher rates of tax because they are unable to meet the higher threshold. The new rules follow concerns that many properties across Wales are being used as second homes. The Welsh Government has said that the change in criteria is intended to ensure that properties are being let regularly as holiday accommodation businesses.
It is my view that this change will have huge implications to many holiday let business across Wales. This new policy will have huge consequences for Mid Wales businesses, and many holiday let businesses. My concern is that some businesses will be forced to close, which will be damaging for the local economy.
I have regularly raised this issue in the Senedd, and specifically with the First Minister, and have attempted to demonstrate how difficult this policy will be for businesses in Mid Wales where the holiday season is shorter than in other parts of Wales.
Earlier this year, I asked the Welsh Government to examine several examples from businesses across my constituency to develop a real life understanding of the effect which this policy will have on businesses in Montgomeryshire.
I will continue to ask the Welsh Government to review this policy because some businesses may have to close, harming the livelihoods of many people across Wales. Our tourism sector needs backing.