A Strong Local Economy
Updated: January 2024
Levelling up Mid Wales
Following the decision to come out of Europe, the UK Government has established a Levelling Up https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/new-levelling-up-and-community-investments to replace EU funding This is hugely important to us in Mid Wales, this Levelling up fund gives Powys in particular the opportunity to bid for investment which was not available through the previous European funding system. In my view, it 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.
The Levelling up fund helps to support local economic growth to regenerate our town centres and high streets, support individuals into employment, improve local transport links and invest in local culture, while giving communities a stronger voice to take over cherished local assets that might otherwise be lost.
To support these objectives, the UK government has launched four new investment programmes to support communities right across the country. All share common challenges and opportunities, which the UK government is determined to address in collaboration with local partners. These investment programmes are:
- The UK Community Renewal Fund
- The Levelling Up Fund
- The Community Ownership Fund
- The UK Shared Prosperity Fund
I have been supporting bids from Powys County Council to these funds to support several projects in Montgomeryshire.
In November 2023, Craig Williams MP and I welcomed the news from the UK Government that Powys was successful in the third round of the Levelling Up Fund to receive £17,714,498. This announcement builds on the £16 million award Montgomeryshire received in the first round of the Levelling Up Fund for the restoration of the Montgomery Canal.
This latest bid focused on transport investment in the County to support the recreational tourism industry as well as the wider economy in Mid Wales. There will be improvements to Public Rights of Way across the county as well as a large scale highway resurfacing programme. Some of these projects include Right of Way footbridges at Berriew, Caersws, Garthmyl and Llangadfan, and resurfacing works at locations across the county, especially tourist hot spots such as Lake Vyrnwy and Llanrhaeadr.
I am delighted that tens of millions pounds of investment into our area over the last three years has been secured. This money will provide much needed investment to enable significant projects to move forward, which will strengthen our tourism offer, and make Mid Wales an attractive place to visit.
I will continue to support Mid Wales bids that offer value for money, and will continue to work alongside my colleague Craig Williams MP and Powys County Council on the delivery of all these projects.
Through The Community Ownership fund, the UK Government is providing £150 million over 4 years to support community groups in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to take ownership of assets and amenities which are at risk of being lost. Voluntary and community groups can bid for funding to acquire important assets and run them for the benefit of the local community. The Fund will run until March 2025 with regular bidding windows throughout the year for applicants to submit a full application to the Fund, details can be found here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/community-ownership-fund-prospectus
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. There has been frustratingly a lack of pace with the Growth Deal which is a joint investment between Welsh Government, UK 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. Powys and Ceredigion County Councils have been working on the projects and there is now finally a shortlisted set of programmes and projects being identified across several themes including digital, tourism, agriculture food and drink, research & innovation and supporting enterprise.
There is still a lot more work to be done 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 must deliver for our businesses and our local economy.
Supporting our Tourism Sector
During 2023 the Welsh Government carried out a consultation into the introduction of a Tourism Tax in Wales, I was disappointed that following the consultation, the Welsh Government confirmed it intended to move forward with the proposal, with the draft legislation timetabled to be introduced to the Senedd in the Autumn term of 2024. The Local Tourism Levy would be applied to overnight stays in Wales.
In my view, the tourism tax will be hugely damaging to the tourism industry and the wider economy particularly for our more rural areas. When I meet industry representatives, they clearly demonstrate the damage this tax would cause. I have continuously called for this policy to be scrapped and I will continue to do so in the Senedd.
I am also very concerned by the Welsh Government’s introduction of a new threshold on self-catering holiday properties by increasing the number of days in which a self-catering property is required to be made available for let 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 businesses 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. Me and my Welsh Conservative colleagues have called on the Welsh Government to bring forward further exemptions to this policy and to reduce the number of days to 105 days and have forced votes in the Senedd calling on Welsh Government to scrap the 182 day rule.
My colleagues and I in the Welsh Conservatives are calling on the Welsh Government to reflect on the serious concerns expressed by self-catering accommodation providers across Wales. The sector needs Welsh Government support not continuous policies that hinder its growth. I will continue to oppose these issues and will continue to scrutinise the Welsh Government. There is a clear case for change.
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 Development Bank of Wales has highlighted it is these tourism and hospitality businesses that are still struggling to recover from the pandemic.
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.