On Monday, the National Assembly celebrated the 20th anniversary of its first elections and many people are taking the opportunity to ask what devolution has done for Wales and Mid Wales.
For me, I don’t believe devolution has failed Mid Wales - but uninterrupted leadership from a Welsh Labour Government has.
If people are upset with the way in which the UK Government is performing, they take the opportunity of changing the Government, not call for the abolition of Parliament. When it comes to devolution, some call for the total abolition of the institution rather than elect politicians of a different political hue.
I voted against devolution as a young man back in the 1997 referendum, but when it comes to referenda, I am someone who believes that we should honour the democratic result and move on to deliver on the people's decision and work to give people the public services which they deserve. This is something which is as relevant today when we consider the delivery of Brexit as it was 20 years ago when the Welsh people voted by a small majority to bring about devolution.
I believe that blaming an institution for a Government's failings is a constitutional distraction and that our attention ought to be on seizing the opportunity to deploy the powers which have been brought about by devolution to promote accountability, boost localism, empower people, support businesses, and build a strong Wales in a strong United Kingdom.
No one knows our communities better and what is best for them than us - the people of Powys. Therefore, for the next 20 years of devolution, I want to see a concerted effort to boost localism and put communities at the heart of decision making so that the devolution settlement extends well beyond the Cardiff Bay bubble.
Together we can make the right decisions for our communities to prosper and grow, to attract new opportunities and to enable people to live in the communities they grew up in. Too many young people are moving away from our beautiful county so I would like to see the a future Welsh Government prioritise opportunities for young people in Mid Wales by tackling shortages in the housing supply, ensuring affordable rents, providing accessible healthcare and education opportunities in rural areas and an integrated public transport network to connect our communities to the Midlands economic engine on which we also rely.
So, over the last 20 years, it's not devolution that has failed Mid Wales but a complacent Welsh Labour Government which has taken the people of Wales for granted and has seen Wales' economic performance stagnate rather than improve.
The Welsh economy has been stuck at the bottom of the economic league tables for 20 consecutive years and regional inequality in Wales is a national embarrassment. The gap between the richest and poorest regions of Wales has been ignored by the Welsh Labour Government for almost two decades with GVA per capita in some local authority areas almost twice that of others.
Furthermore, Powys has received the poorest or joint poorest local government budget settlement in nine of the last ten years - an unsustainable situation which has inevitably affected the delivery of essential local services. The funding formula doesn’t adequately reflect the fact that Powys has a sparsely populated, disproportionately elderly population. This is not the fault of devolution but the Welsh Labour Government
As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Wales’ devolution, the Welsh NHS is also facing its greatest challenges yet. Following years of under-funding by the Welsh Government, our National Health Service is struggling to cope with the demands of today’s society and is unable to sufficiently prepare for the demands we will see in the future. Successive Welsh Labour Governments have failed to provide our health service with the funding it needs to deliver safe and sustainable health care. If the Welsh Government had matched the UK policy of funding the NHS with a flat real terms budget, then between 2010-11 and 2015-16, the NHS in Wales would have seen an extra £1 billion in its budget. These budgetary choices are holding back the NHS’ ability to invest in its hospitals and the equipment they need to deliver modern day health care.
Here in Powys, our elderly population is also predicted to increase from 11% of the total population to 23% by 2039. This is a rate that is significantly greater than the national average and can be partly attributed to the many people choosing to move to the most beautiful County in Wales to retire. The demand and the complexity of care will increases and this, in turn, increases the cost of delivering these services. This will have to be considered carefully as we embark upon the second twenty years of devolution.
If Welsh Labour win the next elections in 2021, they will be close to thirty uninterrupted years in power, here in Wales. Changes of government and the transfer of powers are a cornerstone of a democratic nation. 30 years of Labour rule isn't a given. It is not healthy for our democracy and is not healthy for Wales.
After more than 20 years of devolution, I believe we should now take the next step in electing a Government which doesn't take the people of Wales for granted and ride roughshod over a Mid Wales which has never voted for it. It is not devolution that has let down the people of Powys, it is the Welsh Labour Government who has failed to use the powers at its disposal to deliver a Mid Wales fit for the future.