Russell George - New Year Message 2017
I would like to wish you all Happy New Year and hope you had an enjoyable and blessed Christmas!
Looking back on 2016, it was one of the most surprising and memorable years of my political life - a National Assembly Election in which I was honoured to be re-elected as your Assembly Member; a surprising EU referendum result which brought about the resignation of one Prime Minister in David Cameron and the coronation of a new Prime Minister in Theresa May; an even more surprising US Presidential Election result which saw Donald Trump triumph against all the odds, and a surprisingly spritely performance by Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing! If 2017 is anything like 2016, it will be another busy and unpredictable political year.
I know from speaking to people from all over Montgomeryshire that there's a mixture of uncertainty, trepidation and enthusiasm in equal measure about what Brexit will mean for us here in Powys and for our wider economy and society.
Regardless of how you voted in the referendum, there is every reason to be confident about our prospects for the Welsh economy in 2017 and beyond. Despite gloomy forecasts, we have closed 2016 with record low unemployment and the British economy is set to be the fastest growing in the G7 in 2017. Of course we cannot afford to be complacent, and Mid Wales’ creaking infrastructure requires urgent attention to send out a message that Powys is truly open for business. I am also aware that our Farming industry also needs support from a Welsh Government that has in the past not concentrated enough on supporting this important sector.
In December, the Chancellor provided an additional £400 million of capital funding to the Welsh Government over five years and I want to see that money reinvested in Welsh infrastructure.
Here in Mid Wales, businesses are losing money every year due to poor transport connectivity. Therefore, one of my particular highlights from 2016 is seeing the long-awaited construction of the Newtown Bypass begin. There has been a call for a Newtown bypass for decades and I’m delighted that it will now finally become a reality. The bypass will be hugely important to the economy of not just Newtown but the whole of Montgomeryshire and I would like to thank everyone who has played a part in progressing this project.
As we look forward to 2017, the reform of NHS services which serve Shropshire and Mid Wales will be front and centre in our minds. It is positive news that the "NHS Future Fit Programme Board", the body charged with considering the best way forward for NHS services in our area, has come to the conclusion that the new A&E Emergency Care Centre should be located at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. While we still have an agonising wait before a final decision is made, both Glyn Davies MP and I still firmly believe that services must be retained and strengthened in Shrewsbury which is a centrally located to serve the healthcare needs of the wider region.
2017 will also see us all go to the polls again on May 4th to elect our local councillors. In many ways, our next set of local representatives have an unenviable task in delivering public services in the face of yearly assaults on the local budget and local democracy by the Welsh Government. Year after year, the Welsh Government seem to unleash a disproportionate cut on Powys’ budget in comparison to other councils across Wales and this is inevitably heaping pressure on already hard-pressed services such as the county’s Day Care Centres which provide a vital service to so many of the most vulnerable and elderly people across Powys. I am pleased that the Council’s cabinet has recently been able to find a way to give all the county’s day centres a reprieve while alternative funding and management arrangements are evaluated. Nevertheless, the financial pressure on local services will continue and it will be important for the local authority to manage its resources carefully.
I suspect that Education will be a key issue in the Council elections.Figures published last month by the OECD reveal that Wales has for the fourth time in a decade finished significantly behind all other UK nations in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). These results showed us that the Welsh Government must develop a clear strategy to improve future performance. Our children deserve a first class education system that is world-beating, but the PISA rankings show that successive Welsh Governments have failed to deliver one. From visiting schools in Montgomeryshire myself, I believe that we have a high standard of teaching locally, and in my view schools should have more freedom to control their own futures, and I firmly believe that all current secondary schools in Montgomeryshire should be retained. Pupils spending more time on a bus, will not improve education in mid wales
I am keen to ensure that a democratic deficit isn’t allowed to develop by stealth through creeping centralisation from the Welsh Government in Cardiff Bay , especially over local energy generation and the protection of our beautiful countryside. Decisions should be made locally by local people and I have long been a champion of devolution of power to local people to make decisions over their own communities. Decisions should be taken and services delivered much closer to the heart of local communities and not by diktat from central government.
Finally, many of you will know that I have been campaigning for many years for universal broadband and seamless mobile coverage for the people of Montgomeryshire. While progress has undoubtedly been made, there still remains significant pockets of Montgomeryshire which still suffer from an inadequate broadband and mobile service so please rest assured that addressing this postcode lottery will continue to be one of my priorities in 2017.
Once again, may I wish you all a happy and healthy 2017 and as always, please do not hesitate to contact me if you feel that I can be of assistance.