It’s a no brainer: prioritise public services over more politicians

Cost-of-living up. War in Ukraine. 1-in-5 people on a Welsh NHS waiting list. Low wages. Stagnant school performance. Working farms hollowed out. The never-ending housing crisis. Covid recovery.

The challenges Wales faces could take a generation to resolve and needs a government with the courage and focus to take them head-on.

However, you can always rely on the Cardiff Bay bubble to cast aside their responsibilities in favour of navel-gazing as they prioritise having more politicians. Once again, the constitution and elections in our devolved legislature has become the focal point rather than delivering on the public’s priorities.

I cannot quite convey just how angry some people, including myself, are about Labour’s plan to create more jobs for the boys and girls in the Bay by increasing the number of Senedd members (MSs) from 60 to 96, nevermind all the trimmings that come with them. Just how does adding 36 more politicians to public bill tackle these trials?

Labour and Plaid might point to the public mandate they have. Between them, they make up the super majority of MSs needed to pass this unnecessary nonsense. But where were these calls during the election last year? Plaid went hard on independence and went backwards. Labour barely talked about it at all during the campaign. Yet as soon as the ballots closed, now can’t shut up about it.

But above all of this, there is no need. The argument for expansion contends there are not enough MSs for the legislature to effectively scrutinise the Welsh Government. Well, Labour backbenchers and Plaid would have more time on their hands if they did not spend all their time commentating on events and the UK Government’s actions, and started enabling a prosperous Wales.

Indeed, since last summer, the Plaid leader has used fewer than half of First Minister Question sessions to ask Mark Drakeford exclusively about his responsibilities. They have surrendered all pretence of being an opposition party and now claim there’s not enough of them to do the job. The Welsh Conservatives can manage it – why can’t they?

And don’t go thinking that expanding the Senedd will be enough for them. Calls for more powers will continue. Labour even have a Constitutional Commission working up plans on behalf of them and their nationalist friends about which powers should be devolved next.

Thankfully, the Conservative Government has said “no” to further devolution. But a Labour prime minister will not hesitate in further eroding our shared British institutions, only for politicians in Cardiff to fail once again in fulfilling their new duties, while power-hoarding calls cease to abate.

My party also opposes the changes on the basis that it cannot sanction up to £100 million a term to expand the political class in Wales at a time when incomes are squeezed like they haven’t been for years, and public services are run into the ground by Labour. That money could fund well over 800 new nurses a year when 70,000 people are waiting over two years for treatment – three times the figure for the whole of England.

Sadly, state-building is the aim so electoral reform is the game. Labour is so obsessed with shoring up its fiefdoms, distracting from the real issues, and picking fights with Westminster because it serves their agenda: avoiding accountability. We’ve already seen that in their blocking of a Wales-specific Covid inquiry. Labour is scared of scrutiny.

I understand that there is the risk that the Welsh Conservatives looking somewhat anti-Welsh for opposing these reforms as it goes against the left-wing narrative the devolution is a silver bullet that intrinsically solves the nation’s ills. But as we’ve seen so far, Labour – with Plaid and the Lib Dems in their various coalitions – have made a total mess of the powers at their disposal.

Take housing, for example: Labour has only built 6,000 of 12,000 homes needed annually in Wales. While they do nothing, we have a plan.

We want to change developers’ attitudes towards planning permission, making them see it as a contract, by changing it to “planning compulsion” where failure to complete housebuilding within a certain timeframe without good reason will mean a financial penalty and revocation of the planning permission. This radically tackles land-banking, a fundamental reason for the sky-high price of housing.

What are Labour and Plaid doing? Sticking a premium on the council tax bills of second homeowners. This is the low quality of policymaking you get from an administration stacked with those who put their own interests ahead of the public’s, pre-occupied by their pet projects.

The Welsh Conservatives are hit with anti-Welsh rhetoric by Labour and Plaid because they know we are the ones shining a light on their appalling record and dereliction of duty at a time of high inflation and pandemic recovery. We scrutinise and hold to account, offering solid policy solutions, and stand for good governance.

Do they really expect voters to believe 36 more politicians will not stop 1-in-4 patients waiting over a year for treatment, end the gridlock on Welsh roads, make-up the £60 weekly wage gap between Wales and Scotland, or help children catch-up after missing out on more school days than any other UK nations? They are taking Wales for fools.

It is clear to us that expanding the Senedd is unnecessary, unaffordable, and unjustifiable. Before long, the people of Wales will declare the same of the Labour Government.


Andrew RT Davies MS is the Welsh Conservative leader