Column in the Glamorgan GEM by Rt Hon Alun Cairns MP
As we head towards Christmas, during a very unpredictable period in British politics, I want to take this opportunity to talk about some of the positive things that we will take through to 2019. This includes removing the Severn tolls, increased funding for Wales from the UK Government and our local economy in the Vale performing well, which all contribute to a sense of optimism for the future.
After this weekend, I am absolutely delighted that we will no longer have to pay tolls at the Severn bridge crossings. Scrapping the tolls was my number one aim when I became Secretary of State for Wales and I’ve worked hard during my time in the role to ensure that we deliver on this priority.
For over half a century, the tolls have restricted and distorted the growth and connections of the Welsh economy. Removing the tolls means that Wales will now be more open for business than ever.
This is really positive news for the Vale of Glamorgan, and for the rest of South Wales, as residents and businesses will benefit from the resulting economic uplift. Businesses in the Vale, such as our many haulage firms like KCS and S&K, will no longer spend hundreds of thousands of pounds over the course of the year. Hard working regular commuters in the Vale will be £1,400 per year better off. For business, this is money that will allow them to reinvest and grow. For commuters, this is money that will remain in their pockets and can be spent on the things that matter most to them. It will certainly be a welcomed Christmas present for commuters from the Vale.
Abolishing the tolls completely and permanently presents a huge opportunity and paves the way for a new economic powerhouse between South Wales and the West of England. The new ‘Great Western Powerhouse’ will give us the opportunity to compete with other regional economic strategies, such as the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine, ensuring that South Wales isn’t left behind. It is estimated that scrapping tolls will provide an immediate benefit of over £100m per year for Wales, over a billion pounds of economic benefit to Wales over the next decade.
Removing the tolls adds to the significant economic strides we’ve seen locally in the Vale in recent years. We’ve welcomed a major global brand in Aston Martin who have been attracted to set up in St Athan, creating hundreds of jobs. Just weeks ago, Cowbridge was awarded the Rising Star award at the Great British High Street Awards which was a huge credit to the excellent independent traders there. Barry is continuing to grow and Barry Island in particular has totally transformed from its rundown state some years ago. These are all things that I have been committed to and have worked on delivering.
Of course, despite the many projects I have been working on, we still face some great challenges that need to be overcome. To fully take advantage of the removal of the tolls, we need the M4 relief road. I have worked with the Treasury to make the money available, however the Welsh Government is continuing to drag its feet rather than getting on with it. We also need the Welsh Government to introduce business rate relief, which I have strongly argued for. Unless Welsh Businesses have parity with England, I fear that there is a significant risk that Wales will be left behind. You can find more information about this on my website.
Overall, I see a very exciting time ahead. I am continuing to work hard for the Vale of Glamorgan and Wales as a whole, but to reach our full potential we also need the Welsh Government to fund local areas in a way that works for our communities.
Over the year, I’ve enjoyed working with a whole host of different community groups, schools and business from across the Vale. Once again, I ran the London Marathon to raise funds for Atal Y Fro, which is a local women’s charity, and also NSPCC. I was delighted to raise over £10,000 and I look forward to running again next year for another great cause.
I would like to finish by wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.