‘Politically Speaking’ column for the County Times
The collapse of Dawnus Construction sent shockwaves through the industry and across the county. The Swansea-based company had been contracted to build three schools in Montgomeryshire: two new
primaries in Welshpool – one English medium, one Welsh medium – and a replacement for Ysgol Bro Hyddgen in Machynlleth. Following the announcement that it was going into administration, I tabled an urgent Senedd question. As well as the Powys projects, I asked economy minister Ken Skates about support for the company’s 700 workers and sub-contractors. He promised to protect the public purse and deliver as many of the projects as possible. I was relieved to learn, too, that the government is in talks with training provider CITB to ensure former Dawnus apprentices can finish their training. Big, long-term building projects are hugely important training grounds for young people. It is a point I made at a recent meeting of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills committee, when I recounted meeting 18 apprentices at the under-construction Newtown bypass.
Not a shockwave; but a historic moment nonetheless, as Welsh Government rates of Income Tax are collected for the first time next week. From 6 April a proportion of the money paid by Wales’ 1.3 million taxpayers will go straight to Cardiff Bay, rather than London. You won’t pay any more or less and there is no change to how it will be collected – HMRC will continue to take income tax as a single payment – but 10 percent will go directly to fund the NHS, social services and schools in Wales.
As any parent in charge of pulling together a last-minute costume will tell you, we recently marked World Book Day. More than just an opportunity for children to dress up, it is a time to celebrate the joy of reading. So it is sad that even something as simple and wonderful as enjoying a good book has been hit by Tory austerity. The number of books borrowed from public libraries in England has plummeted by almost 100 million since 2011. Campaigners are now warning of ‘book poverty’ – it really is a national scandal. Here in Wales, the Labour government has better protected council budgets, but they only stretch so far. So while I understand the pressure Powys Council is under to cut costs, I believe they should abandon plans to merge Welshpool library and Powysland Museum. When I met local Labour party members and campaigners last month they made a compelling case for why the merger would devastate both organisations. A protest is planned for tomorrow, Saturday 30 March, starting outside the Neuadd Maldwyn building in Welshpool at 10.30am. Good luck to everyone taking part!