Ideas for the south Wales Valleys

There are widely shared aspirations for the south Wales Valleys. ‘More jobs for the Valleys’ is one such aspiration – but to realise the goal we require ideas that work.

The idea proposed today in a new IWA study, Futures for the Heads of the Valleys, is a democratically-elected Mayor for the south Wales Valleys. Inspired by the success of the London Mayor, the study says the May 2008 elections in London “showed how a democratic post of this sort has the ability to energise the political debate, and draw in candidates who can appeal to the electorate”. A Mayor would also provide the Valleys with a strong executive arm to ensure that its problems are addressed in a more effective way.

A Mayor with a strong executive role, following the London pattern, could engage with the following policy objectives:

  • Take maximum advantage of the investment opportunities being opened up by the stock transfer of social housing in the Heads of the Valleys.
  • Upgrade the skills of young people coming into the labour market. The Assembly Government’s 2006 Turning Heads Valleys strategy commented that only 41 per cent of 15-year-olds in the Heads of the Valleys were achieving 5 GCSEs at A*-C grades, compared with a Welsh average of 52 per cent, which itself is extremely low.
  • Improve public transport: it has often been noted that the geography and population density of south-east Wales makes the region ideally suited to the creation of a fast light tram or rail system of the kind that is common in comparable regions across the European Union.
  • Develop social entrepreneurship as a well-tried means of encouraging the long-term economically inactive into full-time employment.
  • Invest in the environmental improvement opportunities such as the Valleys Regional Park.
  • Promote the tourism offer, which has a substantial but largely untapped potential.

Implementing the proposal would not require a costly reorganisation. As in London a Valleys Mayor’s powers could be devolved from central government rather than shifted from existing local authorities. The Valleys councils could broadly continue with their current range of functions, along the same lines as their counterparts in London.

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