Amanda Jenner is Welsh Conservative County Councillor for the Trewern, Buttington and Middletown ward.
The Conservative Party is a broad church, a place where both common ground and respectful difference of opinion can be found within its membership on a whole host of issues.
This is particularly evident in Wales, where the Welsh Conservatives welcome those who believe that devolution has the potential to work for the whole of the country, as well as those who are anti the Welsh parliament and are understandably “devo-sceptic” due to 20 years of a now languid Welsh Labour, which even at best has been lackadaisical to most of Wales outside of the M4 Corridor.
Recently, Paul Davies, the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, spoke passionately on the need for a “Devolution Revolution”. This was Calon Lân music to many of our ears and I hope that as part of this Revolution, we fully embrace the idea of localism.
Arguably one of the grounds for devo-scepticism is that decision makers down in Cardiff have lacked the appetite to address many of the issues that occur in Mid, West and North Wales. One example of this was their recent National Development Framework consultation, which identified priority areas for large-scale energy development, without sufficient consideration of the impact this would have on local tourism businesses or associated tourism assets, such as National Trails.
There are some within the Welsh nationalist camps who like to spin this devo-scepticism as a nonsensical idea that Welsh Conservatives are all Anglophiles above all else, who want to copy and paste England’s policies and culture, and enforce them upon Wales.
In the run up to the 2021 Senedd Election, the Welsh Conservatives must bat this ludicrous notion away. Yes we can learn from across the border, but it takes local knowledge and understanding to decide whether to apply, adapt or ignore policy and models used elsewhere.
As a county councillor in Mid Wales, I know my patch. I know that an all singing and dancing remote online learning system, is worthless for some of my residents who can’t get a decent broadband connection. I know that that my residents are alarmed that a minister in Cardiff will be making the decision on whether to develop a large-scale incinerator in a rural area, just a few hundred metres away from a primary school. I know that it is costly and complex to deliver public services in a rural area and that often, we have to think outside of the box.
Localism is a conservative value. As a Conservative, I want to conserve and safeguard the local things around my community that are loved. I want to see the children in our local schools encouraged to have aspiration and to become resilient and responsible adults who have the confidence to seize the local opportunities around them.
I want Welsh language and Welsh culture to be naturally embraced and to grow organically. I don’t want to see the Welsh language forced upon every nook and cranny of Wales, including upon those communities whose traditions and cultures may not have the Welsh Language embedded in them.
At the heart of localism is an appreciation of the significance of community spirit, which has been so commendable during the Covid-19 pandemic. Localism gives a nod to our wonderfully diverse Welsh culture and traditions. Localism encourages local solutions to local problems and would require local decisions for local developments, no matter their size.
In Wales, the decision on whether to approve developments over a certain size is made by a Welsh government Minister. I would like to see this power devolved to local government. Further, in the wake of Covid-19, in order to get the economy back on its feet, local knowledge of business, jobs and opportunities, is fundamental. As argued recently in the LGA magazine by Councillor James Jamieson, the Chairman of the LGA, I too would like to see local government ownership of the employment and skills agenda.
Those who continue to strive for an independent Wales surely cannot shun the idea of localism. Isn’t one sentiment of their movement, the desire for decision makers who understand the needs of those who are impacted by their decisions? Perhaps I am becoming an idealist here, but isn’t “localism” the pacifying solution for all?
What I do know though, is that we cannot carry on with the same old lacklustre Welsh Labour business as usual. I hope that as part of this “Devolution Revolution” we Welsh Conservatives look to de-centralise parts of the Welsh Government and to divert resources more directly to frontlines by empowering local decision makers.
Of course, to responsibly do this, we need to ensure that local authorities are funded fairly and transparently – something which is long overdue a thorough examination in Wales.