Saw Rowlands is the Welsh Conservative Member of the Senedd for North Wales and Shadow Minister for Local Government

Voters in Wales are facing a simple choice when they head to the polling stations to decide who they want to run their local authority on May 5th. They can choose to extend the ongoing record of failure from Labour and Plaid Cymru. Or they can vote  for meaningful change to build stronger and safer communities with the Welsh Conservatives.

When we launched our campaign in North Wales, we were proud to announce that we are fielding the largest ever number of candidates in the upcoming local election. With nearly 670 local Welsh Conservative champions campaigning to win seats up and down the country, more people than ever before will be able to vote Welsh Conservative – building on our record number of MPs and MSs.

For far too long, our hardworking councils have been neglected and starved of much-needed financial help by Labour – something I’ve seen first-hand as a former council leader. The Welsh Conservatives have a clear plan to empower local people, enable businesses to thrive, create a healthier Wales and deliver fair funding for local authorities.

We want to see local people take control of the future of their communities. We understand that they are the best placed to decide what their area needs – not the government. After more than two decades of devolution, many people – the Welsh Conservatives included – fear that power is being trapped in Cardiff Bay or undemocratic regional bodies, rather than being relinquished to councils.

That needs to change. We want to see communities come together and create Local Neighbourhood Plans so that local people can take the lead on where new housing and services should be built. A council controlled by the Welsh Conservatives would work hand-in-hand with communities to protect local services and give residents a chance to save their local pub, library, and shop from unwanted development through the Community Ownership Fund.

Many people explored areas of their towns and villages that they never knew existed throughout the pandemic. Previously neglected parks and beauty spots were bustling with people. People should be proud to live and work in their communities, but all too often our towns are blighted with anti-social behaviour. That’s why the Welsh Conservatives would work with the police to tackle problems such as fly-tipping, graffiti and dog mess – which would in turn attract more investment and entice more visitors.

Roads plagued by potholes and cracked pavements are major problems in many of our towns which leave people with damaged cars and sometimes serious injuries. Welsh Conservatives believe it’s high time we started investing in our roads and pedestrian areas to make sure they are up scratch.

Local businesses are at the centre of our communities. They boost the economy by providing jobs for people and giving residents somewhere to meet. But they have been persistently let down by Labour. Our high streets are being left to go to wrack and ruin under the pressure of the highest business rates in Great Britain.

We want to see businesses thrive – not just survive – and our essential tourism sector boom as we start to build back from the pandemic. We would look at scrapping car parking fees at weekends so those who cannot use Wales’ crumbling public transport network are supported and not ignored.

Over the last two decades, the cost of living has increased with council tax in Wales rising by nearly 200% – adding a huge £900 to the average household bill. At the same time, pay packets have only gone up by 78%, widening the gap with weekly pay packets for Welsh workers £60 lighter compared to other parts of the UK. Welsh Conservatives, both at a national and local level, have long campaigned for action for fairer funding across Wales to stop Labour from financially depriving communities.

There is no doubt that council staff and councillors went above and beyond throughout the pandemic to ensure vital services carried on running. Despite the unprecedented challenges, and against a backdrop of historic underfunding, our councils pulled out all the stops to help local communities. It’s only right that councils across Wales are properly financially equipped to deal with the ever-increasing pressures they are faced with.

In the Senedd, the Welsh Conservatives have made repeated calls for the current funding formula to be reviewed as it is simply not fit for purpose as it stands. Unfortunately our calls have been ignored, but that won’t stop us pushing for change. Welsh Conservative councillors would work with our colleagues in the Senedd to carry on the campaign while also ensuring value for money for taxpayers.

A Welsh Conservative council would deliver the essential services residents rely on and work with neighbouring authorities in a bid to cut costs and improve services. For far too long, Labour– and their nationalist pals in Plaid – have taken Wales for granted and think that they know best – rather than trust local people.

It’s crucial that voters remember these elections are about local issues. It’s about making sure bins are collected, potholes are filled, dangerous pavements are repaired, and people receive the education and social services they deserve. The Welsh Conservatives want to work with residents, businesses, community groups, and other partners to build stronger and safer communities across the country.

It’s time for change, and only by voting for local Welsh Conservative champions on May 5th can people take control of their communities’ future.