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UK Government

Welsh Ministers call for UK Government action on Freeports in Wales

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The UK Government has yet to present an offer to the Welsh Government for a Freeport to be established in Wales, Welsh Ministers will tell a Westminster committee later.

Giving evidence to the House of Commons’ Welsh Affairs Committee, Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething and Finance and Local Government Minister, Rebecca Evans will say they remain open to the idea of having a Freeport in Wales, and are prepared to explore the use of devolved planning, business support and tax powers to ensure any Freeports in Wales deliver on the Welsh Government’s priorities, including its commitments to fair work and safeguarding the environment.   

However, despite Welsh Ministers clearly setting out the conditions where a joint approach could be taken, no formal offer has been presented by the UK Government to the Welsh Government on a proposed Freeport in Wales.

The Ministers will tell the Committee that the Welsh Government is willing to work constructively with the UK Government. In February, Ministers wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to discuss a proposal for a Freeport. Over five months later, the Chancellor has yet to respond. Ministers have written to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Wales this week to again set out the conditions where a joint approach could be taken.

Ministers have been clear that the Welsh Government cannot accept a proposal where a Welsh Freeport would receive less financial support than the £25m made available for Freeports in England.

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Speaking ahead of the committee hearing, Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “We remain open to the idea of having a Freeport in Wales, but creating one here would require the use of devolved powers. However, as it stands, the UK Government has not agreed to our request for joint decision making, and no appropriate funding has been offered.

“We have repeatedly pressed UK Ministers for constructive engagement. The lack of clarity about implementing Freeports in Wales, a policy driven by the UK Government, is destabilising business decisions in an already exceptionally uncertain economic environment, and is having a direct impact on investment decisions. Furthermore, their decision to announce specific Freeports for England, without concluding arrangements for Wales, gives rise to the potential for jobs and investment to be drawn out of Wales.

 “Until the UK Government responds to us and presents us with a formal offer, the ball remains firmly in the UK Government’s court.

 “Our message to the UK Government is clear – the Secretary of State for Wales’ suggestion that the UK Government could impose a Freeport in Wales without our agreement would result in a worse outcome for everyone. The UK Government need to work with us, not against us.”

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Finance and Local Government Minister, Rebecca Evans added: “It would be entirely unacceptable for any Welsh Freeport to receive a penny less than the £25m the UK Government is providing for each Freeport in England.  It would mean a Welsh Freeport would be immediately disadvantaged in comparison to English counterparts, or would require the Welsh Government to divert millions of pounds away from other priorities to fund a UK Government commitment.

“If the UK Government sought to implement the Freeports policy in Wales without our support, it could only be achieved without the devolved levers, which would be an immediately less attractive and competitive offer compared with those in England.

“It would be incredibly disappointing if Wales were to receive a worse offer purely because the UK Government were unwilling to work constructively with us.”


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UK Government

Regional plan to unlock £138m funding pot

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Aimed at securing funding worth nearly £138m to South West Wales over the next three years, a new regional investment plan is being produced.

The plan now being put together by the region’s four local authorities will unlock money already earmarked for Carmarthenshire, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire and Swansea as part of the UK Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund.

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In line with UK Government guidance, the plan is being developed through local strategic partnerships made up of public, private and voluntary sector organisations in each county.

To help further shape the plan, all four local authorities will be seeking feedback from local people and local businesses to find out which key themes are most important to their areas.

Based on the feedback, a final plan will then be submitted to the UK Government by August 1 for approval in the autumn.

Local authorities have not yet received any Shared Prosperity Fund money. Detailed guidance from the UK Government on how the funding will be distributed to projects is also yet to be confirmed, although the preference is for a competitive process.

Once the funding has been secured, each regional local authority will let its businesses and other organisations know how they can bid for funding.

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Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Investment and Tourism, said: “This funding from the UK Government has already been set aside for each local authority area, although a regional investment plan is needed to unlock it.

“The plan is now being prepared, although it will soon be further informed by the key themes identified by local people as priorities in their respective local authority areas throughout South West Wales.

“Businesses and residents across the region will be kept updated on consultation opportunities. We’ll also let people know once the regional plan has been approved and businesses and other organisations can start bidding for funds.”

Cllr Gareth John, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Leisure, Culture and Tourism, said: “Carmarthenshire looks forward to this exciting funding opportunity and to work locally with our communities and our businesses in order to grow the economy. Maximising sustainable growth and jobs for our county is one of our key priorities.”

Cllr Martyn Peters, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic and Community Regeneration, said: “We have been working closely with our regional and local partners to ensure the funds that have been allocated to Neath Port Talbot make an impact for local people and businesses. We are strengthening our local partnership arrangements further so we can get the programme up and running as soon as the funds are unlocked.”

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The Shared Prosperity Fund is part of the UK Government’s levelling-up agenda.

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Great Western Railway

Great Western Railway get contract renewal to continue running services til 2025

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The Department for Transport (DfT) has awarded a National Rail Contract (NRC) to Great Western Railway (GWR) to continue operating the Great Western network.

The new contract will run until at least 21 June 2025, with the potential for a further three years at the Secretary of State’s discretion.

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In line with the contract, GWR is committed to attracting people back to the railway by continuing to deliver improvements in customer experience, while focusing investment on sustainable services, and providing better value for money for customers and the taxpayer.

Since taking over the Great Western franchise in 2015, GWR has seen satisfaction levels among customers climb from 81% to 91%, helped considerably by the introduction of its high-speed Intercity Express Trains and the biggest timetable change in a generation in December 2019.

GWR Managing Director Mark Hopwood said: “We are delighted to have been awarded a National Rail Contract by the Department for Transport, which is a sign of its confidence in GWR as a trusted operator, and means we can continue to build on welcoming more people back to the railway.

“We look forward to working with our rail partners to develop services designed to meet changing customer needs, and putting passengers at the heart of an updated, modern railway.”

Rail Minister Wendy Morton said: “We’re delighted to continue our partnership with Great Western Railway, and excited by its plans to deliver more benefits for local communities.

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“During the pandemic, GWR was instrumental in keeping critical services moving and this new contract will see it continue to deliver our ambitious Plan for Rail and provide a fantastic service for passengers.”

(Lead image: GWR)

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Energy

Urgent action required to tackle UK energy shortages and secure future energy production says farming union

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Urgent action is required now more than ever to tackle the UK’s energy shortages and to secure future energy production, the Farmers’ Union of Wales has agreed during a recent meeting of its Presidential Policy Team.

In his letter to the UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, The Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, and Welsh Minister for Climate Change, Julie James MP, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “During the previous decade, initiatives such as Feed In Tariffs were instrumental in increasing levels of renewable energy production in Wales and the UK at the fastest rate seen to date, with renewable energy produced on farms being central to this improvement in our nations’ energy security.

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“The risks of reliance on overseas energy are now more apparent than ever, and given this, FUW PPT members believe that urgent action is needed on both a UK and national scale in order to rapidly increase renewable energy production on farms, in a way that does not compromise food production.

“While responsibility for different elements of policy relating to energy production lie with the UK and Welsh Governments, PPT members believe that urgent action is needed at all levels of government to mitigate current and future impacts of our over-reliance on imported energy – whether, for example, in terms of the restrictions placed on those farming in our National Parks where sources of renewable energy abound but renewable energy initiatives are obstructed, or in terms of UK-wide policies that genuinely incentivise and reward those who are contributing to reductions in carbon emissions through renewable energy production.”

Given such concerns, the FUW believes that as a matter of urgency, barriers should be removed and initiatives enhanced in order to increase levels of renewable energy production on farms.

FUW President, Glyn Roberts

“PPT members also highlighted that one of the barriers to such renewable energy production was the cost of connection of viable schemes to the National Grid, and the fact that such connection fees often appeared to at the best capitalise on, and at worst obstruct, such initiatives despite them being in our nations’ interests.” he said.

In light of the above, Mr Roberts urged the UK and Welsh Governments to do all they can, and to work with colleagues in other administrations, to ensure that all actions possible are taken to further increase renewable energy production in Wales and the UK without compromising agricultural production.

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