With less than two months before the people of Wales express their political choices at the ballot box, there’s plenty of discussion about the shape of the post-election landscape. Of course, the UK’s in-out EU referendum to be held on 23 June casts its shadow, particularly for Wales, a country that has been a beneficiary of a significant amount of EU funding – on more than one occasion.
Polls to date suggest Welsh Labour will be the biggest losers at the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections; UKIP the biggest winners, of sorts. No party looks like it will have a majority of seats in the Assembly post-election, making some sort of coalition a distinct probability. As we start a week of articles focusing on the commitments from each party to the Welsh economy and businesses, it’s worth taking stock of a one very simple divide between the parties’ beliefs that will no doubt impede Wales’ economic progress: the M4 relief road. Businesses in Wales are still waiting for a decision on it over two decades after it was first mooted and the political finger wagging is enough to drive the most abstemious to drink.
Welsh Labour have led many to believe they favour the so-called “black route” option for the M4 – but none of their recent “six pledges” refers to it. Carwyn Jones’ speech at Welsh Labour’s conference makes no reference to it either. Jenny Rathbone’s comments last year on the “unhealthy culture” in which dissenting voices are not tolerated suggests the M4 is a sore point for Welsh Labour. In the event Welsh Labour confounds all expectations and wins outright in the election, businesses are almost certainly going to be disappointed if they expect a quick decision on it, for sure.
Leanne Wood has said that Plaid Cymru will not support Welsh Labour whilst it supports the M4 “black route”; for anyone thinking Plaid may have strayed to the right, she’s also said Plaid would not enter into a coalition with the Conservatives. And while a Labour-Plaid coalition may seem probable, the recent scathing attack on Welsh Labour by Adam Price, Plaid’s candidate for the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr seat, hardly suggests a post-election entente cordiale that would be needed to see quick decision-making on key elements of infrastructure.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats may well suffer a similar fate to that by the Lib Dems last year in the General Election. Polls suggest they may only hold 2 seats post-election, compared to the 5 they currently hold. They remain undecided on the M4. No such indecision exists in the Welsh Conservatives: Andrew RT Davies made it clear recently that Labour’s “dithering” risks undermining Wales’ economic performance. UKIP, the only other party expected to gain seats in the election, doesn’t appeared to have made a significant statement on the M4, save for Nigel Farage’s complaint about it “not being as navigable as it used to be” as one reason for his late arrival at a UKIP event in Port Talbot last year.
So, given the M4 relief road, a two-decade old issue, driving division between the parties, what else can businesses in Wales expect? Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at support for SMEs.