With all the talk focussed on Covid and Brexit (more about that in a minute) the announcement that we will see a new railway station in St Clears is still one of the most exciting in recent months....
Local residents and the Town Council floated the idea years ago but it wasn’t until Wednesday that we got confirmation of the funding offer - £4.7 million and a completion date before the end of 2024.
With the population of the town increasing and the desire and need for rail travel to be more accessible this should help everyone. Journeys to Carmarthen, Haverfordwest, Swansea, Cardiff and beyond will suddenly be that little bit easier and quicker.
Last week the Chancellor announced his ‘comprehensive spending review’...
...a routine event which normally sets out the Government’s spending priorities over a three or four year period.
This year though, thanks to Covid-19, it was a one year event with the longer version postponed until we can more accurately assess the shape of the post-Covid economy.
Faced with a horribly challenging set of numbers, increased borrowing and rising debt and unemployment, Rishi Sunak had little room to manoeuvre.
The good news though was the retention of pretty well every one of our pre-Covid spending commitments.
Digital connectivity, road and rail infrastructure, more cash for the NHS, police and armed forces were just a few of the examples of Rishi’s desire to approach recovery not through tax rises but through investment.
For Wales, this means an extra £1.3 billion for Welsh Gov on top of its baseline budget of £15 billion for 2021. This extra funding is in addition to the huge benefits felt from UK-wide commitments such as R&D spend or Green Recovery investment.
"Striking the right balance to protect health while saving jobs remains at the core of the Chancellor's message"
Dr Sankalp Chaturvedi
Imperial College Business School
Difficult choices have been made, with foreign aid spending temporarily reduced from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National Income and a freeze on public sector spending.
The latter excludes those on less than £24k, and front line NHS staff.
Given that average earnings in the private sector have contracted by 1% while public sector pay has increased by nearly 4%, Rishi’s view was that this gap should be kept as tight as possible.
The Welsh Government's claim that agricultural support was being reduced was proved to be untrue, and the much awaited ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’ – the money we save by leaving the EU – will be piloted early in the New Year and will be worth tens of millions to Wales.
Covid continues to dominate the news.
Despite the brilliant news of vaccinations looming large on the horizon, the infection rates and death rates in Wales are now the highest in the UK, proving that this is far from over and that the diseases poses a massive ongoing challenge for all governments.
Whilst a degree of relaxation is possible over Christmas, the threat and risk remains, and our vigilance should match it. I know there are those whose patience with lockdowns has long since expired. Believe me, I don’t like them much either and the PM certainly doesn’t. But one of the lessons of Covid is that chasing it never works. We just have to get in front of it as early as possible. That means looking at trends as much as it does numbers.
An area of low but rising infection may well get tighter restrictions than an area of high but declining ones. The sequence of decision making is always based on the tricky balance of medical science, economic consequence and public compliance, and based on evidence accrued daily from every reliable source in the world including New Zealand and Sweden, often quoted as exemplars in their handling of the pandemic.
And finally, remember Brexit?
Despite being just days away from the end of the transition period, it is barely featuring in the news. As I write, a deal remains possible but by no means certain. Deal or not, any business which interacts with Europe needs to prepare - something the Prime Minister and I were discussing with businesses in North Wales on Monday.
No day is complete without the UKG and WG planning for every possible contingency to ensure minimal disruption.
It’s hard to believe that this time last year we were fighting an election campaign.
They say that a week is a long time in politics, but now it seems even an hour can prove unpredictable. It's been incredibly tough - emotionally and economically - for everyone.
People have shown fortitude, resilience and patience. Whether that be students whose well laid plans have been thrown into confusion, or elderly residents in care homes wondering when, if ever, they will see their families again. But as I have said before, I sense we are into the final chapter of this unwelcome story.
And then of course there's US politics, but perhaps that’s for another day..!
My very best festive wishes to and your family,
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