These places are not scary

"These places are not scary," so said Dr Chris Jones, the chair of Cwm Taf University Health Board, at a public meeting of the Welsh Government's new valleys taskforce in Merthyr Tydfil this week.

His point is that medical students from far afield are being persuaded of that as they attend the Keir Hardie health park in the town.

His other point is that if it can happen in Merthyr, it can happen elsewhere.

It is an acknowledgement that while many people from the valleys have either moved out (including me) or work outside, there is still a negative perception making it tough to attract others.

Incidentally, it is worth remembering we are still talking about densely populated communities, where roughly a third of Welsh people continue to call home.


The striking feature from the two hour meeting in Merthyr was the dizzying range of subjects covered by the audience of around 70 from local issues like bin collecting and late-night buses to transport infrastructure and economic productivity.

In recognition of that, an official posed the question to me afterwards with raised eyebrows: "Define that?"

But that is what ministers will have to do after a series of these meetings over the coming months, and it will be a big job for the machinery of government to knock all the views into a coherent response.

After fifty years of regeneration and economic decline, there will be inevitable cynicism surrounding another strategy.

A key question at the meeting was how this taskforce would not repeat the failures of past initiatives?

Poking and prodding

It is early days but its chair, the Minister for Lifelong Learning Alun Davies, told me it is not about creating a new government department.

Instead the idea is to be a nuisance in government, or "poking and prodding" around existing departments from the inside to ensure ministers make decisions that are beneficial to the valleys.

No-one can say definitively yet because there is so much uncertainty surrounding Brexit, but the subtext here is that any future regeneration will have to be carried out with significantly less money than has been the case in recent years.

The ambitions are grand: it is not just about shiny roads but something more fundamental which would lead to an "industrial renaissance" in the south Wales valleys to make them more than a satellite of Cardiff.

Politically, Labour Welsh Government ministers will be more than happy to take on critics who accuse them of over-arching ambition.

They also know the party needs to do something to reconnect with many voters in their heartlands who gave them a fright in the assembly election by supporting Plaid and UKIP, and happily ignored them in the summer by supporting Brexit.

The economic and political landscape may have changed from the 1980's, but politicians still feel the need to do something about the south Wales valleys.

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