Ken Skates – Welsh Labour – Clwyd South
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We first asked them to tell us a little about who they are, any political history, about their political leanings and what skills you have to be a top level politician in Wales?
I have had the honour of representing our area since 2011. There are many aspects of the job that I love, but among my favourites is visiting local schools and colleges and meeting young people. Of course, that hasn’t been possible for the last year or so, but I have been able to hold virtual Q&As with students in Clwyd South.
I’m also very proud when I see campaigns I have worked on alongside local people coming to fruition – things like new health centres being built; improvements at local railway stations and crucial Welsh Labour Government investment in community organisations like Plas Madoc Leisure Centre, the old Brymbo Steelworks and Llangollen Eisteddfod.
I worked as journalist after leaving university and later got into politics largely because of my experience of growing up in the 80s and early 90s. I had a very strong feeling that too many young people ended up having their future prescribed – their destiny set for them – based on where they came from rather than how much hard work they put in. Thatcherism wreaked havoc on large parts of Wales and it was that era that galvanised calls for Welsh devolution. At such an uncertain time, we cannot allow politics of division to take hold again.
After being elected in 2011, I served as Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology and Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism before being named Minister for Economy and Transport in 2016. Before being elected, I worked for Alyn and Deeside MP Mark Tami.
Away from politics and my family, I’m a keen runner and also love getting out in the beautiful North Wales countryside with my cocker spaniel Thumper.
I have given my all to represent the people of Clwyd South over the past 10 years. I am a proud North Walian, and if re-elected as the local Member of the Senedd I will continue to put Clwyd South first and stand up for and champion our area.
1 – Aside from Covid and Covid recovery, what do you feel is the top issue for this constituency in the forthcoming parliament term, and briefly explain how you would like to see your desired outcome achieved ?
It’s very difficult to pick just one with everything that has happened over the past year or so, but it’s imperative the next Welsh Government creates employment opportunities for the people of Wales to help the country get back on its feet.
There are a number of initiatives to create quality, sustainable jobs outlined in our manifesto which I’ll talk about more in some of the answers below, but one is our Young Persons Guarantee – that everyone under the age of 25 will have an offer of work, education, training or self-employment. There is also a commitment to deliver 125,000 new apprenticeships for people of all ages, offering more quality routes into better jobs.
The reason people can have confidence we will deliver on this is simple – we have delivered on our key pledges from the 2016 election.
2 – What is your plan for helping residents and businesses in your constituency in the coming years to recover from the pandemic?
The current Welsh Labour Government has shown its commitment to supporting businesses with the most generous support package in the UK. Much of this has been targeted at small businesses, which are the lifeblood of constituencies like ours.
We’ve given business rates holidays, created the Wales-only Economic Resilience Fund and provided additional sector-specific support to the hardest-hit businesses. More than £2bn will reach Welsh firms – most of which is already in their accounts. This is on top of what the UK Government has provided, and let’s not forget that that’s money Wales is entitled to – it’s not a handout.
The Welsh Government has safeguarded 165,000 Welsh jobs during the pandemic. This has been done at the same time as having to manage competing demands from businesses, the NHS and other public services all struggling to meet extraordinary pressures.
3 – The pandemic has highlighted to many for the first time the powers that the Senedd have under devolution. How has the pandemic changed your views of devolution?
For me, it has just reinforced what a power for good devolution can be, and I do think a lot of people’s eyes have been opened over the course of the pandemic. The number of emails and phone calls I’ve had in which people have said they are glad they live in Wales and endorsed the more careful, cautious approach we have adopted here has been remarkable. Of course, some people would have liked to see all four UK nations do the same thing at the same time, but I believe many more are glad that hasn’t been the case and that we’ve had a Welsh Labour Government putting the lives and livelihoods and Welsh people first and, in many instances, leading the way.
4 – What would you have done differently on the Welsh covid response?
When we look back at how we as a government have handled the pandemic, there will inevitably be things we know could have been done better. I don’t think any government would say they’ve got everything right given the monumental scale of the challenge we have been faced with. I am proud, though, that the First Minister vowed at the outset that we would put public safety above all else, and I believe that is an approach the majority of people agree with. There is a huge amount we can – and will – recover from, although it won’t be easy. But every person who has lost their life to this awful virus won’t get that second chance, which is why we have always seen the pandemic for what it is first and foremost – a public health crisis.
5 – Would you support legislation to hold an independence referendum for Wales? How would you vote in such a referendum and why?
If another party wins a majority of seats, forms the next Welsh Government and decides it wants to hold an independence referendum, that’s entirely their prerogative. Unless that happens, I think there are much bigger and more urgent issues we need to address as a country over the next Senedd term as we rebuild post-pandemic. Welsh Labour will be focusing on bread and butter issues at this election – jobs, housing and our NHS, as people can see from our manifesto.
6 – What actions would you take, or support, as a MS to encourage Welsh language use growth? Or, if you are against this, why?
I would continue to support the excellent work the current Welsh Labour Government has done in this area, which has seen Welsh become the fastest-growing language in the UK. As well as maintaining Welsh-speaking communities, we want to double the daily use of Welsh and our long-term aim is to have a million Welsh speakers by 2050. We are a proud nation and we are proud of our heritage. We now have both a Minister for the Welsh Language and a Welsh Language Commissioner to help deliver these aims.
7 – What does “climate emergency” mean to you, and why?
Climate change is a global emergency – it’s a crisis that’s already upon us. Every country across the world needs to tackle it, and doing so also creates jobs. Wales was the first UK nation to declare a Climate Emergency and that shows our commitment to build a cleaner, greener Wales.
We have made huge strides over the last few years. When the Senedd was created in 1999, we only recycled 5% of our waste in Wales. Now it’s around 65% – the third best in the world. The Welsh Government has also given councils millions of pounds to invest in new projects so we can create cleaner, more sustainable communities for the future.
We have stated many times that we want Wales to become a zero-waste, carbon net-zero nation by 2050 at the latest, and our record so far shows that and we are pushing the very limit of our devolved powers to protect Wales’ natural environment for future generations.
In addition to being a global leader in recycling, we recently introduced strict regulations to reduce agricultural pollution which will help farmers play their part in improving the health of our rivers and soils, improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Fracking is also banned in Wales thanks to this Welsh Labour Government.
8 – There can be a perception that politicians are too “South Wales focused” and can see a north south divide. Do you think this is the case, and realistically if elected which of your North Wales specific goals do you think you can deliver?
As someone who was born and bred in North Wales I know that this is a perception that’s going to be hard to change for some people, although it’s not unique to Wales. It’s something that, for me, as a representative of a North Wales constituency, I am very conscious of.
The Welsh Labour manifesto includes commitments for a new medical school in North Wales and the first new national park in Wales in almost 65 years in the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley to combat the climate emergency and create new jobs. In this Senedd term we’ve built an Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Flintshire which is already proving to be a game-changer for our region; we’re seing the Wrexham Gateway project take shape and we’ve created the Development Bank of Wales, which is headquartered in Wrexham.
I get that people will see investment going to areas in South Wales and believe it confirms what they already thought, but we’ve seen numerous tangible benefits of Welsh Labour Government investment on a local level here over the past few years – new health centres, crucial funding for key community buildings and organisations, improvements at our train stations. The list goes on. If re-elected, my priority will remain Clwyd South and North Wales.
9 – What are your views on a LGBTQ+ plan for Wales?
I think it’s imperative. It’s clear that LGBT+ communities experience disproportionate inequalities – things like bullying, discrimination and hate crime and the mental health consequences of them. The current Welsh Government has been working closely with these communities to develop an LBGTQ+ plan for Wales and also established an expert panel to better inform this work.
The panel’s final report included more than 60 recommendations and the Minister, Jane Hutt, has instructed officials to engage across Welsh Government departments to agree the actions to be taken forward along with further consultation. A draft LGBTQ+ Action Plan for Wales will be published following the Senedd elections, and that’s something I welcome.
10 – Children and young people have missed almost a full year of regular education – what are your plans to make sure that children who have missed out on academic and social experiences are not left at a disadvantage in the next few years?
One of Welsh Labour’s key pledges is to lead our recovery with the most comprehensive programme of catch-up support ever seen for our public services. This includes supporting our children and our young people with a major schools catch-up plan, employing over 1,800 additional tutoring staff so that none of them are left behind.
It has been an incredibly difficult past 12 months or so for children, and I think the Education Minister has done a good job in extremely difficult circumstances to limit the impact on their education as much as possible.
I think it’s also worth reminding people that the Welsh Labour Government has led the way with free school meals throughout the holidays – and didn’t have to be shamed into doing so by a professional footballer. We’re also midway through the biggest school-building and modernisation programme since the 60s – again, which we’re benefiting from in Clwyd South – and have put in place the most generous system of support for students in Higher Education anywhere in the UK.
11 – Local services such as libraries, leisure centres and community centres have been badly affected in recent years due to lack of funding – how would you support local authorities?
This issue is often used to score political points, but the fact is that funding for local councils is set by a formula agreed by the Welsh Local Government Association and Welsh council leaders. UK Government austerity has meant that the Welsh Government has had less and less money to spend – we’re down around £1.4bn since 2010 – but we have still managed to give local councils more money each year, even if the increases aren’t as much as we’d like.
While there have still been difficult decisions to make, last year’s local council settlement was actually the best in more than a decade and was welcomed by the WLGA. Local councils up and down Wales have done an extraordinary job during the pandemic, and we will continue to work closely with them and help them as much as possible to protect their crucial frontline services.
12 – How would you resolve issues at the local health board that are emerging from special measures?
BCUHB has made significant strides in recent years and I know the people of North Wales are extremely grateful for its workforce’s phenomenal efforts during the pandemic. As part of its ongoing support to help Betsi continue to improve, the Welsh Labour Government has written off debts which would have been a huge barrier to continuing to provide the level of care we’ve seen during the pandemic and to its long-term recovery. We did this rather than force them to make cut-backs which would impact on crucial services.
The pandemic has highlighted how lucky are to have a National Health Service and we will continue investing in it to keep healthcare free at the point of need and to give the Welsh NHS the support it needs going forward. Since 2015-16, health spending per person in Wales has grown by 20% compared with 15% in England. That means we are now spending £2,546 per person – an extra £119 per person than England.
It’s also worth adding that, as part of the NHS recovery plan, Welsh Labour has committed to training 12,000 staff including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and psychologists with an 8% increase in training funding in 2021 and over the next five years.
13 – What are you planning to do to help those who are finding it hard to find work?
Creating the new green jobs of the future is one of Welsh Labour’s top priorities for the next Senedd term. We’ve safeguarded around 165,000 jobs throughout the pandemic, and in the next term we will go further. We will give every young person in North Wales under the age of 25 the guaranteed offer of a job or a place in education, training or self-employment and we’ll create 125,000 new all-age apprenticeship opportunities across Wales, building on the 100,000 we’ve created this term.
We’ll create the jobs needed in the area by building on the strengths of the region – its landscape and its culture. We’ll create a new National Forest running from north to south Wales and designate the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley as a new National Park to help create new green, sustainable jobs. We’ll also use our fantastic heritage to create jobs, including a major redevelopment of Theatr Clwyd, by creating a Museum of North Wales and by establishing the new Football Museum in Wrexham.
We’ll also use new infrastructure projects to create jobs – many of our new 20,000 low-carbon homes for social rent and our new 21st Century Schools will be built in North Wales, creating employment and new economic opportunities.
14 – The First Minister has called on people to vote Labour so your party can finish the job – the party has been in power over 20 years, how long does it take to finish this job and do what you’ve pledged?
Aiming to build a better country and continuing to improve people’s lives will never stop. The Welsh Labour Government has a proven track record of doing that and we have navigated our country through the worst public health crisis the vast majority of us have ever seen and hopefully will ever see. The last thing Wales needs now is to have that ripped up and our recovery jeopardised. We’ve had to make extremely difficult decisions and we’ve still delivered on our key pledges from 2016, and we’ll do so again.
15 – Plans for a North Wales Metro were announced in 2016 in the Wrexham Bus Station, but five years on work has only just started – what has taken so long and can you guarantee the project will be completed within the next Senedd term?
Work has been ongoing since 2016. Wrexham Bus Station is part of the wider project, but given the scale of our ambition this was always a long-term aim and not something that could be completed within a few years.
Huge sums are being invested by the Welsh Labour Government in the North Wales Metro and much more will come if the UK Government agrees to our calls for upgrades to the North Wales Main Line, the Wrexham to Bidston Line and the Marches Line. The UK Government is investing in the South Wales Metro through their City Deal, but it’s high time they invest in rail track and stations in the North too.
The Welsh Government investment has focused so far on Active Travel, bus infrastructure and rail development work, but we need the UK Government to make good on their historic under-investment in rail track and station works in North Wales. We in Welsh Government are determined to see new services, more frequent services and new stations in Wrexham and Flintshire, but track and station infrastructure remains the responsibility of Westminster, so we need UK Government to either pay for it or devolve the powers so we can do the work.
16 – Most parties are mentioning ‘change’. What would you say to those who say Labour has been in power for the duration of the Assembly / Parliament and it is time for a change?
It’s very easy to make promises, and not so easy to deliver on them. Welsh Labour has done exactly that. Every party can deliver changes in one way or another, and there is certainly an abundance of positive reforms put forward in our manifesto. I’m not sure the change people want is a Tory Government this side of Offa’s Dyke or another costly referendum.
17 – You have had a new role of Minister for North Wales, was this title a token gesture from Welsh Labour, and if not, what tangible benefit can the people of North Wales see today due to the role?
The Wrexham Gateway programme; Broughton’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre; the Trawsfynydd Development Company; the headquarters of the Development Bank of Wales here in Wrexham; the commitment to rebuild Theatr Clwyd; the creation of the first National Park in a generation in North East Wales and the progression of a cross-border economic stimulus package might not have happened without me being in the role. It’s been a privilege to work with key influencers in the area as North Wales Minister and I think the degree of collaboration and unity has been really beneficial for the people of Wrexham. Wrexham is on the up, has momentum and has confidence. That’s because we’ve put politics second to our determination to create a better place for the people we serve.
18 – If you change political allegiance from what you are currently seeking election for (eg. resigning from, or joining another party or group) will you trigger a by-election? If not, why not?
Put simply, this would never happen. I’ve been a member of the Labour Party since 1992 and I have no intention of turning my back on the values I was taught and still hold dear.
19 – At the time of writing where has the top three sources of funding for your campaign come from, and are there any funding sources you feel would be relevant to voters to know about?
Clwyd South Labour Party, Welsh Labour and Unite the Union.
20 – In a few lines to wrap this up, why are you the best candidate compared to your competitors?
I have put my heart and soul into standing up for, fighting for and championing Clwyd South for the past 10 years. I believe I have helped deliver positive change for Clwyd South as part of a Welsh Labour Government, and I want to continue doing so. As I said earlier, the job is never completed because there is always more you can do to help people and improve communities. I was born in Wrexham and do actually live in the constituency, which I think is important when it comes to knowing the key issues in such a diverse area.
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