Vaughan Gething: What problems are facing the new Welsh leader?


On a cold Wednesday night, in the shadows of the Port Talbot steelworks, a group of men is playing football under the floodlights.

The game has been arranged by a local group called Marauders Men’s Health, which provides help to those struggling with mental health problems.

Increasingly, the team is made up of men from the steel plant – whose jobs are under threat following significant cuts announced earlier this year.

The football game organised by Marauders Men’s Health

As the new Welsh Labour leader Vaughan Gething prepares to take over as first minister, he doesn’t need to look much further than Port Talbot to find out what’ll be top of his in-tray.

“It’s been a pretty torrid time, to be honest,” Dan Era told Sky News.

The 37-year-old has worked at the plant for more than 10 years – his grandfather was a miner in South Wales.

“If you go through the Valleys, there’s a lot of poverty already and to lose this big industry it’s going to be devastating. There’s a lot of history there.

“The opportunity for my children, well-paid jobs, there’s not much industry left in South Wales. If it does go, it’s going to be awful,” he said.

The Man of Steel sculpture in Port Talbot From Dan Whitehead
The Man of Steel sculpture in Port Talbot

Mr Era’s fears are echoed by colleague and team-mate Carl Jarvis – a third generation steelworker.

“Towns like this are going to die because people are going to have to leave to go to places like Cardiff or Swansea just to be able to earn a living.

“I think that the priority is bringing businesses in and money back into towns,” he said.

A sign for the Port Talbot Steel Works.

The future of urban industry is understandably top of the list for Port Talbot – but the new leader of Wales has battles to fight in rural areas too.

In recent weeks, thousands of angry Welsh farmers have mobilised – worried about new rules allowing them to obtain post-Brexit subsidies.

Requirements under consideration will mean farmers need to ensure 10% of their land is set aside for trees – which some say makes their farms unviable.

One of those angry at how Wales is treating its agricultural community is Eleri Lewis from the Plaid-controlled town of Aberaeron in mid-west Wales.

Her family have farmed here for decades and also run holiday lets.

We meet her at her local pub the Black Lion – which incidentally held a celebration party the night Mark Drakeford announced he was stepping down.

“They don’t really seem to listen to the farmers. They don’t seem to listen to people in hospitality,” she said.

The Valleys via drone From Dan Whitehead

“People are at breaking point and it’s sad to see. My son will be a fourth-generation farmer, he wants to go into regenerative farming, which is the most sustainable best way of farming possible.

“Growing trees in lines is not a carbon-neutral way of sustaining things.

“We do feel like we’re being hit from every angle. Financially, we feel everything is unsustainable as it is.”

Laura McAllister, professor of Public Policy and Governance of Wales at Cardiff University, says she’s not surprised economic concerns are top of people’s list for the new first minister.

“It’s a pretty big in-tray, being completely honest. We have quite a few job losses, not just in Port Talbot at the steelworks, but in other important industries across Wales.

“We know that the Welsh economy is fragile… I’d be very surprised if any member of the public didn’t raise issues to do with job security, economic growth and sustainability.”

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Those worries are echoed 100 miles away from Aberaeron in the capital, Cardiff.

We meet mother-of-three Annabel Hughes at a local soft play centre.

She spent the last 14 years as a teacher in South Wales, but after having her children says she can’t afford to return to work.

“I worked out with my husband it would cost about £90 a day for before and after school club for my three children, which cancels out the thought of me going back to work.

“I was absolutely devastated when I realised that I couldn’t do what I knew I was passionate about and I just hope that whoever is elected can hear the views of me and all the people like me and act on it.”

Welsh Senedd

As Wales prepares for a new leader, a general election also looms for MPs in Wales. There are no Senedd elections until 2026.

If Labour secures power in Westminster, it’ll see the party in power on both sides of the Severn Bridge for the first time in 14 years.

But Professor McAllister says that it may not be plain sailing for the ruling party in Wales.

“I wouldn’t take it as read that relationships have naturally improved when the UK prime minister and the first minister are from the same party.

“I think there’s no doubt this dynamic will change for a couple of reasons; it will be less easy for Welsh Labour to blame the UK government – typically on the funding front.”

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