Watch now: Election 24: What’s at stake for Wales in the UK General Election?

With Prime Minister Rishi Sunak having confirmed that 2024 will be a General Election year, what opportunities and challenges can be predicted for social policy in Wales?

As part of our Campaign for Social Science’s ongoing project, Election 24: ideas for change based on social science evidence, we recently co-hosted an event featuring representatives from all three parties which hold seats in Wales to discuss their perspectives on a range of topics including the Welsh economy, climate change impacts in Wales, and international collaboration.

Run in partnership with Swansea University and the Wales Institute for Social and Economic Research and Data (WISERD) and chaired by Dr Matthew Wall, the event comprised a series of internal discussions featuring social scientists and researchers around how social science evidence can better inform policy throughout the day. These panels developed a list of questions which were then posed to Carolyn Harris MP (Welsh Labour, Swansea East), Tom Giffard MS (Welsh Conservatives, South Wales West), and Andrew Jenkins (Plaid Cymru candidate for Neath & Swansea East), at the concluding public-facing event.

The Welsh economy

First, the challenges and opportunities facing the Welsh economy were highlighted. The speakers discussed what the economic landscape in Wales looks like, how public funds can be used more effectively, and where further investment is needed.

Looking at the current state of the economy, Tom pointed out that inflation is going down and explained how this is the number one measure that can be taken to ensure that prices are affordable and help people cope with the cost-of-living crisis. Andrew added that it must also be considered how existing public funds can be maximised, looking at how money is being used to support Welsh businesses, jobs and communities.

Reflecting on future economic needs, Tom continued: “It’s [about] how do we grow that economy going forward, particularly here in Wales. The answer for me is really easy, we’ve got to invest in people, and we can go on to talk about education and apprenticeships in this country. […] But we also have to invest in infrastructural projects like the M4 relief road […] that is a major block on our economy and should have been built […]. It is not only about how do we protect the economy of today but how do we grow the economy for tomorrow?”

According to Andrew: “The Welsh economy urgently needs investment. It needs investment in transport, in energy, in digital connectivity, and Plaid Cymru has called for a commission to reform the tax system in a progressive way to ensure that we can continue funding public services.” Carolyn further suggested the creation of a public energy company that creates and stores energy. “[Energy] storage is a massive issue. No one ever talks about the huge lack of storage here [in Wales]”, she said.


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The climate crisis

The second agenda item was the climate crisis, with Andrew arguing that challenges and risks must be considered, and that what Wales needs isn’t a transition but a just transition. He said: “What we need to ensure is that there is the investment there to ensure that jobs aren’t lost at the speed and scale at which they are being lost. And we need to ensure when we see developments that they are benefiting the community they are situated in.”

Carolyn followed up on Andrew’s message to say that although climate change is an important issue, it is not the most important issue for a lot of people in Wales who are concerned about making ends meet in the current cost-of-living crisis. She continued by stating how housing can play an important role in addressing both the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis through effective insulation and heating. She said: “A massive issue is that there isn’t enough insulation, not enough homes are insulated, so we are seeing a lot of homes losing energy.”

Tom discussed the progress the UK has made on its net zero journey. He said: “The UK has cut carbon emissions quicker than any G7 nation […], investing in things like offshore wind. We’ve got the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and soon-to-be sixth, seventh and eighth largest offshore wind farms anywhere in the world here in the United Kingdom. We are moving in that direction, but it’s [about] how do we leverage the benefits of that green industrial future [in Wales]?”

He continued by pointing out what this green future could look like on the ground in Wales, with renewable energy infrastructure being built in towns and cities like Port Talbot, Milford Haven, and Swansea. “I’m really optimistic, despite everything we have seen over the last few weeks, about the future of Port Talbot as a town because it is going to be in the future a town that is based on green, clean energy, and Swansea [will be] an innovation hub that feeds that. And many of you will have seen the new freeport that will be based in Port Talbot and in Milford Haven, and that is a freeport, an economic driver, that is built fundamentally on building green, clean energy for the future – that could be responsible for 16,000 jobs […].”


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International relationships

Thirdly, the panel explored the relationship between countries in the United Kingdom including Wales and the European Union.
Tom started the conversation by saying how the relationship between the UK and the EU is an evolving one, just like the UK’s relationships with nations outside of the EU. He said: “The reason I say it’s evolving is because the nature of that relationship can change, so one of the things I was pleased to see in more recent times was the UK signing back up to the Turing Scheme for university students to seek placements abroad in European universities.”

Andrew continued the discussion by highlighting the importance of working closely with the UK’s European neighbours, a sentiment which Carolyn shared by saying that “we can and should be working with our European counterparts to get the best possible deal, to get the best possible structures and procedures to allow us to allow our young people to go live abroad […], to get the best trade deals […]”.


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The panel concluded with brief statements on the importance of improving cross-party relationships and collaboration.

Election 24: What’s at stake for Wales in the UK General Election?’ is part of Election 24: Ideas for change based on social science evidence, a Campaign for Social Science project which draws on a range of social science research to suggest evidence-based social policy directions ahead of a UK general election in 2024.

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