Wales' new voice in the UK government cabinet refuses to commit to addressing funding scandal

-Credit: (Image: WalesOnline/ Rob Browne)
-Credit: (Image: WalesOnline/ Rob Browne)

The most senior Welsh MP in the government has refused to commit to addressing the HS2 funding scandal which is set to deprive Wales of billions in transport investment over the coming decades.

Cardiff East MP Jo Stevens is the new Welsh Secretary in Keir Starmer's cabinet and spoke to WalesOnline about some of the biggest issues affecting people in Wales. Yet she said she could not make any promises about transport in Wales receiving funding as a consequence of the billions set to be ploughed into the HS2 rail line in England

Over the next two decades, a budgeted £66 billion is set to be spent on the high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham. Yet while Scotland and Northern Ireland will receive guaranteed additional funding for transport as a result of the spending, the line is being classed as an England and Wales project meaning Wales will not benefit.

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The Welsh Government has estimated that Wales has already missed out on hundreds of millions with spending on HS2 expected to continue until the 2040s with no consequential for Wales.

Ms Stevens said she does not plan to give the Welsh Government millions it has called for but that she will work on rail reform and ensure future projects are classified correctly.

She said: "I'm looking to the future. We will invest in rail, we have lots of proposals about rail reform and working with the Welsh Government, and that's just one example of how we'll work more closely together.

"Rishi Sunak stopped the project, he bust the budget and as much as I would like to turn the clock back, I can't turn the clock back and make unfunded spending promises. So looking to the future, of course the principle if you classify something it should be the right classification but we will be investing in rail in Wales and the investment we make will be that passengers get the rail service they need."

When asked if Wales would get any retrospective HS2 funding, she said: "I can't make those kind of promises but for the future there will be investment in Wales in rail."

She was appointed Welsh secretary by Keir Starmer the morning after Labour's landslide in the 2024 general election. She said her priority was ensuring Wales was somewhere businesses would invest in.

"My absolute priority, and it fits in with what we've said on our missions and first steps is economic stability, economic growth, investment into Wales and I want to make sure we take advantage of all the things we want to be doing with the wealth fund and green energy.

"Businesses have for many years not been able to make investment decisions because of the political instability, and economic instability that was a consequence of it that they can now feel confident they can come and invest in Wales and create new jobs that are good jobs, well paid and secure and we're playing our part in those new industries of the future. We've fantastic talent here in Wales and I really feel like we need to shout about it a lot more, have ambition for the country and particularly for the generation of young people coming through," she said.

Asked about Labour's drop of 4% in terms of votes since the previous election she denied it was due to Vaughan Gething's low popularity ratings.

"I back Vaughan completely. I back him 100%. I think he's getting on with the job so that's why one of the very first things I did after being appointed was to have a meeting with him to set out and agree how we're going to work together, the two governments working together for the benefit of people in Wales.

"Our strategy in this election was not to pile up loads of votes in seats we already held. We weren't taking any seat for granted but there's no point piling up majorities in those seats. You've got to win the seats you don't have so it was about the efficiency of our vote spread across Wales and it worked, the strategy worked really well. On any analysis gaining 27 MPs in Wales out of the 32 seats available is a phenomenal result. Nobody in, I think, other governments, like in in 2015 where the Tory vote share was about 37% and nobody was saying they didn't have a mandate to govern. We've just been given a huge mandate across the UK to govern and we're determined to deliver what we've promised."

She would not be drawn on the detail of what Labour was discussing with Tata steel in its bid to save jobs at Port Talbot.

"We're in discussions with Tata, I'm not going to disclose anything about those negotiations. The starting point is we're going to need more steel, not less. We want more steel made in the UK and I want more steel made in Wales because if we're going to deliver on our infrastructure aims, and our clean energy by 2030 aims we're going to need more steel. I want that to be made in Wales as well as across the UK. That's the starting point, of looking to the future," she said.

Labour MP for Cardiff East Jo Stevens, who has been appointed the new Secretary of State for Wales -Credit:WalesOnline/ Rob Browne
Labour MP for Cardiff East Jo Stevens, who has been appointed the new Secretary of State for Wales -Credit:WalesOnline/ Rob Browne

"Keir spoke to Tata on Saturday to the Indian leadership. Jonathan Reynolds and I have had conversations with them today and we're in regular dialogue with them. Parallel to that, obviously are the discussions between Tata and the unions representing the workforce and we don't want to see jobs going and compulsory redundancies. I know because of what I used to do before I was a politician is there may be some of the workforce that want to take a voluntary severance package and if that's going to be the case then we want that to be the best package possible. It's about the best package possible but this is about the future and making sure we have the capacity in Wales to be able to deliver."