Leanne Wood is the leader of Plaid Cymru and a Member of the National Assembly for Wales (AM). She has been an AM since 2003, representing the South Wales Central region until 2016. In 2016, Leanne Wood was elected to be the AM for Rhondda. As Leanne is the Assembly Member for Rhondda, her answers can only represent people living in the Rhondda.
What difference have you made to Rhondda Cynon Taf since you’ve been elected?
Since I was elected last year I have focused on delivering as part of the opposition to the Welsh Government. We were not able to form a Plaid Cymru Government after the election, but that has not prevented us from delivering on many of our manifesto commitments. Plaid Cymru has managed to secure extra investment for our health service, extra investment for universities and colleges, and extra investment for all-age apprenticeships. Extra money has also been provided for a targeted non-domestic rate relief grant scheme to help small businesses. The demise of the high street is something that affects many towns in RCT. Plaid Cymru activists are focussing on ways in which town centres like Tonypandy in the Rhondda – my constituency – can be improved.
A pilot scheme to introduce full-time education for three-year-olds is also underway in Ferndale. This was a key manifesto commitment for us and I know it would be welcomed across RCT, after the provision was watered down by the local authority.
An important part of being an opposition Assembly Member is scrutiny of the Welsh Government. I have held various Cabinet Secretaries to account for a number of issues that affect people in the Rhondda and wider area. I have never been afraid to call out the Welsh Government when they are failing the people of the Rhondda, and that will continue.
I have also made it easier for constituents to get their issues dealt with by introducing a street surgery system. This involves me going to different parts of the Rhondda every Friday and visiting people in their homes to tackles the problems they face. Already I have offered this service to more than 14,000 homes and am well on course to covering every household before the end of this Assembly. People are also able to contact me in the normal ways by getting in touch with the office.
What will you do to improve the prospects of young people and what should be done to ensure that young people have their voices heard?
I have fully supported the creation of a youth parliament. It is a travesty that the previous youth parliament was closed in 2014 by the Labour Government in Wales without any plans to replace it. This meant Wales was the only country in Europe without an independent youth forum. I am pleased to see that Plaid Cymru AM and Presiding Officer, Elin Jones, has now got plans to reinstate a Welsh Youth Parliament back on track with a consultation held earlier this year. Any new parliament will be key to ensuring the voices of young people are heard and acted upon.
I have recently been visiting schools, talking, listening and answering questions about everything related to our politics and democracy. I support votes at 16 and proportional represenation so that every vote counts. If young people can’t make their voices heard, then it is easy for the governments of Westminster and Wales to ignore them. I would like to see more job and career opportunities created in the Rhondda because too many of our young people are forced to leave for work. Often they don’t return after settling down elsewhere. This is why I have called for the City Region Deal to start work on its outer areas – like the Rhondda – with job creation and infrastructure improvements. This was the subject of a public meeting in Ferndale earlier this year and is part of an ongoing campaign by Plaid Cymru. It’s also why we have sought to link student support to committing to working in Wales after graduation.
What’s the biggest challenge the world faces today, in your opinion?
Climate change has been the biggest challenge for some time. Global warming is a scientific fact and it seems that key world leaders are not prepared to do what is necessary to safeguard our planet for future generations. That is a dereliction of duty on their part and history will not look back on them too kindly upon them unless they change tact soon.
I am also concerned about the rise in extremist views. You only have to scratch the surface on social media to see there are many people holding racist, supremacist and other disturbing views, and they are not afraid or ashamed to express them. History has shown us the catastrophic consequences that can occur if this goes unchecked.
What’s the number one thing you hope to change in Rhondda Cynon Taf?
I want to make RCT – and the constituency I represent in particular – a more prosperous place. I don’t want us to be a dormitory commuter area for Cardiff or further afield. Since the demise of the coal industry, there has been no real plan about how we replace the many thousands of jobs our communities lost. We have been ignored for decades. That cannot happen any longer. We are still here and we are not going away.
As well as the achievements outlined in a previous answer, I am making sure the Rhondda gets raised on a regular basis and putting pressure on the authorities to do match their words with deeds. The Valleys Task Force was set up soon after my election. Some people said that was not a coincidence. I will be watching closely to ensure it delivers on its promises.
To find out more about the work of Assembly Members, the Welsh Government and more, you can visit: Your Assembly.
Did you know that you can also visit the Senedd? Or ask a represenative to come and speak to your school, youth group or organisation? Just contact the NAfW’s Youth Engagement Team.
Interview > Interview with Pontypridd AM, Mick Antoniw