Jobs and Covid recovery: What are the issues important to people in the Rhondda?

  • Watch the video report by Rob Osborne

In just over a week’s time, the people of Wales will head to the polls and decide which party or parties will be governing the Senedd for the next political term.

In the last of the series, Wales Decides presenter Rob Osborne takes a look at the key battleground of the Rhondda, speaking to the candidates and the people ahead of the May 6th election.

Rhondda is a constituency in the south Wales valleys representing the villages of Treherbert, Treorchy, Ferndale, Porth and Tonypandy.

Wales will head to the polls on May 6th for the Senedd election

When heavy industry dominated this area, Labour was as much a part of the landscape as the mines. But when you look at the electoral history of Rhondda in Cardiff Bay, of the three people who have represented the area since devolution, two of them have been members of Plaid Cymru. 

Leanne Wood had a famous victory here back in 2016 when she beat Leighton Andrews, the Labour party candidate and incumbent of thirteen years.

Last time, when she won, she was the leader of Plaid Cymru. She hopes to repeat her victory in May, but can she do it without that high profile? 

She said: “I think I'm quite well known here in the Rhondda, so I don’t think I have a problem in terms of people not recognising me.

“I think people know the kind of work that I’ve done as well, so I stand on my record and I’ve worked really hard over the last five years to support people, to pull together campaigns and get involved in campaigns like the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, which was successful.”

Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru

Discussing her priorities for the constituency if she were to be re-elected, she said: “Rhondda took a particularly hard hit from Covid and so a plan to recover from that is essential. 

“That is going to require investment in the health service, in social care, in economic development, in education and skills, and of course we’ve got to be thinking about planning for climate change.

“We’ve already seen what climate change is capable of here in the Rhondda and we need to be prepared to protect people from these freak weather events in the future.”

Leanne Wood has strong name recognition and that probably helped in the last election to turn Rhondda green, but Labour want to turn it back red. 

Her Labour opponent might not be known nationally, but she certainly has strong local recognition. Her name is Elizabeth Williams, but is better known as ‘Buffy’.

The community worker wants to prioritise three things if she wins the seat. 

Elizabeth 'Buffy' Williams, Labour

“I think for me it’s going to be the way out of Covid”, she said.

“Also, the coal tips that we have here locally, that needs to be sorted out. Flooding -  I’ve done quite a lot of work there. They are the three things in the Rhondda that have got to take priority.

“Also, after Covid, we’re going to have to look at the mental health aspect of things in the Rhondda. I think that’s going to be a major part of the Covid recovery for us.”

Asked if she thinks she’s qualified to be a politician, she responded: “Is anyone? Is anyone qualified for any job that they go into? Was I qualified when I started a registered charity that I never knew anything about? 

“You get there and you use the experience you’ve got from on the ground and then you fight tooth and nail for everything you believe in, and I believe in the Rhondda and I believe that I can do a good job for the Rhondda.”

The Conservative candidate standing in the constituency is Tom Parkhill and his focus is on unemployment.

Tom Parkhill, Conservatives

He said: “Rhondda’s historically had a very high unemployment rate and at the minute it’s the second highest in Wales, so we want to bring more jobs here, which is going to make a real difference to people’s lives.” 

The Tories came fourth in the 2016 election with 2.2% of the constituency vote. But Mr Parkhill is hoping to do better on May 6th.

“I want to do more than retaining our deposits”, he said.

“We want to be looking at at least getting a good second place realistically here in Rhondda and to be able to hopefully push as far as we can.”

Other parties standing in this constituency are the Liberal Democrats, Reform UK and Abolish the Welsh Assembly.

Jackie Charlton, Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats candidate, Jackie Charlton, said: “We can make a difference and if we can show people by getting votes that we have something to contribute as well, we’ll help to ensure that whoever gets into power listens to some of those things.”

Representing Reform UK in the Rhondda is Steve Baylis. He said: “Obviously Brexit has been done, and despite Labour politicians and Plaid in the Rhondda campaigning against the will of the constituency, we fought for you and we will do so again.”

Steve Baylis, Reform UK

Ian McLean, from Abolish the Welsh Assembly, said: “Our main policy is to abolish the Welsh Assembly, but until such time, as a candidate I will be doing my best to fight their cause for them and that’s what our party will do.”

Ian McLean, Abolish the Welsh Assembly

Here is the full list of candidates standing in the Rhondda:

  • Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru

  • Elizabeth Williams, Labour

  • Tom Parkhill, Conservatives

  • Jackie Charlton, Liberal Democrats

  • Ian McLean, Abolish the Welsh Assembly

  • Steve Baylis, Reform UK

  • Steven Roger Phillips, Freedom Alliance, No Lockdowns, No Curfews

  • Jeff Gregory, Propel

Some say it will take a decade for the valleys to recover from the coronavirus. They had one of the highest death rates in the UK and the local economy is changing. 

But what issues are important to the people living in the Rhondda?

Clive, a butcher from Clydach Vale, would like to see "more jobs for the younger people, to get on the ladder to buy a property."

'Clive the butcher', Clydach Vale

Nicky, a solicitor in Tonypandy, says that "the property market is so, so busy" at the moment with more people moving to the valleys.

He believes that the main priority should be getting things back to some kind of normality.

He said: “Schools is important. It’s important that the kids get back in and get back to a bit of normality.

"Jobs is important, always, but it’s just getting things back to some sort of normal I suppose. I don’t know who has the best plans for that, I haven’t really looked into it too much.”

One family who know exactly what they want out of this election are the Wall family. 

The Wall family

The main issues concerning them are health and the economy.

Mum Yvonne is concerned about job opportunities in the area and would like to see more little shops opening in the Rhondda.

One of her daughters owns a shop in Tonyrefail. She hopes "that people haven’t got used to the online retailers."

Her other daughter works for the NHS and is worried that it's going to be “hard to catch up” over the next few years.

We've seen over the years that the Rhondda has the ability to surprise. The question is, will it do it again on May the 6th?

You can watch the full interview and more on Wales Decides at 10.45pm tonight on ITV Cymru Wales.