THE new Secretary of State for Wales has visited North Wales for the first time.
Stephen Crabb, who was recently appointed to the Cabinet to replace Clwyd West MP David Jones, dropped in on two of the region’s aerospace powerhouses yesterday.
Mr Crabb met some of the 6,000 staff at Airbus before going on to Magellan Aerospace in Llay, which is a supplier to the Broughton wingmaking giant.
Mr Crabb was shunted into the Welsh job last week as part of a bigger-than-expected Tory reshuffle by David Cameron.
Speaking to the Leader at Broughton, he appeared unfazed by his sudden appointment.
“I’m on day nine and counting,” he said.
“At some point I’ll stop and be able to reflect on how it has been.
“For the last two years, I was junior minister in the Wales Office and I didn’t expect to be doing this job at this point in the Government cycle.”
Mr Crabb’s predecessor Mr Jones’ was a Ruabon Grammar School pupil and his family ran pharmacies around the Wrexham area.
“I feel desperately sorry for my good friend and colleague David Jones,” Mr Crabb added.
“But it’s an exciting opportunity and I aim to give Wales a strong voice in the Cabinet.”
Only a few of the 6,000 Airbus employees were on hand to meet Mr Crabb but the group included stalwarts of the site and also some of the newest additions – a small group of apprentices drawn from the most recent batch of recruits.
Mr Crabb, who is MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire in South West Wales, said he’s aware Airbus is a hugely important part of the Flintshire economy and is key to North Wales as a whole.
He said: “It’s an example not just because of its size but because of its work links with European industry.
“This isn’t just about one Airbus plant, it’s about the UK manufacturing industry and how it contributes to the Welsh economy.
“This is the first time I’ve visited Airbus in Broughton.
“To say it’s impressive is understating it.
“It’s a world class facility.
“I’ve been talking to apprentices and more experienced staff on the workforce and they give you a good idea of what excellence means here.”
Before the visit, Mr Crabb pledged to “champion” North Wales, through continuing improvements to the region’s infrastructure and encouraging new investment.
Unlike his predecessor, Mr Jones, Mr Crabb has no familial roots in the North Wales area but he asserted the region would not be forgotten.
Some may be sceptical of this.
Recent news that £1 billion has been pledged to the M4 bypass in an attempt to cut congestion on the arterial route around Newport triggered criticism from local AMs who were concerned that similar investment would not be seen in North Wales.
Llyr Gruffudd, AM, said the plans were “shocking”, while Aled Roberts, AM, said the measure was effectively “starving” the north.
Mr Crabb said: “I spend a lot of time talking to MPs from all over Wales.
“I’m a West Walian myself so I’m sensitive to the percieved regional divisions and the worry that Cardiff and the south is crowding out investment.
“But there are simply very important projects that need to happen in all areas of the country – and the M4 bypass is one of them.
“There has historically been good investment in the A55 and it’s true there needs to be more to allow it to do the job it is there for – to provide a corridor across the region.”
He also spoke of rail developments on the cards for the region.
“I’m pleased to see the Halton Curve development, which will link North Wales with Liverpool, is ongoing and that there are talks about the Wrexham-Bidston rail link.
“There are proposals for the electrification of the North Wales main line, with the potential of tying it in with the HS2 line.”
It is fitting Mr Crabb chose Airbus as one of his first stops in the region.
The factory, where operatives are set to work on the wings for the new A330neo aircraft, has a worldwide presence.
Aircraft wings constructed in Broughton have spanned the world and they bear the liveries of many major airlines.
Steve Crawford, head of long range wings at Airbus, said: “Our recent success at the Farnborough airshow, including the launch of the A330neo last week with more than 120 commitments from airlines, marks the start of another exciting chapter for the Broughton plant and for UK manufacturing.
"We’re delighted to welcome the Secretary of State for Wales to our state-of-the-art facility so he can see first-hand how important the aerospace sector is in Wales.”
In 2010, Peter Hain, then Secretary of State for Wales, visited Norhop as possible job losses at the Flintshire Toyota plant were on the horizon.
The timing of Mr Crabb’s visit to Magellan Aerospace in Llay was just as interesting, given that the site has been earmarked for eight job losses.
Workers were also planning to strike over a “very inadequate pay offer” – although it was averted at the 11th hour.
When quizzed about whether jobs would be protected in the North Wales manufacturing industry, Mr Crabb said: “There’s a lot of Government support going into the aerospace industry. We want to make it secure UK-wide.
“Part of the reason for visiting Airbus today was to look at the plant and see how it’s working – and it is working well.
“The truth is that in the private sector, private companies will always need to scale back or scale up their operations from time to time – and that will affect jobs – to make sure the operation remains successful.”
Currently, the aerospace industry employs more than 23,000 people across 130 companies in Wales, and, across Britain, the industry is expected to grow at a rate of 6.8 per cent over the next few years.
When asked what he thought the biggest issue facing North Wales, he said: “The biggest and most important priority for me is making sure I’m doing what I can to ensure economic recovery right across the board, that the improvements we are seeing in the UK are delivering maxumum benefits in Wales.
“I won’t be confident talking about economic recovery until people in Wales are seeing the results.
“I’m aware that in places like Alyn and Deeside and Delyn, we’ve seen some really sizeable drops in unemployment over the last four years, whereas in other parts of North Wales, like Wrexham, the drop in unemployment has not been as big as we’d have expected it to be.
“What we need to to see is the economic recovery benefit all parts of North Wales.”