By Jonathan Davies

The political parties in Wales have had their first face-to-face clash over what they would bring to the country at an election debate in Llanelli.

Hosted by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Wales at Parc y Scarlets, senior figures from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru battled for voters on topics including banking, the Severn Bridge, tourism and how Wales is funded.

Secretary of state for Wales Stephen Crabb represented the Conservatives and his opposite number Owen Smith was in place for Labour. The leader of the Liberal Democrat party in Wales Kirsty Williams joined them, and Plaid leader Leanne Wood gave the nationalist point of view.

Only parties with MPs elected in 2010 were invited, excluding the likes of UKIP and the Green Party.

The economy

The panel first faced the question of trust and why Welsh businesses should give theirs at the general election.

Labour's Owen Smith was quick to stress that the recession was not Labour's fault. He said: “Since then [2010] we have seen a full blown depression and the reason we can be trusted is that we won’t make the same mistakes as the Tories by taking a more balanced approach to stimulating growth, cutting when we think it’s necessary and raising taxes where appropriate.”

As you'd expect, Stephen Crabb spoke of the Conservatives' "track record over the past five years" and the 'long-term economic plan'. He said: “When we inherited this financial crisis we decided to set out a course of taking difficult spending decisions and the problem still needs to be fixed but fundamentally the course we are on is the right one and is bearing fruit for all of the UK.”

Kirsty Williams defended the Lib Dems' record in government “My party stepped up to the plate and it’s cost us dear politically but we recognised the economic situation that the country was in at the time.

“Confidence in the economy is returning and we have been part of that agenda and it was the right thing to do to get the economy back on track.

Leanne Wood said: “The vast majority of people in Wales don’t feel there has been an economic recovery.

“We can choose to support people, fund public services and choose to invest in our economy.

“If we we’re to end austerity it would benefit our country and other communities.”

Severn Bridge

In the Budget, the Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to cut the Severn Bridge toll for vans, bringing it into line with the basic car toll.

Ms Wood and Ms Williams both described the Severn Bridge tolls as a 'tax on Welsh businesses'. The Lib Dem Wales leader called for the tolls to be scrapped altogether, whilst the Plaid leader said they should be kept as low as possible after accounting for maintenance costs.

Mr Smith called for the Severn Bridge to brought back into public ownership by 2018 and for the government to determine the toll. Mr Crabb said he pitched the changes to George Osborne and maintained that tolls were needed.


Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood called for a bank to be set up in Wales, dedicated to lending to Welsh businesses to generate growth in the local economy.

Owen Smith said that, as we know, Labour would set up a British business bank. He also explained that it would have regional bases across the UK, with the remit of lending in those areas.