Andrew RT Davies MS column:

AFTER the most surreal election campaign I’ve ever been involved in, it’s a pleasure to be back writing my column.

I’d like to begin by thanking the people of Barry for returning me as your representative once again.

COVID restrictions meant I couldn’t knock doors until late into the campaign, so I didn’t get the opportunity to speak to as many of you as I’d have liked.

It’s the fourth time I have been elected to serve you as your regional representative, and it’s a huge privilege to do so.

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South Wales has been my home for my whole life, and I am exceptionally honoured to have the opportunity to represent it.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mark Drakeford and Welsh Labour on being returned to government in Wales.

While we disagree on many issues, sometimes passionately, it’s in all our interests for the government to succeed.

It’s vital we emerge from the pandemic with a strong economic recovery, and I wish new ministers all the best.

As Welsh Conservatives, we achieved our best ever results, gaining five seats to return with 16 members.

Democracy relies on scrutiny and accountability, and we look forward to providing that over the next five years.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we must put our recovery first.

That means supporting businesses, and those in power must do all they can to help them thrive.

It’s been a torrid year for the hospitality industry, pubs, bars and cafes in the Vale have really struggled.

Outdoor dining has offered them a ray of hope, with capacity still limited inside.

We’ve been treated to a continental style café culture, with many local businesses offering outdoor dining on the streets.

And I congratulate the Vale Council for the role they have played in making this a reality.

But it’s bitterly disappointing that the Labour-Vale Independent Council now see this as a moneymaking opportunity.

They’ve decided to impose fees of between £150 and £750 on those businesses who make use of outdoor space.

Another financial pressure like this is the last thing they need.

It’s in the interests of the local economy for local businesses to thrive, since they provide jobs and make the town so much more attractive.

Most businesses live hand to mouth, and these charges could really be the difference between survival and closure.

At the Council’s Environment and Regeneration Scrutiny Committee, Conservative councillors proposed an amnesty, scrapping the charges at least until the pandemic is behind us.

Unfortunately, this was voted down by Labour councillors.

At all times, we need councils and governments to be pro-business, not least in the midst of a global pandemic.

It’s truly mind boggling that the Labour-run Council instead seem to view them as a cash cow.

These charges must be scrapped, and I’ll do all I can to keep the pressure up.

Right now, local businesses need our support, so please lend your voice to the many calling on the Council to think again.