A Year of Change in Wales: What’s in store for FMCG policy in 2024

As Wales’ political landscape braces for a transformative 2024, the FMCG sector finds itself at a crucial juncture. The Spring 2024 appointment of a new First Minister, and a resulting shift in Cabinet political dynamics and personnel in the Welsh Government, will significantly shape the direction of future policy making in Wales – both in 2024 and in advance of the next set of Senedd elections (taking place by 2026). So, more than ever it’s a critical moment for FMCG companies to be developing their devolved engagement strategy, to help shape the future landscape from the get-go, which could see very real impacts on food and packaging policy.

Leading candidates Jeremy Miles and Vaughan Gething, with their distinct and differentiated political stances, offer a glimpse into the potential direction of their respective administrations. Jeremy Miles, embodying the traditional radical socialist ethos of Welsh Labour, stands in contrast to Gething’s more centrist ‘Starmerite’ approach. The apparent favouring of Jeremy Miles’ candidacy within the parliamentary Senedd group underscores the substantial influence the eventual leader could wield, marking a clear break from ‘continuity’ and the implementation of a bold new agenda. This power will extend beyond the realms of the Welsh Labour Party, and could impact national UK policy, too. It’s imperative for businesses to view Wales as a test bed for wider policy rollouts – where one UK nation moves first, the others very often follow in a domino effect. So it’s not just Welsh-focused businesses that need to be watching this leadership race unfold.

The anticipated change in leadership also signifies a potential evolution in the relationship between the central and devolved Labour governments. With the potential absence of a Conservative Government in Westminster – which historically has been easy for opposition governments in Wales to criticise and separate themselves from, a Labour majority at the UK General Election could find Welsh Labour navigating themselves through trickier waters.

While there will be expectations of greater policy alignment between the two Labour administrations, a Jeremy Miles-led Welsh Government will want to put down a clear marker – differentiating itself from the national Labour Party, maintaining this ‘clear red water’ from the central party. Likely going further and faster on regulation for the FMCG sector. Whether this be around an accelerated push to reach Net Zero and improve recycling, or to penalise companies for the manufacturing of HFSS foods, deemed unhealthy, Jeremy Miles will be keen to pursue a more interventionist approach than Starmer, and showcase Wales at the forefront of policy innovation. This could prove controversial – and will put pressure on Starmer to follow suit, presenting a united front. A key example of this is the deposit return scheme in Wales. A stronger relationship and greater policy alignment between the Welsh Government and in Westminster, most likely under a Vaughan Gething-led premiership, could resolve the current gridlock and divergence in scheme material scop, whereas Jeremy Miles will likely continue to push for Welsh autonomy in deciding the future of its scheme.

Businesses navigating complex regulation therefore need to keep abreast of this highly changeable and evolving political landscape in Wales.  There is no guarantee that having a Labour government in both Cardiff and Westminster will ensure seamless alignment. Especially with the Welsh Labour Party under increasing pressure to preserve its distinctive Welsh identity in light of potential advances from Plaid Cymru. It’s crucial for organisations to use this current window to lay the groundwork with future policy-makers in Wales, setting out your advocacy positions and policy asks clearly. Let’s not forget that it’s not just the First Minister that will be changing – whoever wins the race will bring with them a new set of faces at the Cabinet table and advisers behind the scenes.

But it’s not just Welsh Labour that businesses need to be prioritising. The termination of the cooperation agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Labour Government signifies a paradigm shift, presenting organisations with increased opportunities to engage with opposition parties like Plaid Cymru who were previously time-poor and constrained by the requirement to toe the party line. Opposition influencers, particularly those with growing popularity ahead of the next set of Welsh elections, could prove increasingly vocal in the Senedd – particularly for businesses with a Welsh constituency footprint.

The FMCG sector must prepare itself for political change in 2024, not just in Westminster, but also in Wales. Now is the time to ensure your business voice is heard – mitigating future risk of regulation, and spotting opportunities to support innovative policy thinking in Wales.

By Math Williams. To speak to our dedicated Wales public affairs team about how we can support you in this year of political change, please contact our Head of Wales via: sian.jones@grayling.com