Vaughan Gething voted Labour/Co-op leader of Welsh government

Gething is a vocal supporter of the co-op movement, with a commitment to growing the sector – but faces a tough set of challenges as he takes office

Welsh Labour / Co-op politician Vaughan Gething is the new first minister of the devolved government after winning the Welsh Labour leadership election with 51.7% of the vote.

A vocal supporter of the co-op movement, Gething previously served as minister for health and social Services from 2016 to 2021 and minister for the economy from 2021 to 2024. He has been MS for Cardiff South and Penarth since 2011.

Co-op projects he has supported include efforts to set up a national community bank, Banc Cymru, and last year at the Wales Co-op Party conference, he pledged £1.7m of funding a year for the next two years to help support businesses with the transition to employee ownership and social enterprise.

The first black person to leads Wales – or to head up any national government in Europe – he narrowly beat fellow Co-op Party member Jeremy Miles, who took 48.3%, and takes over from Mark Drakeford, also a prominent co-op supporter.

Wales Co-op Party welcomed the news in a tweet. “We’re proud that Wales has such a strong advocate of co-operative principles as first minister,” it said. “Vaughan has been a vocal advocate of doubling the number of co-operatives and we’re ready to make it happen in Wales.”

And Joe Fortune, general secretary of the UK Co-op Party, said: “It’s fantastic to see Labour and Co-op MS Vaughan Gething become the new first minister. Throughout his time in the Senedd, he has championed the co-operative model and has been key to achieving the Welsh government’s aim of doubling the number of employee-owned businesses. 

“The Co-operative Party looks forward to continuing to work with him in the future.”

Bethan Webber, CEO of Welsh co-op development agency Cwmpas, said: “We congratulate Vaughan Gething on his election as first minister of Wales at a crucial time for our country. Many commitments in his leadership manifesto demonstrate his co-operative values – from promising to further double the number of employee-owned businesses, to directing more public procurement to the social enterprise and co-operative sectors.

“We are looking forward to working with him and the Welsh government as we seek to build a stronger, greener and more co-operative economy that creates sustainable prosperity for Welsh communities.”

After his victory, Gething said: “Today, we turn a page in the book of our nation’s history. Not just because I have the honour of becoming the first black leader in any European country – but because the generational dial has jumped, too.”

He added: “Devolution – Welsh solutions to Welsh problems – that’s in my blood. It’s what I’ve always known.”

Born in Zambia in 1974, where his father, a vet from Glamorgan, met his mother, a Zambian chicken farmer, he was brought to the UK at the age of two. The family tried settling in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire. but suffered racial discrimination and moved to Dorset, where Gething was raised.

He returned to Wales to study law at Aberystwyth University, graduating in 1991 and continuing his academic career at the University of Cardiff Law School. His student years included a term as president of Aberystwyth University Guild of Students, as well as the first black president of the National Union of Students Wales.

Working with trade union law firm Thompsons in Cardiff, Gething specialised in employment law and, in 2008, became the youngest president of Wales TUC, aged 34.

Active in the Labour Party since 1992, he sat on Cardiff City Council from 2004 to 2008, representing Butetown ward.

Gething was was congratulated by UK Labour leader Keir Starmer and prime minister Rishi Sunak on his leadership win. But he faces difficult questions over donations of around £200,000 from Cardiff waste company Dauson Environmental Group, which has been fined for waste offences.

Gething’s campaign has said the donations were declared in line with the rules and in a BBC Wales interview he has re-stated his commitment to “firmer environmental regulation”. But Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth called on him to return the cash. And Gething’s Welsh Labour colleague Julie James, who serves as climate change minister, told BBC Wales there needs to be a “full-scale” review of the rules for running elections.

Gething also takes the helm of an administration which is wrestling with a formidable set of challenges, with tight finances to manage, continued opposition to the 20mph speed limit, farmers’ protests, and concerns over Welsh NHS waiting lists and school performance.