Andrew RT Davies AM is the Welsh Conservative Leader and Assembly Member for South Wales Central.
The Assembly’s political year came to an end this week with a debate on the lamentable five year record of First Minister Carwyn Jones, the passing of the Welsh Government’s budget deal with the Lib Dems and worthy recognition for the new Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, as Welsh Politician of the Year.
These three events sum up 2014. Carwyn Jones continues to drift along leading a vacuous government, which seems to be enjoying the trappings of power, but without the responsibility of delivering for hardworking people. Against almost every performance measure you can think of, the Welsh economy and public services are under-performing compared to other parts of the UK and other developed nations. Under Carwyn Jones’ five years as First Minister, waiting lists have more than doubled, Wales’ school standards rankings have tumbled and the Welsh economy remains the poorest of the UK.
The passing of Labour’s budget, thanks to Lib Dem support, would not have been complete without the usual whingeing about how everything wrong in Wales is the fault of the UK Government for not giving the Welsh Government enough money. Of course, this is the same old Labour Party which believes any problem can be solved by sloshing money around – the same belief which built up the UK’s biggest budget deficit since the Second World War. Carwyn Jones has the easiest job of any government leader in the world, spending money without taking any tough decisions on how to raise it.
This year, our new Secretary of State, Stephen Crabb picked up the Wales Bill and ran with it, working constructively with all political parties and achieving something historic. Future Welsh Governments will be responsible for raising a proportion for the money they spend, through stamp duty, land tax and following a referendum, a proportion of income tax. Future budgets from the Welsh Government will no longer be about shady backroom deals with minority parties and shifting cash from one pot to another, but will include the hefty responsibility of tax forecasts and raising revenue to invest.
This will make value for money more important, discourage waste and introduce decisions about levels of taxation into Assembly elections. Turnout in Assembly elections is regularly 20 per cent below the preceding UK general election, but tax arguments will engage voters and improve democratic participation.
As the only low tax party in Wales, we welcome this new element of political debate in Wales. I believe that low tax economies are more competitive and prosperous and that people can spend their own money better than politicians can. Welsh Conservatives have already set out how we can abolish stamp duty on house sales up to £250,000, cut income tax, abolish business rates for small businesses and freeze council tax.
The Welsh Government will no longer be a mere spending agency, able to blame every failing on a lack of money and the UK Government and will be genuinely accountable to voters for its policy decisions. In its final form, the Wales Bill is transfers considerable tools to the Welsh Government and to the National Assembly, not for devolution’s sake, but to improve the lives of the people of Wales. For delivering such monumental changes to Welsh democracy in such a consensual and considered way, Stephen Crabb’s award of Welsh Politician of the Year 2014 is a well-deserved accolade.