With discussion going on elsewhere on the site today about what the Scottish Conservatives should be saying, I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight a recent speech by Nick Bourne, the leader of the Tories in the Welsh Assembly.
Addressing the North Wales Policy Forum in Llandudno the weekend before last, he congratulated the party on a string of excellent local election results and even raised the prospect of the party winning a second seat in Wales at June’s European Parliament elections.
He also pointed out how Wales is being especially badly affected by the economic crisis.
“In Wales, we have been hit particularly hard. Unemployment rose by 24,000 in the last quarter, the biggest increase of any UK nation or region. By Christmas, 100,000 people will be out of work. Workers, homeowners and pensioners are rightly asking what Labour and Plaid are doing for them… This crisis shows the need for parties to work together, to help businesses remain productive. And to ensure families and workers stay in their homes and jobs.”
Mr Bourne then set out five policy challenges for the Welsh Conservatives and proposals which the Labour/Plaid-run Assembly Government should adopt, which I have summarised below.
- Local businesses should be encouraged to source and outsource locally and helped to secure local public contracts.
- The Assembly Government should also bring forward a wave of
infrastructure projects, in housing, school refurbishment and
transport, to stimulate the economy, provide the affordable housing
that is so badly needed, and boost the struggling construction industry.
- The Assembly Government must expand and involve the private sector to a far greater extent in European convergence funding.
- More must be done to help Welsh businesses access global markets, by allocating more funding through Assembly Investment Grants.
- More funding must be allocated to the Wales Innovation Relay Centre to
support businesses in the transition to higher value-added and more
innovative products and services.
- The role of universities in research and development should be expanded.
- Apprenticeships and on-the-job training should be provided.
- The funding to make the Foundation Phase a success should be provided
and the funding gap that has developed between the Welsh and English
education systems must be closed.
- Budgetary plans written in the good times now need to be reviewed with
free school breakfasts being a luxury we cannot afford, for example.
Free prescriptions for all have put intense pressure on NHS budgets,
and may now have to be reviewed – it is right to ask those who can
afford to contribute, to do so.
- We agree with the dismantling of the Local Health Boards (but we wouldn’t have mantled them in the first place)
- The ideological drawbridges must come down which have seen the
Labour-Plaid Government attempting to end all involvement of the
private sector in the NHS and move towards what they call “in house”,
“in country” and “One Wales” solutions. This has meant, for example,
sending neurology patients from north Wales for treatment in Swansea or
Cardiff instead of a respected centre in Liverpool.
- The Labour-Plaid Government must not close its eyes to the benefits of
PFI or foundation status hospitals, nor to hospital contracts awarded
by tender in order to keep costs down, in return for the ideological
sanctity of “in house” solutions.
4. Welsh Language and Heritage
Every community must feel part of the Wales we are trying to build,
which means protecting and cherishing our Welsh language and Heritage.
- Labour and Plaid’s failure to support a daily Welsh Language newspaper
(Y Byd) has made it harder for Welsh speaking communities to play a
full role in our success as a nation – we would have given it our
- We call on the Assembly Government to do more to improve the status of the Welsh language in Wales.
- We call on the Assembly Government to provide more affordable homes, so that local people can stay in their local communities.
- We call on the Assembly Government to look again at Local Government
Settlements that have seen some councils given paltry rises and call on
it to act quickly and decisively to safeguard the money that Glyndwr
University and several councils had invested in Icelandic banks.
5. Social Justice
It is a scandal that in Wales there are now 130,000 more households in
fuel poverty than there were when Labour came to power. Labour and
Plaid must look again at the funding they have made available for the
Home Energy Efficiency Scheme.
- They must also look again at their child poverty strategy, and move to
combat the entrenched problems of benefit dependency, substance misuse
and alcohol abuse among families.
His peroration outlined his desire for a change from the centralised, target-led government currently in charge at Cardiff Bay:
“Nations and communities; homeowners, pensioners, patients and
children, cannot be micro-managed, controlled or dictated to from
above. We understand decisions are made best – and made to last – when
they are made by the people who know best. We know that devolution must
always be an extension of the desire for people to govern themselves.
Not a vehicle to be used by Ministers to grab more central control,
unleash more central targets or erect more barriers between communities.
“I firmly believe it will be our party that delivers the next stage of
devolution. Our reforms will put power and decision-making in the hands
of the doctors and nurses, not the Health Minister. In the hands of
school headteachers, not the Education Minister. Our reforms will tap
into the energy and enterprise of local voluntary groups and a thriving
business community, not leave them on the sidelines.
“The people of Wales can expect no help from the Lib Dems. When they
fell apart last summer, they denied Wales the fresh start a Rainbow
Alliance could have brought. They can expect no help from Plaid. In
their new-found acquiescence, Plaid Cymru has been dominated by Labour.
And Labour is dominated by its top-down dogma. A party that cannot
escape the Houdini chains of state control and centralisation has
failed Wales and its people.”