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Isherwood: Making families stronger and society more responsible

Speech to the Welsh Conservative Party conference, Venue Cymru, Llandudno.

"P'nawn da/Good Afternoon.

'Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing on others, he has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion of all which society…. can do in his favour'. So said Edmund Burke.

'There is a limit beneath which no person may fall, but no limit to which any person may rise'. So said Churchill.

This is absolutely consistent with what our 21st Century Party is saying today. We don't just ask what Government can do. We ask what people can do, what society can do.

It's a big difference from Labour and Plaid Cymru, who instinctively believe in state control -stifling progress, destroying morale and wasting money.

We each have a social responsibility to make our nation fairer by ensuring that no-one is excluded.

A fortnight ago in Llandudno, Labour's Deputy Leader Harriet Harman recycled the tired old sound byte that "Tories are the same old nasty Party."

Which begs the response: 'You can always tell a socialist, but you can't tell them much!'

The hard truth for Labour is that Welsh Conservatives have a strong belief in Social Justice.

Mae'r Ceidwadwyr Cymreig yn credu'n gryf mewn cyfiawnder cymdeithasol.

We recognise that Social Justice is about the achievement of Justice in every aspect of Society. We live not as isolated individuals, but as friends, neighbours, colleagues, families.

We want to build a STRONGER SOCIETY, tackling poverty, social exclusion, cross-generational breakdown and crime - and improving community life in Wales.

We recognise that tackling crime is not just a criminal justice issue, it is also a social justice issue - requiring new life choices so that offenders can move away from crime and make a positive contribution to their community.

We do believe that the Assembly Government is sincere in wanting to create a fairer nation -

- but their blinkered policies have failed to deliver.

Why should Socialists be buried 100 feet deep?

- Because, deep down, they're really good people!

How many Socialists does it take to change a light bulb?

- It's irrelevant: they still don't know they're in the dark!

Speaking in Llandudno a fortnight ago, the Welsh Secretary, Paul Murphy, stated that "Labour should remember that services and social justice were the priority".

Poor man - he doesn't seem to realize that it's a bit too late for that!

After 15 years of economic growth, our public finances should be in a healthy state.

There should be plenty of money left in the coffers to prop up the economy during the harder times.

But the coffers are empty.

The UK has the largest structural budget deficit in Europe because Gordon Brown borrowed in a boom, when he should have saved, and then spent all of the money inflating an unsustainable economy.

This is sheer economic incompetence.

The economic environment that allowed consumers to borrow cheaply, re-mortgage quickly and run up large debts has changed, and tougher times lie ahead.

Mr Brown's career as a serious politician is over.

AND now we have 'The Darling Duds of Brown'.

The only question is whether his Darling successor at the Treasury is his puppet or his fall-guy

- trapped between a Northern Rock and a hard place!

Britain is now poorly prepared for any possible economic downturn and Wales is least prepared of all.

With 60 per cent of its economy in the public sector, Wales is particularly vulnerable as the cuts start to bite.

The Labour Assembly Government Finance Minister has stated that the latest Assembly Government budget should mark a new way of looking at its impact on expenditure, concentrating on the outcomes from its spending -

- which of course begs the question: what on earth they have been doing with taxpayers' money for the last nine years?

It is not now a policy option to spend more money to generate growth.

As Government spending shrinks in real terms, the challenges facing the Welsh economy will intensify.

Wales suffers the greatest debt poverty in the United Kingdom.

Economic inactivity rose last year.

511,000 working-age people in Wales are not in work -

- And more than 1 in 6 young people are not in work, education or training.

Economic dependency is not being eradicated, it is becoming entrenched.

Creating wealth is the key to the future - yet despite billions in European funding, prosperity in Wales has fallen to just 77% of the UK average.

Wales has retained its position as the poorest nation or region in the United Kingdom.

Rhodri Morgan's career as a serious politician is over.

The fastest growing UK regions have all taken steps to involve the private and voluntary sectors in economic growth and public service delivery.

But the Labour/Plaid Assembly Government continues to bury its head in the sand and remote control from the centre.

This reminds me of the man in a hot air balloon who realized he was lost.

He lowered altitude and, spotting a woman below, shouted:

"Excuse me, can you help me? I don't know where I am."

The woman consulted her portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon approximately 30 feet above a ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level. You are 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude."

The balloonist rolled his eyes and said, "You must be a Conservative."

"I am," replied the woman. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."

The woman smiled and responded, "You must be a Socialist."

"I am," replied the balloonist. "But how did you know?"

"Well," said the woman, "You don't know where you are or where you're going.

You've risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air - and now you expect ME to solve your problem.

You're in EXACTLY the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now, it's MY fault".

Our Party's challenge is to transform public services in Wales into the world leading services they can be -

putting the customer at their heart, delivering modern public services in real working partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors.

The "Third Sector" - charities, voluntary/ community organisations and social enterprises - must be allowed to play an increasing role in public service reform and social and economic regeneration -

- with both Assembly Government and Local Councils' commissioning publicly-funded services on a level playing field.

Social Enterprises and Co-operatives can inject dynamism and consumer focus without losing public values and accountability.

The voluntary sector in Wales is more dependent on state funding than elsewhere in the UK -

- But dither and delay by the Assembly Government is having a detrimental effect on voluntary sector funding - and therefore on communities, individuals and services across Wales.

The sector must be supported to become more entrepreneurial and to build the confidence that will allow it to "speak truth to power".

Because one word 'off script' in Bangor or Bridgend may be heard by the tin pot despots currently in Government in Cardiff Bay!

As David Cameron says, we must move from an age of bureaucratic control to an age of democratic control.

It is not fair or efficient for the state to control society.

With Local Government elections fast approaching, we must seek to invigorate local democracy in town hall and civil society.

And we must relieve Councils' of unfunded burdens and red tape.

But, in turn, local people must hold their local politicians more accountable.

We must also recognise that after the May elections, newly elected Councils' will be working in a financial straightjacket.

Welsh Councils' described the recent Labour/Plaid Assembly Government Budget "as being little more than an exercise in window dressing" - stating that "the level of settlement meant cuts in services" and that "the lack of investment in the future is unforgivable".

As Help the Aged states:

'The Welsh Assembly Government advocates …..care services…that encourage people to stay fit and healthy for as long as possible. However…further cuts…will make it harder than ever…to fulfil this aspiration'.

Child poverty in the UK is rising again.

Wales has a higher proportion of family poverty, at 30%, than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

Work is the route out of poverty, but over 15% of Welsh children live in workless households.

In 24 out of the 40 Welsh constituencies, 20% or more of children are growing up in households claiming out of work benefits.

Nearly 68,000 children in Wales live in poverty despite having at least one parent in work.

Ten days' ago, the Labour Social Justice Minister published a written statement on child poverty which stated that "improving the life chances of our children is at the top of the list of priorities for the Assembly Government" - but which in reality amounted to little more than a self-congratulatory wish-list!

As one Charity recently told me, "we are battling to rescue and serve the poorest children in Wales - and as a result are finding ourselves in a battle with a Labour and supposedly socialist authority".

So let me make it absolutely clear:

Mae'r Ceidwadwyr Cymreig wedi ymrwymo /at daclo'r problemau sydd wrth wraidd Tlodi Plant / a'r llu mawr sydd mewn angen / yng Nghymru heddiw.

Welsh Conservatives are committed to tackling the root causes of child poverty and multiple deprivation in Wales today.

A UNICEF Report last year judged the UK the worst place out of 21 developed countries to be a child.

Our challenge is to build a strong and confident society in which children live, play and grow happily within boundaries which are the responsibility of all adults AND boundaries which are also the responsibility of young people themselves.

We must get our Police Officers back on the street, accountable to local people and delivering the zero-tolerance policing that our communities are crying out for.

Chief Constables must be permanently focused on the public's priorities, not anything else.

And we must restore the covenant between Police and Government and police and public so badly damaged by Labour.

Housing waiting lists across Wales now exceed 80,000.

Only a minority now manage to climb onto the property ladder.

Poor housing links directly to ill-health, educational under-achievement and poor life chances thereafter.

However, Assembly Government funding for social housing is still less than that inherited from the Conservative Government in 1997.

Despite rising mortgage repossessions and longer waiting lists, this represents a 71 per cent cut after allowing for house price inflation.

Since devolution, only one new social home has been provided in Wales for every four provided over the last 8 years' of Conservative Government.

Labour broke the housing ladder and created the housing crisis.

And they are now trying to deflect responsibility by blaming the most successful low cost home ownership scheme ever - the Right to Buy for Council Tenants.

In seeking powers to suspend this scheme, they are exposing just how shoddy and vindictive they really are.

As Labour MP Paul Flynn states, "this will not supply additional houses…but it will send a disastrous signal that the deep injustice of housing in the past 70 years is not understood".

AND as Labour Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy states, "for the past two decades…the fact that houses have been sold by local authorities has meant that people in Wales, by becoming home owners, have improved their lot".

We must remind Welsh voters that their Labour MPs' voted for the Post Office closure programme - AND that in Llandudno a fortnight ago, Gordon Brown defended the closures and dismissed suggestions that rural communities had come under pressure.

What breathtaking arrogance!

Families, pensioners, disabled people and businesses across Wales will pay the price.

Welsh Conservatives will FIGHT for our Post Offices and we must not allow Labour or its Plaid Cymru fellow travellers to avoid responsibility for their own actions.

A year ago, I announced that Welsh Conservatives would increase provision for alcohol and drug detoxification and rehabilitation, including residential care, so that people can be helped back to a productive life and away from anti-social behaviour and crime.

Last November, an independent report commissioned by the Assembly Government was leaked to me.

This identified numerous reports of people re-offending so as to be able to detoxed in prison, and of hospital admissions because of the unavailability of in-patient detoxification and residential rehabilitation.

It found that assessment of need is inconsistent and lacking clarity…and that referral and commissioning is…seemingly designed…to prevent clients from accessing treatment.

What an indictment after 8 years of devolved Labour-led Government!

You won't be surprised to learn that they have responded by launching yet another Strategy document!

Allowing Rhodri Morgan to lecture the British-Irish Council last month on efforts to tackle drug and alcohol abuse made about as much sense as Tony Blair giving a lecture on Peace Studies!

The Royal British Legion has said that it is time to honour the military covenant.

'British service personnel must always be able to expect fair treatment'.

Referrals for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rose 30% to almost 900 over the last year alone.

This has had a proportionately greater impact on North Wales because of the Sir Galahad incident and the closure of Ty Gwyn, the only independent respite and treatment centre in the UK for traumatised ex-forces personnel.

When I raised this issue with the First Minister, he referred to a two-year pilot project in Cardiff as one of six pilots launched by the UK's Minister for Veterans.

I am advised that even assuming the pilots are successful, there will be no national roll-out for around five years.

Our Party must not ignore the urgent needs of these wounded people.

Instead of tackling the causes of social injustice, Labour has put sticking plasters over its symptoms.

In the 1980s', Conservatives devolved power and responsibility to individuals.


Our challenge today is to replace state control with social responsibility.

The Socialist urge to control others is very strong - but the Conservative desire for freedom, tolerance and the ability to show compassion must - AND WILL - always survive.

Diolch yn Fawr."

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