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Nick Bourne: A new Conservative vision for Wales

To the Conservative Party conference fringe meeting Welsh Conservatives – New Opportunities.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. Mae'n bleser unwaith eto yw eich cyfarch a siarad gyda phawb yma

If our party were a business, today I would be delivering our annual report to the people of Wales. It would go something like this.

Both looking back over the last year and forward into the immediate future, I think we can be pleased with what we see.

The Welsh Conservative Party is definitely a party on the up. Winning four new first past the post constituencies, coming close in numerous others. Putting us in a great position for the General Election, whenever that may be.

Achieving the second largest share of the votes of any Party in Wales in the Assembly elections - more than Plaid, more than the Lib Dems and Labour's worst performance in Wales for nearly 100 years.

A revitalised and enlarged Assembly team, eager to get on with the job. New challenges in the Assembly as the Official Opposition - a shadow ministerial team.

The Welsh Conservative Party is the only party to have made consistent gains in every Assembly election.

Our calm and measured approach to the aftermath of the elections has made us real contenders for government.

But none of this could have been achieved without hard work.

May I take this opportunity to thank, on behalf of everyone, our Welsh Central Office team, led by Matt Lane, who have worked tirelessly over the last year.

Also, a big thank you to Cheryl Gillan, our fantastic Shadow Secretary of State, her deputy, David Jones, and the Westminster team.

I think it is important to remember that the Welsh Conservatives need people of substance in both Westminster and Cardiff Bay, both places are important to us. We are a strong unionist party with strong unionist credentials.

I'm sure the Welsh Westminster team will be boosted again with increased numbers at the next General Election.

Thanks too must go especially to you, the party members, who got out there campaigning, knocking on doors, delivering leaflets and encouraging people to vote Welsh Conservative for a change.

We deserve to be proud of what we have achieved together. I'm sure you will all join me in wishing Wyn Roberts and Enid a long and happy retirement as he leaves the front bench in the Lords.

Wyn has been a great asset to our Party and had made a huge contribution to Welsh and British public life, not least to the progress and survival of the Welsh language - diolch yn fawr Wyn.

Winning in constituencies did have its downside. Three regional AMs, Laura Anne Jones, Lisa Francis and Glyn Davies are no longer in our Assembly team.

I would like to thank them for their hard work and wish them all the very best for the future - they will be back.

As we look forward, the next few years promise to be exciting for us. Clearly, the Government in Cardiff is not the one any of us would have opted for.

Unwilling to stand up and be counted and take a lead in Government, Plaid Cymru has chosen to play second fiddle and prop up a failing Labour Assembly Government.

In doing so Plaid has given up any right it had to call itself the party of Wales - how can a Party that lays a claim to that title give up the opportunity to lead the country.

The All Wales Accord, agreed between our Party, Plaid and the Lib Dems was a much better platform for government than the One Wales document.

It offered the people of Wales something different, a real change from Labour's stranglehold on Wales and, significantly, a chance to see Welsh Conservative policies enacted.

Welsh Conservatives will meet the challenge of opposition. It is to our credit that over the years we have been recognised in many quarters as the Official Opposition in all but name. Now we ARE the Official Opposition in name too.

This is not a bad place to be in and is a fantastic opportunity to show the people of Wales that we are the viable alternative to Labour and Plaid in Wales.

Their coalition is built on shaky ground. It is clear Labour intends to dominate Plaid and Plaid seems happy to accept this.

They have only one foot under the government table and are happy to sit back and bask in their achievement.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas narrowly edged out Helen Mary Jones as the new 'Minister for Fun'. However, there is very little to celebrate with just three posts in a Labour defeated government. I would not have settled for such a deal.

It already looks as though it has entered some stormy waters as fundamental differences between the parties on the future of Wales have been quickly exposed, for example on the constitution.

As the Official Opposition we will be working hard to highlight where things are going wrong - from the evidence so far, this will not be difficult to do.

We will of course support the government on the issues where we find agreement.

Two weeks ago, Ieuan Wyn Jones spoke about Plaid moving from the luxury of opposition to the responsibility of Government. This is not the case for the Welsh Conservatives - opposition is not a luxury, it is a huge responsibility for us. We will be guided by the need to be both robust and constructive.

Let us not underestimate how massive a responsibility this role is and how important it is we do our very best for the people of Wales.

This new opportunity comes because we have changed. Under David Cameron's leadership we have been looking again at the issues that really matter to people, re-engaging and refocusing. David's approach is the right approach and he deserves our wholehearted support - he can certainly count on mine.

The changes taking place in our party have put us back where we belong - at the heart of the political debate. And it is working - our Assembly election successes are real evidence of it. We have every reason to be positive as we look ahead to the local elections next year and the general election to come.

Rhodri Morgan made it clear at the Labour conference that his chief political ambition and motivation is to keep the Welsh Conservatives out of government in Wales.

What poverty of ambition - party before country. My ambition is to simply do the very best for the people of Wales with policies of choice, diversity and excellence in public services - policies for the digital age, not the analogue era.

Rhodri Morgan is struggling to make the switch-over - he is a unit of the past!

In this third Assembly, we have new powers to work with. As we get used to the new structures we will be sure to use them constructively.

What distinguishes us as Welsh Conservatives from Labour and Plaid Cymru is that we recognise politicians don't know best. Local people and voluntary groups are often far better placed to see what is really needed in our communities. The public are quite clear about what they want and what they expect. And what they expect from the NHS and their children's schools is delivery and choice.

First class and easily accessible health care and an excellent education system where, teachers are left to do what they have been trained to do.

This is what matters to people, not dogma and tired old ideologies like Rhodri Morgan's obsession with creating so-called 'clear red water' between Wales and England.

The fact is Rhodri - Wales is drowning in your clear red water! Even Welsh MEP, Eluned Morgan, recognises this stance is unworkable, rigid and outdated.

As mutinous voices grow louder it is clear Rhodri is steering a rudderless ship, heading in the wrong direction - left, left and left again. Politicians must show leadership and give direction but trusting people at the local level will get things done.

Trusting doctors and nurses to make the right decisions for their patients, trusting teachers with the freedom they need to inspire.

It is right that our public services are reformed, after all nothing should be set in stone. The problem is that for the Labour-Plaid alliance this means removing the right to choose. One-size-fits-all is rarely the case - whether in Wales or in England.

We have seen this most clearly with the Government's suggestion that North Wales neurosurgery patients are treated in South Wales, instead of much closer to home in Liverpool.

This means increased journey times for critical patients and impacts on long-term care, family, friends and potentially the speed of recovery.

We must be more practical, more pragmatic and, above all, more compassionate in approaching issues like these. The Government's commitment to ruling out the use of the private sector in the NHS misses the point entirely.

My concern is that Wales will lag further behind England if we stick rigidly to this. Even Labour at Westminster has taken a more constructive approach.

Public and private sectors have much to learn from each other and a case-by-case approach will create a much more effective response to the challenge of providing the best healthcare and education.

Tackling climate change and creating a sustainable environment for Wales means getting the basics right. This starts at home and in our communities, where energy efficiency is often more important than energy generation.

As a party it is our social responsibility to encourage people to change their behaviour. Recycling more household and business waste. Persuading people to turn TVs and Stereos off at the mains instead of leaving them on standby. Reducing our dependency on cars.

Zac Goldsmith and John Gummer have given us plenty of ideas to think about in their quality of life policy review.

I particularly like the Cyclocity scheme idea - it could certainly work in some of our larger towns and cities. But in the end we must also be prepared to take some substantial decisions. Leadership must come from the Government.

I am hugely concerned at recent reports suggesting Labour at Westminster is blocking the Assembly's request for more powers to pass legislation in the field of environmental protection - so much for working together.

Peter Hain said only loony ideas would be blocked - for us, there is nothing loony about wanting to protect our environment. Investing more in public transport - our buses and trains - is essential. Because protecting our fantastic environment in Wales is our greatest challenge.

Much has been made of the continued over-reliance on wind-energy by the previous Labour Government. Taking our responsibilities seriously means looking at ALL the alternatives - solar, tidal lagoons, biomass and hydro-electric. Ignoring them would be foolish.

But when we take major decisions like this, we must be sure communities are part of the decision-making process. David Cameron is absolutely right - responsible politics means we really need to build a consensus on tackling climate change.

It is only by working together - from individuals right up to government, that we will make any progress towards a sustainable environment.

Sustainability is a concept that also extends to our communities. Creating sustainable communities means investing in affordable housing.

Right across Wales - in both urban and rural communities - families and young people are finding either they simply cannot afford to buy property or that the demand for social housing in the communities they call home, is too high.

Left in this situation the only option for many is to move away - often out of Wales.

Building more affordable and social housing is essential and must be a priority if we are to keep our communities flourishing, keep the friendly chatter alive, local schools open, village post offices up and running and ensure a thriving future for the Welsh language.

For too long now the government has failed to take the issue of affordable housing seriously. This needs investment, not lip-service.

We need to be prepared to take some tough decisions on planning, release more land for community developments and promote low-cost home ownership. We must keep our sense of community spirit alive. Of course, the sense of community in Wales is interlinked with our culture and Welsh language.

Wyn Roberts' Welsh Language Act in 1993 paved the way for the survival and growth of our language over the years. But 15 years have passed now and it is time we reconsidered the Act to protect it for the future. There is a growing consensus that both English and Welsh should be recognised as our official languages.

The appointment of a language commissioner would protect the rights of speakers of both and remove the issue from the fraught political environment.

We must be cautious in our approach to building the relationship between the private sector and our Welsh language. We believe that persuasion is better than legislation.

I don't know about you but I am fed up with hearing Wales is at the bottom of the economic pile time and again. Our businesses are being tied up in knots by regulation and red tape.

We should be supporting our small and medium sized enterprises. They are the real bread and butter of our economy. We cannot afford to weigh them down with more legislation.

The new round of European funding is one last chance to give our economy a shot in the arm and put things right. We will be working hard to ensure Wales receives all it deserves and that this opportunity is not lost.

We will keep a close eye on progress, after all, Plaid Cymru is now in change of the economic development portfolio - a scary prospect considering the government's own policies are uncosted - Dafydd Wigley's words, not mine!

It is these issues - public services, strong communities, and the local environment, coupled with council tax that will be the focus of next year's local government elections.

As the issues that matter to people, it is our job to get out there to communicate our ideas. We need to ensure our Assembly success extends down to local government level.

We must support our candidates across Wales and get more Welsh Conservative councillors elected than ever before.

This really has been a fantastic year for us - but those who thought the hard work stopped in May were mistaken. It has only just begun. Our Party is at its strongest when it tackles issues head on. In 1999 we were unelectable.

Wales has changed and so have we. We've taken some tough decisions over the last eight years and they have paid dividends. We have just had our best set of election results for fifteen years.

We must keep changing and evolving if we are to make sure our Welsh Conservative principles and our strong unionist credentials remain applicable to the modern Wales we live in.

We must now ensure our Assembly successes filter down through the party for the local government elections next year and for the General Election, whenever it comes.

To all of those people who feel let down by Plaid Cymru's failure to act as the Party for Wales, I say come and join us.

To all those people who are fed up with Labour's tired old policies denying the people of Wales the chance to move forward with choice and diversity and opportunity, I say come and join us.

To all of those people who see the Conservatives have changed and offer the prospect of policies guaranteeing excellence in public services, giving priority to the environment and making Wales a better place, I say come and join us.

We take on our responsibilities as the Official Opposition with huge pride and respect for the role. It is a massive task. But believe me - we are ready!

Thank you."

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