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Isherwood: Building a stronger, fairer nation

Speech to the Welsh Conservative Party conference in Cardiff.

"Fellow Conservatives - Bora Da, Good Morning -

Listening to Tony Blair attacking our Party and to Rhodri Morgan attacking our Leader last week, two things were clear -

ONE - they see us as a real and credible threat once again, looking to the future and ready for Government in Cardiff and London.

and TWO - they are fighting a backward-looking, negative campaign because they have little positive to say after ten wasted years in London and eight in Cardiff.

Perhaps we can now expect them to release a forged Diary in which David Cameron claims to have had dinner with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein - and a doctored videotape showing Nick Bourne strangling a litter of small kittens!

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

Mae'r Ceidwadwyr Cymreig yn credu'n gryf

mewn cyfiawnder cymdeithasol.

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

We do believe that the Labour Assembly Government is sincere in wanting to create a fairer nation, but their blinkered policies have failed to deliver.

Native American wisdom says that when you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

However, this Labour Assembly Government has tried other strategies, including:

Buying a stronger whip

Changing riders

Creating training sessions to increase riding ability

Passing legislation declaring that 'This horse is not dead'

Blaming the horse's parents

Providing additional funding to increase the horse's performance

Revisiting the performance requirements for horses

AND promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position!

As the CBIs Chief Economist stated in the Assembly last summer, the rapid growth in public spending since 2001 is coming to an end.

Gordon Brown was the lucky Chancellor, having inherited the best economy inherited by any Chancellor since the war.

The UK had the best job creation record in Europe.

As Cardiff Business School states: "for much of the 1980s and early 1990s, Wales was one of the most successful regions in the EU in attracting inward investment".

However, in terms of inward investment Wales has now slip from 1st to 11th position out of 12 UK regions.

AND Wales is now the poorest part of the UK.

The Assembly Government set itself a target for prosperity in Wales to reach 90% of the UK average by 2010 - but with prosperity in Wales falling to the lowest level amongst all UK nations and regions, they scrapped it.

Rhodri Morgan argued that his targets had been goals and that goals were not targets - but my dictionary tells me that a target is a desired goal!

After 14 years' of economic growth, over half a million working aged people in Wales are still not working.

Budget increases over recent years have given this Assembly Government the opportunity to invest in truly sustainable economic and social regeneration - but instead, recent research has shown that the heavy public spending increases of this decade have not helped Wales and have instead increased dependence on English taxpayers.

As more people have become dependant on the state, the life blood of future economic progress will move from Wales.

And Gordon Brown's heavy borrowing leaves little room for manoeuvre as the economic stimulus of public spending fades.

Under Labour, the proportion of school leavers in Wales not going into education, training or employment has risen.

Despite Labour's manifesto promise, student numbers in Further Education colleges have fallen.

- and more skilled, graduate level people are leaving Wales than are coming in.

Meanwhile debt is increasing, bankruptcies are up and Mortgage and Landlord Possession Orders in Wales have increased by 36% over the last year alone, exceeding the increase in England.

Welsh Conservatives believe that everyone should live in dignity, have good housing, an adequate income and respect for their beliefs and cultures.

We believe in Social Responsibility.

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, who instinctively believe in state control - in targets, poorly designed initiatives and excessive centralisation which stifle progress, destroy staff morale and waste money.

We each have a social responsibility to make our nation fairer by helping others, creating opportunities and ensuring that no-one is excluded.

Welsh Conservatives want to build strong communities in a strong Wales contributing to a strong United Kingdom.

We are challenging perceptions of our Party and our politics through action.

Our task is not only to demonstrate competence in traditional areas -

- Ein tasg a'n her ydy cyflwyno cyfres o werthoedd sydd yn cynrychioli gwir cydymdeimlad.

- our task and our challenge is to present a set of values which represent real compassion.

After all, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

The culture in too many shattered communities is distorted by family breakdown, drug abuse, destructive peer group pressure, lawlessness and crime.

If we fail to face up to the crisis, society will suffer the consequences.

But Social Justice can't be dropped from the air like a food parcel - our task is to plant, nurture, water and sow until the cycle becomes self-generating.

That is why David Cameron has said that we must have a pro-social policy that will give young people hope, improve training, strengthen families, tackle addiction and encourage good behaviour.

As he says, 'we must recognise that we are all in this together and that fighting youth crime is a social responsibility not just a state responsibility'.

Conservatives believe that people are responsible for their own actions - but society has a responsibility too.

85% of young criminals that end up in young offenders institutions have mental health issues or learning difficulties.

Half spent time in care as a child.

Over half are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

40% of boys suffered violence at home, and a third of girls suffered sexual abuse.

73% of homeless young people are drug users.

38% of homeless young people have literacy and numeracy levels below the level expected of a 7/8 year old.

This is why David Cameron has called for both justice and tough love -

and I fully support him on this.

Labour has failed to tackle the problems caused by alcohol and drug abuse.

Violent crime has increased and Wales is now one of Europe's hot spots for burglary.

Young people need a scaffolding of values and a network of supportive adults around their lives.

They need guidelines and boundaries, relationships and families, strong values and respect for authority.

You can have the best laws and best administration in the World, but they won't work if you don't have the culture to back it up.

And tackling the causes as well as the symptoms of Society's problems means that we must be prepared to give people a second chance.

Welsh Conservatives will 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 year, the Labour Social Justice Minister commissioned a review of detoxification and residential treatment in North Wales.

This found that "the whole service, including in-patient beds, is under-funded".

When I put this to the Minister, Edwina Hart, just a fortnight ago, she told me that she did not accept it.

What arrogance!

We now have detoxification beds in North Wales being contracted to North West England because of Welsh funding cuts - and rehabilitation units in South Wales bringing people in from England and then referring them to detoxification beds in North Wales!

Drug and alcohol abusers need treatment, training, housing and introduction to the workplace.

We therefore propose to tackle Labour's 'revolving door' approach where, after treatment, people are sent right back to the situation they came from.

We will be looking for value for money and for real multi-agency working before anyone is discharged from treatment.

STARS North Wales are a Registered Charity.

Their purpose is to build community confidence, to reduce crime and the fear of crime and to improve the safety of the elderly and the vulnerable.

They work in partnership with the Neighbourhood Warden Scheme in Knowsley.

In 1981, in Merseyside, Michael Heseltine launched Community Regeneration as we now know it.

As he states "what we did has now become the consensus policy - a constructive partnership between the public and private sectors".

The Knowsley Village Estate, one of the most deprived in the UK, was one of the first to benefit.

The Knowsley Warden Scheme today is about building safe, strong communities and about whole community involvement - arms length from bureaucratic and political control.

Warden Resource Centres have been established throughout England, have been set up in Northern Ireland and have now got the go-ahead from the Scottish Executive.

The Knowsley team have told me that are happy to help in Wales too - working across the generations and racial barriers, working with the addicted and the homeless, mediating in neighbourhood disputes and so much more.

Welsh Conservatives will create a network of local warden resource centres in Wales.

As house prices, homelessness and waiting lists have risen, the Labour Assembly Government has massively cut funding for social and affordable housing.

Households in Wales accepted as homeless have risen by 127% since 1999, the highest since 1978.

Wales is now the most unaffordable area in the UK outside S.E. England.

Improving housing can make huge savings in other budgets - improving health, driving community development, stimulating economic development, reducing crime, and improving the quality of life and the life chances of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Instead, however, the Welsh Social Housing Grant is still less than when the Conservatives left office in 1997.

That represents a huge cut in real terms.

The number of households needing accommodation in Wales is forecast to increase by 12 per cent over the next 10 years.

Since devolution, however, the number of new social housing dwellings built in Wales has been cut by three quarters.

The reality, plain and simple, is that 20,000 new affordable homes were built by Housing Associations and Councils during the last seven years of Conservative Government

- but during the first 7 years of devolved Labour Government, this was cut to less than 5,000.

As Housing Forum Cymru has stated:

'housing is creating a more divided Wales…The consequences for social cohesion…are enormous'.

Further, as the CBI has stated, 'New housing is a key factor in attracting investment into Wales, and in retaining the workforce'.

An increase in investment and capacity for housing and housing-related support is essential -

- and Welsh Conservatives will start by injecting an extra £16 million into the social housing budget for 2007/8, with more in following years'.

We will also launch a wide ranging housing review, working in real partnership at last with public, voluntary and business sector organisations with housing interests.

This will seek to maximise the use of existing investment and find ways of increasing total investment in affordable housing throughout Wales.

Today we must think of poverty in relative terms - the fact that some people lack those things which others in Society take for granted.

The last 10 years' have taught us that poverty is simply too important an issue to be left to the Labour Party in London or Cardiff.

The child poverty rate in Wales is the same as for the UK as a whole.

The UK has one of the worst child poverty rates in Europe.

Independent Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that under present UK Government policies, Labour will fall substantially short of meeting its target to eliminate child poverty by 2020.

Under Labour, the number of people in severe poverty across the UK has actually increased by 410,000.

AND Save the Children calculates that there are 50,000 children living in severe poverty in Wales.

If we don't change direction, we will continue to move those just below the target to a position just above, without helping those at the very bottom.

Welsh Conservatives will set out an action plan with clear, measurable targets - and implement policies that will move Wales towards the goal of eradicating child poverty by 2020.

Post Offices provide a vital public service.

And they are an integral part of community life.

For every £10 earned by a Post Office, £16.20 is generated for the local economy.

The Post Office network is operated by Royal Mail.

Royal Mail's majority Shareholder is the UK Labour Government.

Labour have voted for and implemented a closure programme.

I don't know how Labour Politicians can look themselves in the mirror when they cynically campaign against post office closures in their own areas.

Since 1999, 298 Post Offices and sub-Post Offices have closed across Wales.

Under Labour's plans, over 200 more Post Offices in Wales are under threat.

Even in small communities, a post office closure incurs a cost of £50,000 a year through loss of business and increased travel costs.

Welsh Conservatives will restore the Post Office Development Fund, increase the number of services accessible from Post Office counters and set up a task force with the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters to help our threatened Post Offices.

We want to halt the decline of communities.

We want to empower local people to improve their local communities.

We want to tackle the problem of "ghost towns" created by the loss of Post Offices, vital public transport links, village shops and other local services.

Welsh Conservatives will promote a Sustainable Communities Measure in the National Assembly -

transferring power to local communities

giving council taxpayers a greater say over how their money is spent

promoting local services, economic activity and political involvement

and protecting the environment

We believe that together we can all work to build a stronger, fairer nation.

The people of Britain have had enough of Blair and Brown.

The people of Wales have had enough of Rhodri Morgan.

So when it comes to Social Justice, our message to the people of Wales is:

Peidiwch a gadael i Lafur eich cymryd yn ganiataol byth eto.

Don't let labour take you for granted again."

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