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Bourne: The NHS is our priority above all else

Speech to the Welsh Conservative Party's policy forum conference

"It is six months to the election now, the clock has started to count down and May cannot come soon enough as far as I'm concerned.

The hard work is only just beginning. We will show people that we have the policies and ideas to provide a credible and viable alternative for Wales.

We will be backing the NHS, promoting a first class education system, nurturing a strong economy, flexible working and childcare, bilingualism and a sustainable environment.

But it's not just developing policies that matters. It is action. It's what we do that really matters.

If we are to increase our share of the vote in every constituency and region in Wales next May, then we need to get out into our communities and show people.

To prove to people that we are changing for the better we need to challenge perceptions of our party and our politics through action.

I must thank all of you who have taken part in our consultation process, the biggest in our history.

We have spoken to schools, charities, trade unions, voluntary organisations, businesses and interest groups, as well as you the members.

Over the next few months we will be giving Wales a snapshot of some of our key policy commitments and ideas.

These will give people a flavour of what will be an exciting and forward-looking platform for government from the Welsh Conservatives before the launch of our full manifesto closer to the election.

Changing Wales for the better is not just a task for the politicians - we're all in this together.

We need to be less arrogant about what politicians can achieve. Everyone is capable of getting involved and making a difference to our communities. It is our social responsibility.

Wales needs world class public services, responsive to local needs, listening to those they serve.

We salute all those who work so hard for us, teachers, health professionals and those in the emergency services - indeed all those who work in our public services.

Labour has lavished money and initiatives on our schools and hospitals in equal measure. The result?

The NHS is in the worst financial shape imaginable, nearly £100 million in debt and schools are crippled by future financial uncertainties.

Labour has completely mismanaged the NHS. Their meddling has resulted in unmitigated disaster.

Targets, poorly designed initiatives and excessive centralisation have stifled progress, destroyed staff morale and wasted money.

The ambulance service is in crisis, the badly negotiated dental contract means it is still near impossible to see an NHS dentist and people are still waiting longer for treatment than in England.

Just in the last week we have heard that bed blocking is set for a further significant increase and administrators are being taken on at a faster rate than medical staff.

It is clear that high spending does not mean good investment. This Government lacks the strategy to revive our NHS and is holding it back.

Welsh Conservatives will back our NHS. It is our priority above all else. It's as simple and straightforward as that.

Just as in Westminster, Welsh Conservatives intend to put our National Health Service at the very heart of our election campaign between now and next May.

We are calling for more money to help our struggling ambulance service in the new budget. As David Cameron said, the NHS is vitally important to every family in this country.

Money must be well spent. We will remove the Government's preoccupation with centralisation. The focus must return to the patient.

Decisions affecting local services should not be taken by distant politicians like Rhodri Morgan and Brian Gibbons but by the patients and frontline staff who use and work in our local NHS.

We applaud and recognise the vital role that district and community hospitals play in providing vital services.

We want the NHS to succeed so that it can deliver timely, high quality care for all people. An NHS that is universal, comprehensive, effective and free at the point of use.

We must be on the side of the next generation. It is our social responsibility to invest in education and skills. We must help to develop their potential. Labour is failing our children.

A good education should be a guarantee for all children, not just the lucky ones who happen to live in the right catchment area - our children are being short changed by Labour.

Too many youngsters are leaving school with no qualifications at all, while only just over half leave with 5 A-C grade GCSEs.

Truancy is up. Discipline is deteriorating and expulsions have risen. This is simply not good enough. There must be clear rules of behaviour.

Welsh Conservatives would give our schools the freedom they need to inspire, let our teachers do what they are good at - teach, and recognise that individual children have individual needs, abilities and interests.

Extra money for schools is high up on our list of priorities as we enter into negotiations with the Assembly Government for the new budget.

We need to give our children the best education for them.

Labour has said they want to put their economic record at the heart of their election campaign - that certainly suits our case.

Prosperity in Wales has been stifled by Labour's obsessive need for centralisation and control.

We must encourage innovation and free business from the desperate grasp of government red tape and interference. We need to breathe new life into our towns.

We will not sit back and watch another round of valuable European Union funding wasted like the last one. This is a second opportunity. We must not allow it to fail.

Unlike Labour, a Welsh Conservative government would press Westminster for additional funding, over and above Barnett, to ensure that this round of funding is a success.

This is the only way that we will successfully close the prosperity gap between the UK regions and Wales that nine years of Labour government has failed to contract.

We have a responsibility to tackle the social deprivation that afflicts itself on our urban and rural areas alike. Raising prosperity is key to this.

We need to ensure that families are able to juggle the work life balance. This means more support for child care and flexible working patterns.

We will be working to make it more attractive for employers to help parents with their childcare options.

We must also address the lack of affordable housing if we are to protect the future of our communities.

We are incredibly fortunate here in Wales to have some of the most outstanding natural environment in the UK. We need to protect it for the future. Once it's gone, we can't get it back.

For every day we fail to act the price gets higher. We need to take some tough decisions. But going green will place new responsibilities on ALL of us.

Taking climate change seriously means we must work together and share responsibility between us. We need to recycle more. Leave our cars at home. Improve public transport. Government must assess the future of our energy supply.

We are currently looking at ways that we can reward local authorities with good records on recycling.

Farmers must become the guardians of our rural environment and we must not forget this.

We will be working to protect and sustain our rural communities within the new budget. We are duty bound to do this for the next generation.

This also means we have to protect the future of the Welsh language, rights for Welsh and English speakers. We must review the Welsh Language Act. It was passed for a different age and needs reviewing in the light of new challenges.

Our UK conference in Bournemouth earlier this month proved that Welsh Conservatives are taking devolution seriously.

It is right that we should not expect one size fits all policies. Welsh challenges require distinctively Welsh responses. That is the point of devolution - we are ready to push the boundaries.

Conservatives are always realistic and practical; we will not bury our heads in the sand when it comes to securing the best for Wales.

After all, that is why we are in business as Welsh politicians. As such, it would be wholly irresponsible of us to ignore the possibility of being involved in working with other parties after the next election - this is a possibility that indeed cannot be ignored.

But let me make one thing absolutely clear - we are not in the business of propping up a failing, tired Labour administration in Cardiff Bay.

The people of Britain have had enough of Tony Blair. And the people of Wales have had enough of Rhodri Morgan.

We will fight tooth and nail for a Welsh Conservative victory in May and if no one party wins then we must ensure that Labour is not returned to power to wreak yet more havoc on our communities.

We must consider all the options available - but we will never join a coalition with Labour.

Labour is arrogant and controlling. They have abused the trust of the public. Tired, dishevelled and out of touch - and that's just Rhodri Morgan! Labour is weighing Wales down.

There has been much talk of a change in leadership at Westminster. Even Peter Hain has realised its time to start advertising for a new job and Alun Pugh is clearly considering a career in marketing board games.

It is time the Clown Prince himself, Rhodri Morgan, spent some time on the back benches. The Welsh people have been let down by Labour over and over again.

Labour has proven that their promises are not worth the paper they are written on. The news that they have been talking to the Lib Dems about coalition certainly does not surprise. It shows they are worried.

But the news that they have divvied up the jobs between them, before a vote has even been cast, is an insult to Wales.

If this is true then a vote for the Lib Dems would be a vote for Labour in Wales. The Lib Dems themselves are labouring under a false pretence.

More focused on cheap one-up-manship they are a fractured group of individuals not a team. Jenny Willott definitely has the hardest job in Welsh politics - making sure that the Lib Dem candidates are saying the same things at the same time will be a tough job.

Plaid on the other hand appears to inhabit a world where money grows on trees. Their wish list of policies is growing longer by the week. You'd think they prefer our logo to theirs.

Not only are they ill-costed but they are simply impractical. Now we hear they will be picking and dropping policies in a fashion akin to a reality TV show - more Weakest Link than the X-Factor.

What is important is that we show that we have the ideas and solutions to revitalise our communities.

But it is up to all of us to take action and show people what we can offer. Challenge perceptions. Prove that we are a credible, viable alternative. Back our NHS. Invest in the potential of our children. Breathe new life into our economy and share in our responsibility towards a sustainable environment. Show that there is a choice to be made on election day next May.

Welsh Conservatives can make a difference for Wales."

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