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Bourne: Welsh Conservatives – A fresh vision for Wales

Speech to the Welsh Conservatives' west Wales policy forum conference at Gwbert near Cardigan.

"Ladies and Gentlemen.

Boneddigion a Boneddigesau.

Mae'n bleser mawr i siarad yma heddiw.

No one can have failed to notice the positive mood surrounding the party. There is a strong feeling of optimism.

The Conservative Party is setting the political agenda and is very much on the front foot.

What fantastic results in the local elections in England this week! A real tribute to the hard work of Conservative councillors who, dedicated to their communities, have been fighting for Conservative values and policies.

We are a resurgent party - both in England and Wales.

This progress has been shown clearly by our success in the Assembly - a motion passed to establish walk-in health centres which will become a vital additional frontline service here in Wales; a motion passed to abolish top-up fees for Welsh students at Welsh universities; and voting down the Labour draft budget in order to secure extra help for pensioners, education and transport. All great examples of what Welsh Conservatives have achieved.

We are the party in Wales with ideas, attracting people from all backgrounds, all walks of life.

It is because of our vision that the former Labour Assembly Member Alison Halford has now joined the Welsh Conservative Party. This is fantastic news. She will bring a massive amount of experience and ability to the Party and I look forward to working with her over the coming months and years.

There are others who are looking to join us because they too want to build a modern compassionate Wales.

We have begun to sow the seeds of change but we need to do much more. I firmly believe the public's perception of our party is changing here in Wales but we have to prove we are changing day after day, month after month. This is a long term job.

Labour is in a mess.

Rhodri Morgan is a First Minister who has passed his best before date leading a stale administration that has promised so much but has delivered so little. Their manifesto pledges are like a litany of broken promises.

Rhodri Morgan and his ministers are governing our country with an astonishing degree of arrogance, complacency and incompetence. It is time for them to go.

Labour has spent literally billions on the health service, doubling the budget to over £5billion pounds - half of the Assembly's entire budget.

Yet we are still waiting for the improvements. After seven years, there are still many more people waiting for hospital treatment than when Labour came to power.

NHS finances are spiralling out of control and the huge raft of targets, initiatives and directives are holding us back not driving us forward.

The Government lacks the strategy needed to turn the NHS round and we are experiencing it at first hand here in West Wales as the consultation into hospital services demonstrates.

The Designed to Deliver consultation for Mid & West Wales reflects the government's preoccupation with the centralisation of health care and it raises the real possibility of cuts to vital services in local communities.

The maternity unit at Bronglais is under threat and services are set to be run down at Withybush, Glangwili and Prince Philip.

Those living in rural areas know just how important it is to have good access to health care.

In Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion only around a half of all ambulances responding to life threatening cases arrive within the 8 minute target time. This is completely unacceptable.

Getting access to an NHS dentist is impossible for many. Despite Tony Blair's promise that everyone would be able to see an NHS dentist the reality today is far from the case.

NHS dentistry is withering away leaving those unable to pay nowhere to go. The situation here in West Wales is the worst in Wales.

But perhaps the worst example of Labour's broken promises during this Assembly term has been their failure to honour their commitment to disabled people requiring home care.

This was one of Labour's big ideas at the last election, trumpeted across Wales. Free home care for the disabled they shouted.

They raised the hopes of a vulnerable group. For several years they reiterated their promise - only to unceremoniously drop the commitment a few months ago. They should be utterly ashamed.

We will fight for our hospitals and will not accept a run-down of their services. Indeed, Welsh Conservatives want to enhance the services they offer.

We would slash bureaucracy and target funding at the frontline. We need a system fit for the 21st century and not the 19th century.

Labour has spent huge amounts of taxpayers money on our public services but failed to deliver results.

In education, like health, Wales is being short changed. Education and skills standards remain the worst in the UK.

780,000 children, young people and adults have literacy and numeracy problems.

Only just over half of children leave with 5 GCSE's grades A-C, with around 4% of young people leaving school with no qualifications at all and the gap between Wales and England is growing.

The percentage of pupils not in full time education, employment or training has risen in Wales; truancy is on the increase, so too are school expulsions as discipline our schools deteriorates.

Instead of tackling these serious problems in education, the government is preoccupied with costly gimmicks.

Their flagship scheme to offer free breakfasts to all primary school Wales by September 2006 is yet another example of failure.

The government had no intention of providing breakfast to all children - despite their promises. And, yet again, the costs have spiralled from their original estimates.

We want an education system where all pupils fulfil their potential. Welsh Conservatives will look to expand parental choice to enable parents to select the right school for their child.

Establishing specialist schools in Wales would help plug the skills gap and improve vocational training.

Granting head teachers greater control over admissions and expulsions, and providing better support for teachers in the classroom, would make a positive difference to discipline problems. These are substantive measures.

A first class education system is vital to a first class economy. There are some welcome areas of progress in the Welsh economy but you only need to scratch the surface to expose some troubling deep-seated problems.

Wales has slumped to the bottom of the pile amongst all the other devolved and English regions for GDP per head.

Regional GDP for Anglesey was the lowest in the UK with South West Wales very close behind. The wealth gap is growing and deprivation is increasing.

Instead of acting to reverse this trend, Rhodri Morgan has failed to stand up to Labour colleagues at Westminster to secure vital match funding for European aid programmes.

Rather than put forward a robust case to the Treasury for additional funding for European projects for some of Wales' poorest areas, he was all too willing to run-up the white flag.

This pathetic and supine approach is scandalous particularly as Objective 1 funding is worth £1.28bn to West Wales and the Valleys and is of vital importance to the West Wales economy in creating and safeguarding jobs. We need a government in Cardiff that will stand up for Wales.

The scrapping of the world renowned WDA and Wales Tourist Board makes matters worse, ignoring the needs of the business community and the Welsh workforce.

Red tape and government centralisation is hampering business potential in Wales.

Council tax heaped on households is crippling families. Council tax bills in Wales have gone through the roof - literally doubling since 1997. In some parts of our area the average band D property has gone up a whopping 122%.

It is older people and those on fixed incomes who have really felt the pinch - paying nearly one fifth of their income on Council Tax bills alone.

Labour's monopoly on power in Wales has meant that they have put dogma before delivery time and again and it is the people of Wales who have suffered.

Far from social justice, recent research from the Wales Rural Observatory - a department within Cardiff University - has shown that there is a real lack of social equality in our rural communities:

Income levels in rural Wales are below the Wales average with one-quarter of all households in rural Wales on low incomes

85% of rural communities are without a bank or building society

85% are without affordable housing facilities

84% without a dental practice

72% without a Post Office

68% without a GP surgery

Labour has turned a blind eye to the problems of rural Wales.

They have neglected farming communities and shown little understanding of the needs of our agriculture industry.

Unsure how to tackle climate change they are recklessly putting wind farms across our beautiful Welsh landscape instead of producing a well-thought through renewable strategy.

This is our chance to protect the environment and nurture it for future generations.

The Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government is failing the people of Wales.

It is failing to provide decent public services.

It is failing to close the economic gap between Wales and the rest of the UK.

It is failing to promote wealth and social justice.

And it is failing to safeguard our environment and our future.

At next year's polls it is time to say 'enough is enough'.

What of our other political opponents?

Plaid has lost its appeal and its way. Its recent crisis of identity has underlined its outdated policies and lack of political direction.

Plaid is very much the same party that has been haemorrhaging support since 1999 and I believe this trend will continue in 2007. No amount of rebranding will disguise an outdated and failing party.

At the same time the Lib Dems offer no coherent or consistent policies to tackle the issues that affect the people of Wales today.

Mike German said to the Liberal Democrat conference last October that the party was shaking off its image as "a bunch of well meaning enthusiasts on the fringe of Welsh politics". That's a matter of opinion.

Everyone in Wales knows that only the Welsh Conservatives provide a credible alternative to the years of wasteful, discredited Labour rule.

It is up to us to take the fight to Labour.

In the run up to the Assembly elections, Welsh Conservatives have the opportunity to demonstrate the new direction of the UK Party.

David Cameron has put in place the foundations for a new and exciting type of Conservatism.

Across the UK, we are fighting with renewed vigour for the environment, social justice and public services. I welcome this emphasis.

These issues are the most important challenges facing Britain today.

Within these broad themes I believe we must also develop our own distinct policies for Wales - something David Cameron and Cheryl Gillan both support.

In exploring our own policy solutions, we will have a greater ability to realise our ultimate ambition, of securing Conservative policies here in Wales.

The preparations for next year's elections are going very well. I am fortunate in having a capable team of AMs and support staff and I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of my Policy Director, David Melding.

The policy consultation process with party members which we started last September is now coming to an end and I would like to thank everyone for taking part.

There have been vibrant and challenging discussions on the way forward for the Welsh Conservative party and for Wales.

This is what we are striving for, appropriate Welsh solutions to an ever growing number of Welsh problems.

The hard work is not over yet; we are consulting with a large number of organisations and groups and we have strengthened the support of our Spokespeople by introducing Deputy Spokespeople from our list of Assembly candidates.

These candidates will cover key portfolio areas and will work alongside sitting Assembly Members as the party formulates its strategy for the 2007 election.

I believe that this team strengthening along with our policy renewal process will place us in the best possible position as we begin the drafting stages of the manifesto.

In terms of policy formulation, we have some exciting ideas already in place.

We want more substantial action taken to tackle climate change. Tackling this global issue requires action on every front, cleaner and greener transportation for our towns and cities, more local recycling initiatives and reducing energy waste.

We need to ensure greater investment into research on renewable energy to safeguard our environment.

We want to examine a diverse range of renewable energy sources like biomass, wave power, tidal power and solar power to ensure there is not this dogmatic and obsessive over-reliance on wind power.

We are looking at further ways to help pensioners. We would look to provide free annual GP health checks for the over 60s.

We have already secured funding to help with security and heating but we want to go even further and find ways of reducing council tax bills and fuel poverty.

We want to help school children by providing them with free and safe school transport for all those who live more than half a mile from their school.

Good school transport provision would help cut congestion and reduce environmental pollution as well as afford parents' the peace of mind that their children will be travelling to and from school in secure surroundings.

I want to make it much easier for social enterprise to grow in Wales - those involved in voluntary and non-profit organisations, providing a social benefit to our communities, whether it be a recycling business, helping people into work or helping those with drink and drugs problem.

I want further devolution to our communities.

Less central government control and more local decisions made at local level.

Local solutions to local problems.

We want to restore confidence and stability to the arts in Wales.

Labour has alienated the arts community by seeking to bring the arts in-house without consultation and it's determination to turn the Welsh language into a political football is outrageous.

Welsh Conservatives would retain the arms-length principle for the arts.

We would establish a National Gallery and a National Archive for Wales giving us parity with Scotland and England.

We would also provide greater support for the National Eisteddfod and the Welsh language - our cultural jewels.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are fresh, we are galvanised and we are priming ourselves for the challenge in less than a year's time.

We are generating the momentum, whilst Labour is stuck in the past.

There are exciting times ahead. Wales is desperately crying out for a new leader with a new government and new ideas.

Let us fulfil our potential and consign this out of date administration to the bin of history."

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