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Davies: Changing the focus of politics in Wales

To the Welsh Conservative Party conference in Llandudno.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, it is always a pleasure for me to be here on the North Wales Coast.

One of my earliest childhood memories of a day out was on a Sunday School trip to Rhyl some 50 years ago.

I still remember the trip with real pleasure even if the pleasure took a rather different form from todays.

Something particularly enjoyable about today's visit is that it is the first time I have spoken at a Conservative Party Conference anywhere when we are ahead in the opinion polls.

We are moving into a very important phase for the Conservative Party in Wales.

In just over a year's time we will be contesting the next National Assembly elections and we desperately need to do better than we did in the first two.

It is just not good enough for the Conservative Party to be the third party in the National Assembly.

We should be challenging to be the largest party in Wales as we were so challenging just over 20 years ago.

But I am optimistic. I really do sense that change is in the air in Welsh politics as well as in British politics.

Today our party has realised that we must change too if we are to win the confidence of the voters again.

And we are changing and not just changing the packaging as Plaid Cymru did last week with their new logo (which makes them look like a BP petrol station).

With their new name (which bizarrely drops any reference whatsoever to Wales).

And their new constitution (which looks remarkably similar to their old constitution).

What our changing party is doing with David Cameron leading the way is taking a root and branch look at our policies.

We are changing our focus onto issues that matter across the generations and in particular to our young people and we are changing the way that the people of Wales look at us.

We want people to know that our mission as a party is to serve them.

If/when the people of Wales truly believe truly accept that the reason our Party exists is to serve them they will vote for us and trust us with power.

This section of our conference today is billed as 'Economic Competitiveness' - a title which opens up a very wide range of potential subject areas.

Dylan and Alun have already outlined the general economic problems that face Wales and which have faced Wales since the dramatic structural change, consequent upon the rundown in the once mighty Welsh industrial powerhouse based on coal and iron.

a) Gross Value Added figures remains stubbornly around 80% of the UK average.

b) Inactivity rates remain shockingly high.

c) Most of our country still qualifies for EU structural funds as one of the most disadvantaged regions of Europe.

Despite the Assembly Government's rhetoric and the injection of billions of pounds of 'structural funds' investment, the performance of the Welsh economy remains weak, when compared with the economic performance of the UK as a whole which itself is weak when compared with international competitors.

Some reasons for this are rooted in our industrial history.

But some are the fault of Assembly Government policy.

In Wales the 'State' has become overly-dominant squeezing out the more productive private sector.

Over recent days there has been much debate in the UK media about the burgeoning proportion of the population becoming dependent on the Government for benefits or for salaries or for government contracts.

In Wales the position is even worse.

There has also been much discussion about Council Tax levels in England - up twice as much as in Scotland since Labour came to power.

Increases in Wales are even higher even higher than England.

With all this extra state control and taxation it is not at all surprising that our productivity our private sector investment and our economic competitiveness are all falling.

And this lack of economic competitiveness has a negative impact across all National Assembly subject areas.

It means that the improvement we need to see in our public services and in the quality of life of our citizens simply cannot be afforded.

Although I am our Finance Spokesman in the National Assembly my main role is as Chairman of the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee.

And because I believe that economic competitiveness is such a fundamental factor in every policy area I want to take a perspective in this speech on its relevance to my main subject areas, planning, the environment and the countryside.

Our planning system has several objectives:

a) It has to allow for sufficient housing and in the right places.

The economy cannot function where there is long term structural shortage of housing.

Business investment will simply go somewhere else.

b) Our planning system has to take decisions in a timely manner.

Decision takers will not wait years whilst their investment plans grind their way through the planning process.

c) Our planning system has to designate enough land for development.

At present I am receiving a steady stream of correspondence from all over Wales about land currently being taken out of development plans because of new, more demanding flood-risk restrictions.

Replacement land needs to be identified.

d) Our planning system must be more flexible in our more rapidly changing world which is why I want to see a simpler, more responsive development plan system.

e) And it needs to recognise that there are differing planning needs in different parts of Wales which is why I support the concept of a Wales Spatial Plan based on regional distinctiveness.

Put simply, our planning system must support the long term economic competitiveness of Wales.

It should not be just a system for stopping and controlling development although this, of course, is sometimes necessary.

It should be a system for encouraging, giving confidence to and inspiring businesses and individuals.

Today, concern for our environment has got the political spotlight it warrants.

This is good news. The bad news is why.

On a regular basis we are being bombarded by scientific evidence that the actions of mankind are causing irreparable damage to our environment.

No serious discussion about our economy can ignore the threat of climate change.

Serious business leaders know this.

Last May, 13 of the UK's leading businessmen including the Executive Director of BP and the Chairman of Shell wrote to the Prime Minister.

a) They said bluntly that the international community needed to stabilise Greenhouse Gas emissions.

b) They welcomed the Government's commitment to cut emissions by 60% by 2050.

c) They said short term targets were also essential.

d) They said we needed a policy step change.

e) They said we needed tax arrangements which enabled up-front investment, essential to bring low carbon technology on stream.

Not Friends of the Earth, but Britain's leading businessmen.

What we need is a new policy framework in Britain to focus the minds of politicians and investment decision takers.

The environment will become an increasingly important part of our economy.

By way of example, research by Berkley University suggests that California alone stands to reap a $60 billion reward from development of solar technology.

We need investment in efficient energy production and use.

We need to develop low carbon energy sources, solar, wave, tidal - and we need to establish what role (if any) there is for nuclear power.

The Assembly Government's belief that covering large tracts of Wales with wind turbines can deliver the answer is lamentable.

And we need investment in the technology to store carbon from fossil fuels.

In one sense climate change can be seen as a threat to our international competitiveness.

But with a proper Government response we could transform the pursuit of the solution into an economic opportunity.

Finally, I want to touch briefly on the economic competitiveness of the countryside because it matters to me and it matters to the Conservative Party.

We have always been the party of the countryside and we always will be.

I will leave talk of policy to Brynle tomorrow morning.

My point is a general one. When Conservatives talk of Welsh economic competitiveness we include rural Wales as well.

All of my adult life I have campaigned and worked for a fair deal for rural Wales for a regional public investment strategy within Wales.

Five years ago I saw a Labour Government allow an outbreak of foot and mouth disease to run out of control and destroy much of the economic infrastructure of rural Wales and then hide from the blame by refusing point blank to hold an independent public inquiry.

Today, I see a Labour Government allowing bovine TB to run out of control, agree an EU budget which slashes rural development funds, and scrap the socio-economic support system that has underpinned upland agriculture for half a century.

Nothing has changed. The truth is that they just don't care.

Ladies and gentlemen, most of us in public life have great ambition for the people and constituencies we represent and most of us have a real commitment to making a success of the institution we are apart of.

I want Wales' public services to be as good as and better than any other part of Britain.

And I want to see an effective successful National Assembly giving first priority to protecting our environment to delivering a planning system which recognises the need for economic competitiveness to demonstrating a genuine concern for the economic and social well-being of the countryside.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to have a good election result in 2007 because Wales needs a really strong Conservative team elected to the National Assembly."

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