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Bourne: Welsh Conservatives offer fresh thinking

Speech to the Conservative Women’s regional council (Wales) autumn conference.

"It is a pleasure to address you at such an optimistic time for our party.

Our conference in Blackpool showed the wealth of talent our party has for the future. There is a real air of excitement among party members and a fascinating debate on the way ahead.

Michael Howard has done an outstanding job and I look forward to working with his successor. Welsh Conservatives are resurgent.

The hard work of our Assembly team and the tireless efforts of our voluntary associations have ensured our success.

But the hard work has only just begun. We must build on the foundations we have in place and use the momentum we have gathered as we move towards the Assembly elections in 18 months time.

There is a great deal for us to be proud of. We continue to outperform the other parties in Wales and are the official opposition in all but name.

It is vital for politics to become more representative of women - to encourage participation at all levels. We have an important role to play in this process.

We now have two women Conservative AMs who have proven to be a fantastic asset to our team and whom I believe are speaking to you today, but I would like to see more Conservative women in the next Assembly term.

I am sure you have friends or colleagues who would make great Welsh Conservative representatives. Start getting to work on them - the process of selection for the Assembly elections will shortly be underway.

Labour is failing on a massive scale. Council tax has doubled in many places in Wales since Labour came to power. To add insult to injury, Labour has used council tax revaluation as yet another stealth tax.

This process has placed an unacceptably large burden on our communities. Hard working families and those on fixed incomes, like pensioners, are being stretched to breaking point.

Typically, Labour has been less than straight with the Welsh people. They promised that revaluation would be revenue neutral - with the same number of winners and losers.

The reality is that over 60,000 households have gone up by at least two council tax bands. Only 8% of properties have actually moved down a band.

Now England has ditched revaluation plans -they fear the Welsh experience will be too politically explosive - they are right to fear it.

We are demanding a halt to revaluation and an apology. Labour is resisting this - despite the opposition parties defeat of their budget.

What is more - we want extra support and discounts for pensioners and an extension of transitional relief.

Our health service is also under intolerable pressure. 10 per cent of the Welsh population are on a waiting list. 14,000 people are waiting over a year for treatment - this is simply unacceptable.

The length of hospital waiting lists is a national scandal. Damning reports, desperate patients and frustrated health workers have had little impact on the Government's policy.

Welsh Conservatives have always maintained that a change of minister is not enough. There will be no progress without a change of policy.

We need walk-in centres to relieve over-stretched accident and emergency departments. Welsh Conservatives succeeded this week in passing this policy through the Assembly.

For our older people, Welsh Conservatives seek to ensure that all over 60's receive a free and yearly check-up by their GPs.

In education, we need to tackle school funding problems, bureaucracy and truancy. Our teachers are weary and demoralised. And yet Labour is more concerned with so called 'free' school breakfasts. Even this they can't do properly, the scheme is un-costed and ill-thought-out.

Jamie Oliver has demonstrated the benefits of nutritious and healthy lunchtime meals for our schoolchildren. And the recent E.coli outbreak throws a sharp spotlight on the need for proper hygiene in the preparation of school meals.

Surely Labour should be improving school lunches and ensuring high standards of preparation. It is clear our public services are in desperate need of new, fresh thinking.

This is our opportunity. The 2007 elections are on the horizon. I hope that you are all taking part in our consultation process - ensuring that we have the best policies in place for our country.

At the next Assembly elections we will provide a viable and exciting alternative for government. Our policies can make a real vision for a brighter Wales.

We must show that we have the energy and ideas to make a real difference. Labour has let the Welsh people down. Welsh Conservatives want greater transparency in government and greater power for local people.

Freeing teachers and parents to decide what is best for their own school. Ensuring that money reaches the frontline to help doctors and nurses get on with their job.

In little over a year's time we will offer a clear and exciting alternative for a better Wales."

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