Speech to Welsh Conservative Spring Conference
Ladies and gentlemen,
Four years since Labour's promises of better public services.
Four years of Labour's dogma, interference and Minister knows best mentality.
Four years of missed opportunities for getting increased funding to schools.
Four years of Labour government in the National Assembly happily supported by the Liberal Democrats who do as they're told.
It's a strange partnership. Labour get the blame for what goes wrong, the Lib Dems try to claim the credit for any thing that goes right, the Lib Dems say the government is driven by them, and Labour are driven to attacking the Lib Dems. A bat man and robin outfit where no one seems to wear the trousers. School teachers, pupils, parents and governors are asking, "where did it all go wrong?"
I thought that devolution would have meant new ideas and new imagination for helping our public services. Perhaps I was being too optimistic, perhaps I was being youthfully naive, perhaps I was hoping for too much that the Labour government would start seeing our education service from the point of view of teachers, pupils, parents and governors instead of Labour councillors, Labour councillors and…well more Labour councillors.
The present education Minister would make a very good local government minister. She has excellent local government credentials, former councillor, and former employee of the Welsh Local Government Association.
For my part it has been a privilege to serve as this Party's Education Spokesman in the first term of the National Assembly, without any baggage like the minister. 4 years of constructive Conservative ideas, of renewed determination to back our teaching profession 100%, to support our pupils and provide choice and opportunity for Welsh families.
We have built up our working relationship with the teaching unions, consulted with schools on our ideas, and have produced a manifesto demonstrating our commitment to our education service, and also our willingness to be innovative and exciting in our ambitions for Wales.
Labour and their Liberal Democrat helpers are settling for second best. They do not have any ambition for Wales. During these 4 crucial years there have been 4 big missed opportunities, which could have provided crucial resources to schools. No one will doubt that education spending has gone up, but spending does not equate investment unless there is a return.
Last year the Education Act was hailed as supporting devolution with new powers to protect school budgets. The minister refuses to use powers to ring fence budgets. Because of her fixation with local government she refuses to protect school budgets.
Labour's reluctance to act has cost Welsh schools money, but a Welsh Conservative administration would protect school budgets.
The refusal of the government to introduce a 3-year cycle of funding is stopping schools from planning for the future. How can we expect schools to run effectively when they don't know how much money they will get from one year to the next? Head teachers want to know what resources they will require, how many teachers they can afford, and this needs certainty.
Labour's reluctance to act is preventing schools from planning ahead, but a Welsh Conservative administration would provide that certainty.
Since 1999 the government have announced lots of little schemes, schemes with duplicated aims and huge amounts of cash. This is where a substantial amount of the money goes, hundreds of millions of pounds into various pots. These pots are there, not for the taking, but for the bidding. Schools are caught up in an endless stream of bidding cycles, begging for money. We need to see these pots merged, and money targeted at school budgets - let schools decide how to spend the money according to their local needs
Labour's reluctance to concentrate on core funding is costing schools money and their time, but a Welsh Conservative administration would focus on money going into school budgets and not little schemes designed by government ministers
Lastly, Labour's political interference in the way that schools budgets are allocated will mean that schools in Wales are set to lose money. Just ask schools in Cardiff North or in Flintshire, school budgets are about to be attacked and redistributed according to a politically correct formula. Labour don't want to support schools that do well, that raise standards, that attract good teachers and supportive parents. Labour's reluctance to shake off its political dogma will cost schools money and staff.
But there is an alternative
We have a vision of a Wales where teachers are trusted as the professionals that they are, where schools are supported by a government that does not interfere, where pupils are given the chance to succeed according to ability and aspiration not background and status.
But to realise that vision the people of Wales need their eyes opened, so go out and help them.