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Nick Bourne: Solutions to Welsh problems

Speech to the Welsh Conservative Spring Conference

Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure to address you here today at a time of great optimism and anticipation for the Welsh Conservative Party.

Before the elections that I am sure will reflect the terrific work being done not only by our AMs and party members across Wales, but also by Iain Duncan Smith who is leading the fight back at Westminster.

In a wonderful building that would have lent dignity and kudos to the National Assembly.

And in a building which I believe could now provide a magnificent setting for a dedicated National Art Gallery for Wales.

The Welsh Conservatives - Hope for Wales

The irony of devolution in Wales is this:

Amongst those who most fervently campaigned for the establishment of the National Assembly are the politicians who have since done the most damage to its image.

And amongst those who most loudly voiced concerns on devolution, is the party that offers the greatest hope of making the National Assembly a success.

This is where we find ourselves after almost four years of devolution in Wales.

As the only Group in the National Assembly with the policies to turn around our ailing public services and so restore confidence in the political process.

As the only opposition to the Lib-Lab coalition that if elected, would not plunge the country into the dark-ages of separatism and constitutional crisis.

As the only party in tune with public opinion and opposed to egotistical projects at the expense of properly funded public services, such as the fifty million pound additional Assembly building.

As the party to whom true devolution means the protection and promotion of family and community values.

Attuned to public concerns and ready to address the problems of Wales today with an agenda of reform that will benefit the vulnerable in our society that have suffered most under Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

In reality the two parties can be lumped together as one.

For the last two years they have been complicit in driving down the standards of public services. In blundering through self-made crises. In dithering and indecision over issues of the greatest importance to Wales.

If you are a patient, languishing on an inordinately long waiting list while others in Europe are not kept waiting at all, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have let you down.

If you are a farmer, pushed to financial ruin because the Lib-Lab administration is unable to pay vital subsidy payments, they have let you down.

If you are in business, a teacher, doctor, nurse or police officer struggling under the weight of daily government directives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have let you down.

And where is Rhodri Morgan when you need him.

He is nowhere to be seen when his input is required such as during the foot and mouth crisis and after factory closures.

But he'll readily get involved in issues where his opinions are not wanted. Meddling in the affairs of the Welsh Rugby Union and causing great offence to players and fans alike with his unsolicited ramblings. On more than one occasion with the WRU, Rhodri has tried, got into a ruck and been mauled.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have done nothing to deserve a second term. In just one term they have failed to use millions of pounds of European funding that could have rejuvenated our most deprived communities, plunged farmers into unnecessary financial hardship, and saddled us with the longest waiting lists in Europe.

Waiting lists that painfully illustrate how throwing money at public services is not the answer to the difficulties they face.

Applying the solutions of the mid-1940s to the problems of the twenty-first century will never bring about the results people today rightly demand and deserve.

But that is what this coalition continues to do.

It is their blind adherence to the socialism of a byegone era that is preventing the NHS in Wales from providing the standards and outcomes expected of a health service in the twenty-first century.

Health

The rigid strictures of 1940s socialism and centralism are being applied to the NHS in Wales today: central control, stifling bureaucracy and a lack of diversity to ensure universal standards.

In Wales' case, unacceptable standards.

Labour have promised so much. Yet delivered so little.

In the 1999 election manifesto they promised that by the end of a Labour Assembly's first term, no-one would be waiting more than 6 months for outpatient treatment. So, as we approach the end of a Labour-led first term, that figure should be hovering around zero.

It is in fact eighty three thousand and rising.

We are told this is because the NHS is treating more patients.

But more inpatients were treated four years ago than today.

In fact, the total number of people on a waiting list in Wales is over three hundred thousand.

If anybody is looking for a monument to four years of running our National Assembly - here it is - hundreds of thousands of people languishing on Labour's waiting lists.

We are told that record amounts are being spent on improving the health and social services.

But over 2,000 care home places have been lost since 1999.

We are told more doctors and nurses are being employed.

But bureaucrats are employed three times as fast.

We are told more time is needed to turn the NHS around.

But time has been given - and lots of it.

And things have got worse for Welsh patients. Much worse.

Patients that are suffering as a direct consequence of Labour's steadfast refusal to abandon the outdated socialist dogma that has delivered the longest waiting lists in the western world to our hospitals.

The Welsh Conservatives would not tolerate this disgraceful situation in which dogma comes before delivery.

A situation in which waiting over a year for critical heart treatment or life-improving orthopaedic surgery is routine.

We would treat the patients of Wales with the dignity they fully deserve and the standards they rightly expect.

This means waiting times measured in days and weeks, not months and years.

We will provide NHS funded treatment in the independent sector for patients kept waiting beyond set limits for critical surgery.

A health policy that views the NHS in terms of the patient, rather than the patient in terms of the NHS.

A health policy that rewards the wonderful dedication of our doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff with the services and support they deserve.

The revival of the NHS is at the very core of our programme to drive up standards in our public services.

A programme that understands people care far more about the quality of service than the nature of its provision.

A programme that recognises the importance of professional freedom.

The pitfalls of political interference.

And the value of choice.

We will do more than pay lip service to the Conservative values that other parties espouse in theory but then deny in practise.

We will apply them to the running of our public services.

Under the Welsh Conservatives, foundation hospitals as well as specialist schools - flagships of freedom, diversity and choice - will flourish in Wales.

Because freeing hospitals from political control and devolving greater power to the NHS frontline is the key to reducing the unacceptably high waiting lists in Wales.

And allowing choice and diversity in education is the way to raise the bar for all and improve standards in the classroom.

Education

Children are entitled to higher standards of education wherever they live and whatever their parents income. It is a national disgrace that over 1,000 pupils in Wales leave school without a single qualification every year.

While England forges ahead with its 'post-comprehensive era' Wales is left behind bound by Labour to a comprehensive system that sacrifices excellence, choice and opportunity. Our policy is about giving schools the freedom to make the decisions that will best suit their local needs.

The disparity between England and Wales in Science and Maths, in particular, is a serious concern. So too is the considerable reduction in students taking Modern Foreign Languages. Giving schools the autonomy to specialise would create considerable expertise in subjects like technology and languages, vital for the future of our Welsh economy.

Good schools depend on head teachers who are given the freedom to create an environment in which learning, co-operation and authority are respected.

Under this Lib/Lab government, decisions are concentrated at the centre and schools are deprived of the autonomy they desperately need to thrive and develop.

In an effort to meet a series of targets, the Education Minister seeks to control the curriculum, school discipline, how to teach, how heads should spend their money, and what types of schools we should have.

Jane Davidson has her finger in more pies than Mr Kipling.

She recently boasted of having her own agenda - a deeply socialist one. The problem is that it is not the agenda of teachers, parents or pupils - and they are the ones paying for it. She is the high priestess of socialism - the altar is obsessive ideological dogma, the sacrifice is Welsh pupils and Welsh education.

She has a policy for every season, and a statement for every occasion, except of course on the ELWa funding scandal where an uncharacteristic Trappist silence has descended upon her.

Even with enormous expenditure, the Lib/Lab government has missed targets both for pupils aged 14 and those at GCSE level.

Recruitment and retention of teachers has become a nightmare for schools.

We are in a situation where around one in ten posts at secondary level remains unfilled because heads are unable to find suitable people. There is a desperate shortage of applicants to teach Welsh, Maths and Science.

Investment in teacher training is lost as young teachers become quickly overburdened and disillusioned in the early years of their careers.

Government demands are high and yet schools are unable to plan ahead with transparent funding.

Schools should not have to wait constantly on the every word of the Education Minister in the hope that they may be eligible for a special grant.

We will ring-fence budgets giving schools the ability to plan ahead and develop.

There has been a collapse in classroom discipline. But the government solution was to issue an arbitrary target demanding that the number of pupils excluded be reduced, regardless of their behaviour.

Head teachers and governors must be granted the sole right to exclude and be able to restore order to the classroom with schools given the freedom to form home-school contracts.

Unlike Lib/Lab doctrine, Conservative policy is not prescriptive. Schools must be given the space to grow and develop. Teachers must be given the chance to teach without unnecessary paperwork and disciplinary problems. Pupils must be given the opportunity to excel whether in academic or vocational courses.

The fiasco over student finance sums up Labour's broken promises on education. In 1997 they promised not to introduce tuition fees - and then they did. In 2001 they promised not to introduce top-up fees - and now they have done so. Twice they have U-turned on student finance and we are still left unsure whether the Assembly government will have the power to go a separate way on the issue of top-up fees. Parents, students and lecturers cannot trust this government.

Welsh Conservatives have retained a clear, unambiguous commitment. We will extend the Assembly learning grant to every student in Higher Education and continue with the grant for Further Education students.

If standards in education are allowed to fall even further, economic aspirations will undoubtedly fail.

Economic Development

Aspirations that have been incorporated into government targets.

And undermined by government policy.

Policy that bears no resemblance to the rhetoric that precedes it.

Labour talk of enterprise and jobs, but fervently support next month's National Insurance increases that will deter investment in Wales and encourage home-grown companies to move abroad in search of cheaper employment.

A measure that punishes small businesses and taxes employment is hardly a fillip for Welsh firms that are struggling to survive or the manufacturing industry which has shed 100 jobs a week in Wales since 1997.

Labour also talk of bringing Wales' GDP up towards the UK average, but have failed to use European funding through a mixture of bureaucracy, confusion and incompetence. All the hallmarks of a Labour government.

Objective One money has not been utilised because the Government has either not made available vital match funding or squandered what there has been through red tape and bureaucracy.

An opportunity that could have brought jobs and prosperity and regenerated some of Wales's most deprived communities has been wasted by incompetence, dithering, delay and lack of political will.

Dithering and delay that is all the more costly considering that now the European Union is enlarging to the east, our eligibility for Objective One funding will be lost forever.

Time to utilise Objective One is running out and we have a government incapable of administering it.

The clock stands at five minutes to midnight but midnight has not yet struck.

By speeding up the cumbersome application process and stripping away the unnecessary bureaucracy the Welsh Conservatives will ensure that money designated for deprived communities reaches its destination before the opportunity is lost.

Small Welsh businesses will share the benefits too.

We will limit business rate increases to inflation and streamline the bureaucratic bodies that administer support to small firms to ensure we invest more in jobs and stimulate economic growth.

Bureaucracy and the dead-hand of government must no longer be allowed to soak up money crucial to the development of our country.

Under this coalition, it has been free to do so.

Millions has been lost on bureaucracy.

And wasted on a series of projects for the benefit of politicians, not the people.

Fifty million pounds on an additional Assembly building.

Millions more on 'mini embassies' in some of the world's most expensive cities.

And over three million pounds on a driverless taxi connecting the Assembly to City Hall in Cardiff.

All hallmarks of Labour in power - waste, political egotism on a massive scale and disregard for the feelings of the Welsh people.

Under the Welsh Conservatives money will be invested in frontline services to benefit the whole of Wales, not wasted on projects to feed the egos of a handful of politicians.

Transport

Millions of pounds has been spent on a driverless taxi when road and rail links between North and South are abysmal and when no commitment will be made to a proper road link to our international airport in Cardiff.

Rhodri Morgan's priorities make Stephen Byers look like a man of judgement.

The Government has since pulled the plug on further funding for this astonishing waste of money on the driverless Cardiff train.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cardiff council welcomed their decision to do so.

Despite the fact that his party's AMs have never raised an objection to it in the Assembly - not a squeak.

The Liberal Democrats really will say anything to anybody to win support.

Lembit Opik is currently leading a moral crusade to clean up politics. He recently promised and I quote "the end of political opportunism". "I want us to rise above the backbiting and trivia. I want us to only criticise when we can suggest a better way ourselves" he said.

Breathtaking brass neck.

The reality is of course somewhat different.

Lib Dem campaigning documents still being sold at their last party conference, urged Liberal Democrats to do precisely the opposite:

"Be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly" they said.

There was more. The Liberal literature continued:

"You can secure support from voters who normally vote Tory by being effectively anti-Labour and similarly in a Tory area secure Labour votes by being anti-Tory".

There is no underhand tactics this unprincipled sham will not use.

Lembit Opiks 'moral crusade' is suffering the same problem as his pop record.

No one will buy it.

Although even this is easier to sell than the administration's transport policy.

Labour promised to transform our road and rail network. The aspirations were high: "strategic infrastructure", "reduced isolation", "more choices". But the reality is a transport system that has spluttered and stalled.

Just like the Lib-Lab coalition.

A coalition which for the last two and a half years has been playing politics with the fortunes of this country.

Rural Development

Nothing illustrates this better than the appointment of Mike German as Minister for Rural Development, a coalition stitch-up honouring a backroom deal the leaders struck with no consideration paid to the interests of rural Wales.

For whom the consequences have been devastating.

German has given us bungling incompetence on a scale rarely exhibited even by this coalition. Which is to say that it has been monumental.

When people ask which job in the Welsh Government is the worst one, the answer is inevitably the one German has just left.

Subsidy payments on which farmers depend and for which he is responsible have still not arrived causing unnecessary stress for farmers who face increasing financial hardship with mounting overdrafts because part of their income is being denied.

A vital report on genetically modified crops sent to the Assembly in August went unnoticed by German and his department until after a crucial debate on GM regulation in December.

Illegal meat is still entering the country by dint of substandard controls at our country's entry points.

Regulations like the ones dealing with the disposal of fallen stock are imposed on our agricultural industry from behind desks in Cardiff Bay, Whitehall and Brussels with no regard paid to the realities of farming.

We sadly have a Rural Development minister determined to live up to his other post as Minister for Wales Abroad (billing we have every reason to suppose he takes very seriously). A minister with no previous experience in farming within a Cabinet comprised solely of members from the M4 corridor has, unsurprisingly, shown himself completely out of touch with rural Wales.

Allied to an Education Minister who has stood and watched rural schools close month on month, this coalition has done inestimable damage to our rural communities.

And with it lasting harm to the Welsh language, predominant in many areas of rural Wales but currently under threat from the out-migration of young people in search of a decent income and prosperous future.

The Welsh Conservatives have a proud record in the promotion and protection of the Welsh language but we do not rest on laurels.

Mae'r iaith Gymraeg sydd ar y blaen mewn llawer o ardaloedd yng nghefn gwlad Cymru ar hyn o bryd dan fygythiad, oherwydd y sawl sy'n gorfod symud i chwilio am incwm rhesymol a dyfodol llewyrchus.

Mae gan y Ceidwadwyr Cymreig hanes clodwyw wrth hybu a gwarchod yr iaith Gymraeg, ond dydyn ni ddim yn gorffwys ar ein rhwyfau.

In drawing up a rural charter in full consultation with Welsh farmers we will seek to revive our agriculture industry and stem the flow of people leaving rural communities which is slowly killing our rural communities and threatening the Welsh language.

Town and community councils will be given greater powers by the Welsh Conservatives, enabling decisions that affect the local population to be made at the local level. Under this coalition, too many far-reaching decisions are made from behind desks in Cardiff Bay by Cabinet members from the M4 corridor, with little consideration paid to how they will affect Wales as a whole.

Labour has spent the last four years ignoring great swathes of the population.

And they wonder why voter apathy is growing.

It is time for a Cabinet that represents all four corners of our country and a National Assembly for the whole of Wales. That is what the Welsh Conservatives will deliver.

Labour claims to be part of an open government.

But has been far from it.

They are the party that denied a full public inquiry into foot-and-mouth.

They claim their bureaucratic restructuring of the health service is 'cost neutral'. It turns out that the bill will be over fifteen million pounds.

They will not tell the Richard Commission into the powers of the Assembly what they really think until after the election.

They will not tell the Welsh public the true cost of the new Assembly building until a month after the election.

This cover-up not only benefits the Lib-Lab coalition.

It suits Plaid Cymru just fine as well. They too are in favour of lavishing millions of pounds on a new palace for politicians when waiting lists have never been higher. They think the people of Wales are in favour of this costly extravagance too. They couldn't be more wrong.

They also think the people of Wales support Plaid's march towards independence.

Their leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones is on record as saying the battlefield of the Assembly election will be constitutional change.

Plaid Cymru are, quite simply, deluded.

Let me tell you something Ieuan.

The people of Wales do not want an additional Assembly building.

They do not want Welsh embassies and they emphatically do not want Wales to break away from the United Kingdom.

And the battlefield for the Assembly election will not be constitutional change.

It will be the things that really matter to the people of Wales in our everyday lives - health, education and jobs.

Devolution in Wales will only become a true success if public services are improved. If trust in government is restored and if power is taken away from government ministers and given to doctors, nurses, teachers and students.

This government's evasion and blundering has destroyed public trust not only in the Government, but sadly in the Assembly too.

Social engineering and centralisation has squandered tax payers money and left public services crumbling.

1The Welsh Conservatives strive for an Assembly to be proud of. A guarantee of no more waste. An assurance of public services that will deliver for the people of Wales.

With policies that focus on local needs and not the whims of central government.

We offer the people of Wales a clear choice on May 1st.

Four more years of wasted public money, rising waiting lists and falling educational standards.

Or a government that places its trust and support in schools, hospitals, farmers and businesses.

Devolution can deliver Welsh solutions to Welsh problems.

But only with a Welsh Conservative government.

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