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Nick Bourne: Putting Communities First

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

It's great for us all to be here in Fairwater, supporting Angela Jones Evans, and I would like to extend my thanks to Cardiff West Conservative Association for giving me the opportunity to speak in the vital area of Social Justice.

And that's what I'd like to discuss with you today - opportunities.

Too many young people in Wales are denied the opportunity to reach their full potential. 

For far too many in Wales, birth - not worth - defines life prospects.

This is neither justifiable nor sustainable.

It's not justifiable economically, as we continue to deal with the terrible effects of recession and it's not sustainable financially, with Labour's debt crisis meaning government faces difficult choices over public spending.

In Wales alone, the Assembly will have to cut £416 million in public spending next year - with the promise of more Labour-Plaid cuts to come.

The lack of opportunities for young people in Wales is not sustainable socially - with drink and drugs wrecking lives, and the blight of crime and unemployment destroying communities.

And it's not justifiable morally.

Welsh Conservatives believe no-one should be left behind.

We believe in equality of opportunity - that everyone should have the right to reach their full potential.

<h2>Labour</h2>

The truth is social mobility has stalled under Labour.

That's not just my view. Take Labour MP Alun Milburn, who claims the UK is "an unequal society in which class background too often determines life chances."

Or Labour AM Huw Lewis, who admitted there is evidence of "'downward' social mobility" in Wales.

As a result, many social problems and disadvantages have become entrenched.

After ten years of Labour in Wales, levels of violent crime have risen to the extent they are now higher per capita than in America.

We have one of the worst drug problems, with one in four children admitting to having taken drugs. Worryingly, almost one in 10 young people have used cocaine.

Of 40 countries surveyed, Wales now has the highest number of 13 year-olds who say they have been drunk at least twice. And every year, more than 1,000 people die as a result of alcohol misuse.

Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to further problems.

More than half of prisoners in the UK began using drugs before they were 16, and up to 70 per cent of those going into prison have a pre-existing drugs problem.

With no positive role model, two thirds of boys with convicted fathers go on to be convicted themselves. As a result, our prisons have become conveyor belts carrying the same repeat offenders in and out of custody.

With over two thirds of the prison population lacking any formal qualifications, this is a cycle of crime and poverty from which many hold little hope of escaping and which under Labour, shows little sign of improving.

<h2>Old Labour</h2>

Labour's answer to this complex web of problems is to throw money at it.

Yet the number of children living in poverty rose in each of the last 2 years.

There has been no change in the number of children living in severe poverty since 1997. According to Save the Children, this directly affects 90,000 children in Wales.

Almost 1 in 5 in Wales grow up in a workless household; a higher proportion than in the rest of the UK.

And more than one in ten children now live in severe child poverty, where household incomes are so low that both they and their parents go without the most basic necessities, because they cannot afford them.

This deprivation is all too often passed down the generations.

Born to poorer families, these children are more likely to be socially disadvantaged across every sphere of life, trapped in an endless cycle of low-waged work, spells of unemployment, crime and even health problems.

For a Government that pledged to halve child poverty by 2010, and eradicate it by 2020, these statistics are a damning indictment of failure.

Former Children's Commissioner for Wales, the late Peter Clarke, was right to describe child poverty as a 'national disgrace'.

It is Labour - and now Plaid's - national disgrace, and it's time for change.

<h2>A different kind of thinking</h2>

Labour's tired and discredited way of trying to manage the full complexity of human problems from an office in Cardiff Bay has failed.

We cannot continue to impose top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions for our most difficult social problems.

We cannot continue to exercise excessive control and direction, which stifles individual creativity, expertise and enthusiasm.
As Albert Einstein said: "We cannot solve problems with the same kind of thinking that was used to create them."

Welsh Conservatives understand we must make inroads into the root causes of deprivation, if child poverty is really to be tackled.

We must be smarter in the way we allocate funding.

We are clear that the best way to improve the situation is to trust those who know best - the people on the ground, on the front line.

So we will put our trust in the voluntary and third sector in a way Labour never has.

By doing so, we'll unleash the full potential of charities and voluntary groups, encouraging them to use their expertise to combat deprivation, inequality and the lack of opportunity, working alongside existing agencies and their dedicated professionals.

These are the people who put in the time, who give the support to help others in our society.

These are the people who see daily the anxieties, needs and aspirations of those living in our poorest communities.

And these are the people with the proven track record. 

<h2>The Voluntary Sector</h2>

Take for example the Amelia Trust Farm in the Vale of Glamorgan. It's an organisation heavily reliant on the support of volunteers.

Created in 1991, the farm has grown into a wonderful enterprise, with 300 animals, woodlands, a sports hall and even music studio.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is the Animal Assisted Therapy they provide, helping vulnerable and anxious young people form their first trusting and caring relationships.

Through their work with animals like donkeys, for example, they have helped even the most hardened and angry young people engage positively with society.

This has helped to build their confidence, and break down barriers within their communities - to such an extent some have even visited hospitals, schools and film sets with their animals!

The centre is helping to turn people's lives around.

But this example is by no means unique.

From the ex-addict helping others to get clean, to the student supporting the local youth club, volunteering helps build a sense of trust, understanding and community, enhancing the lives of both those who lend their time and those who receive support.

No matter how difficult the problems facing our society, someone, somewhere, is already helping to solve them through voluntary action.

These sorts of organisation have a far deeper understanding of the communities in which they work than any bureaucrat in Cardiff Bay.

Some of the most effective social projects I've seen are not linked to the Assembly at all, but organised by creative and motivated local voluntary organisations.

And one need never look too far to see their incredible results in action.

Take for instance Wastesavers, a Newport based charity which promotes recycling.

It started life in 1986 as an environmental interest group, voluntarily collecting and recycling paper.

It is now a financially independent organisation with a turnover of nearly £2 million a year, collecting and recycling over 12,000 tonnes of materials, including mobile phones and furniture.

But Wastesavers isn't just good for our environment, it's good for the community too.

The backbone of the charity - those who keep the weekly kerbside collections running - are the long-term unemployed, long term prisoners and young people excluded from school.

Many choose to give their time voluntarily, yet now find themselves in long-term employment.

Wastesavers also has a training department to develop the numeracy and literacy skills of all staff members, so no-one is left behind.

Such fantastic not-for-profit organisations and charities can be found throughout Wales.

Today I can outline how a Welsh Conservative Assembly Government would propose to support such groups.

<h2>Social Enterprise</h2>

Welsh Conservatives will look to introduce a 'Social Enterprise Bank', with the support of a commercial bank, to provide financial support for enterprising community organisations in Wales.

Lending to social enterprises, registered charities, community associations and voluntary organisations on better than commercial terms, this Social Enterprise Bank would provide much needed financial support to enterprising community projects up and down Wales.

Loans of anything between £5,000 and £1 million would be available, and would be provided for existing projects and innovative individuals wishing to set up new community schemes too.

To begin with, we would pledge an initial cash injection of between £30 and £40 million, with any profits made on this to be directly invested back into the bank to support further projects throughout Wales.

And to further increase the money available for social investment, and develop a sense of community spirit, we would look into proposals to allow individuals to invest in the bank too.

We are aware though that by itself, money achieves little. It is people that make a difference.

By helping people to help others, we can achieve real change.

<h2>Volunteer for Wales</h2>

Welsh Conservatives want to encourage the values that help tie people together.

We want to kindle the spirit of volunteering in communities across Wales.

By doing so we will re-engage with people who feel socially excluded, and also create new networks of support.

However, in order to establish volunteering as a norm of working life, government must do its bit. 

That is why I'm delighted to announce today our 'Volunteer for Wales' initiative.

'Volunteer for Wales' would give all public sector employees an annual entitlement of up to 5 days leave to volunteer on projects in Wales. And with 30,000 voluntary organisations and community groups currently in operation, there would be no shortage of projects to choose from!

The benefit to voluntary organisations would be enormous. Not only would this boost volunteer numbers significantly, but the third sector would benefit from the skills and expertise of the public sector too.

And by creating a culture of volunteering, individuals could be persuaded to freely donate more of their time and money - which would further boost voluntary manpower.

With public sector support, voluntary organisations would be able to plan and embark on more ambitious and large-scale projects.

Yet while the benefits to voluntary organisations are undoubted, there would be benefits to the public sector too.

Many companies in the private sector have successfully established a culture of volunteering. In doing so, they not only boost staff recruitment and retention rates, as well as training and leadership development, but also the motivation and productivity of their staff at work.

We want to build on this success, encouraging greater volunteering in both the public and private sectors. But while good progress has been made by many companies, more needs to be done.

That's why over the coming months, led by my valued colleague, Mark Isherwood, we will be consulting on how business rate relief can best be used to promote greater volunteering in the private sector.

<h2>Conclusion</h2>

Welsh Conservatives want a Wales where people's destiny is written by, not for them...

Where worth, not birth determines life chances...

And where all children - regardless of social background - have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

However, this society will not just emerge by chance. Nor can it be magically brought about from a desk in Cardiff Bay.

It will take time, commitment, and a long-term policy focus; something both Labour and Plaid with their gimmicks and giveaways have proved incapable of achieving.

Social mobility is integral to our future and we must continue to drive the agenda forward.

A new approach is required to tackle deprivation; something only the Conservative Party is capable of achieving.

This task, to deal with the most difficult social problems of our time, will be at the centre of everything we say, everything we stand for, everything we do.

Wales desperately needs new thinking and new action.

We cannot solve problems with the same kind of thinking that was used to create them!

After ten years hard Labour, it's time for change.

Thank you.

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