As 2010 draws to a close, so does my first year as First Minister of Wales. As with every year, there are ‘high’ and ‘low’ moments and this year has been no exception.
Without doubt, the Ryder Cup was the highlight of 2010. A competition where this year, there were two victors – Team Europe and Team Wales. No one will forget the jubilant scenes at Celtic Manor, as Colin Montgomerie’s team clinched victory for Europe on that glorious Monday. However, the tournament was also a victory for Wales. Our small nation proved that it is more than capable of successfully hosting one of the greatest sporting competitions in the world. I felt huge pride when told by many international golf connoisseurs that despite the rain, the 2010 Ryder Cup was the best ever held.
Reports from the Party Leaders at the Year’s End
Tomorrow we hear from Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, on Wednesday Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, and on Thursday the leader of the Welsh Conservatives Nick Bourne.
ClickonWales wishes all our readers a prosperous and happy New Year!
The good news for Wales is, we will continue to feel the full economic benefits from hosting the competition for many years to come. Wales is now firmly on the world map in a way that would have been unimaginable fifteen years ago. I believe without devolution we would never have had the confidence nor the ambition to want to become the host nation.
Conversely, the ‘lows’ for Wales have been worrying and in no small part linked to global economic and domestic financial circumstances. The announcement that Newport Passport Office was to close, almost immediately after the Ryder Cup, was a complete surprise. There was no consultation by the UK Government over its decision. Indeed, there was no consultation over the cancellation of the St. Athan military academy and the Severn Barrage project either. The much promised ‘respect agenda’ has yet to properly materialise.
The negative impact of such announcements were compounded by the unprecedented financial situation we now face in Wales, following the severe cuts imposed on us by the UK Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
In pre-devolution days, the people of Wales had no choice during times of financial cutbacks, no say and no influence over what their priorities should be. Our voice would never have been heard. Devolution has changed all that completely. Today, we have the Assembly acting as a shield in the interests of Welsh communities.
However, despite the fact we are living through troubled financial and economic times, I believe during 2010 we witnessed devolution truly coming of age in Wales. As an Assembly and as Government, we are now proving we have the capability to do things differently – not just for the sake of being different but because our decisions can bring real benefits to the people of Wales. A prime example of this took place very recently when the Welsh Assembly Government announced its approach to tuition fees.
Had we simply followed England’s plan, many people in Wales would have been hit hard by such a decision. Instead we took a different route – the right route for Wales. Without devolution, we could never have taken such a bold and progressive step.
The tuition fees decision, was however, just the most recent example of the positive effect devolution is having on our daily lives. The introduction of the foundation phase in our schools and the innovative response to the global recession through the widely-lauded ProAct scheme, proves devolution is delivering for Wales on a daily basis.
On the 3rd March next year, we will have the opportunity to strengthen Wales’ ‘hand’ even more, when we have a referendum on further powers. Securing a positive outcome in this referendum is important for ordinary people all over Wales. All those people who have free bus passes. All those who will benefit from student support and education maintenance allowances. All those who have a roof over their heads because new affordable houses have been built and all those who’ve seen new schools and hospitals built across Wales. It’s all our people who will benefit, not a group of politicians.
Making sure Wales votes ‘Yes’ next March is about making the powers we already enjoy here work even better. A ‘Yes’ vote will mean the Assembly will be able to use its powers more freely to create better laws for the people it serves in a more efficient and cost-effective way.
It’s time the people of Wales got the tools they need to do the job of governing properly. By voting ‘Yes’ vote next March, we will all have those tools. If those tools are good enough for Northern Ireland, which is half our size, they’re good enough for Wales. During these austere times, it’s even more crucial that Wales has a stronger voice. I believe securing a ‘Yes’ vote will deliver just that. I don’t think there is anybody out there who seriously thinks that a ‘No’ vote would strengthen Wales’ voice in the UK and believe me, that strong voice has never been more important.
The referendum will not be the only time voters go to the polls next year. On the 5th of May, the people of Wales will elect a new Assembly and a new Government to lead the country forward over the next four years. This fourth Assembly term will be a very different one from the previous three. Spending during the years that Labour were in Government in London rose inexorably and totally necessarily to repair the withering damage of eighteen years of Tory rule.
This will be my first election as the new Leader of Welsh Labour and I am under no illusion this will be a stern test that faces our Party. Whilst the results of recent years have not gone our way, there remains a steely determination across our membership and indeed the entire Labour movement, to deliver for Wales next May.
Our ranks have been swollen by well over a thousand new members over the summer months. We also embarked on an unprecedented nationwide ‘conversation’ with all sections of Welsh society to hear their views and ideas on how we can best move Wales forward.
Next spring, despite current financial constraints, we are determined to present to the people of Wales a manifesto that offers hope and inspiration, as opposed to the gloom and doom that emanates from the UK Government.
Welsh Labour is ready to shape our country in the future and for the better. A country with effective powers, to enable it to make better decisions on how to the tackle the challenges that lay before it. We are under no illusion that the tasks ahead for Wales are great. On positioning our economy; on getting the right skills in place to create a more prosperous nation in the future. They’re big challenges but as before in Wales’ history, Labour will not be left wanting when it comes to leadership.
Yes, we will stand up for Wales against the excesses and insensitivities of what the UK Government throw at us. However, equally as importantly, Welsh Labour is ready to lead Wales forward and produce new and different ways to deal with the challenges of the years ahead.