During 2013 Welsh Conservatives set the political agenda. We led the way, whether it was delivering the opportunity for Welsh taxes, outlining the most ambitious policy agenda in the UK, or achieving change from the opposition benches through forcing Labour to change direction on the NHS.
Welsh Conservatives set the agenda on issues that matter most to people in Wales. As our small businesses compete their way out of the worst of the economic difficulties, we launched a plan for localised investment banks across Wales offering a solution to the sluggish lending we see from the traditional banking sector. We have continued to push for a split in the multiplier of business rates, cutting costs for our SMEs. In February, I delivered a speech outlining my commitment to a low-tax Wales. I believe that by cutting the 40 per cent tax band, Wales could prosper as a place of enterprise and I remain committed to this goal.
Looking ahead to 2014
This week the four party leaders in the National Assembly reflect on 2013 and set out their hopes for the New Year. Yesterday we published the reflections of Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones. Tomorrow we hear from from Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru, and on Thursday from Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Just a couple of weeks ago, an international education body showed that Wales had continued to decline in educational standards putting us at the wrong end of the league tables, with our children faring worse than children in Eastern European countries. This simply isn’t good enough. However, the signs have been there from the start. A first year student at university this year is the first product of an entirely devolved Labour system. So, what can be done?
In August, we dominated UK headlines and front pages by daring to mention the word ‘grammar’ in connection to the vital middle phase of schooling. We believe that academia and skills are both equal in weight and our education system simply must reflect this. Today’s education system provides the drivers of tomorrow’s economy. If we can’t be brave enough to reflect the needs of our children and economy in policy making, we are failing everybody. I’m proud of the progressive agenda we’ve set in education and we will continue to push for a world beating system.
The record breaking cuts that the Welsh Government has passed onto our NHS have led to some of the worst outcomes anywhere in the UK. Waiting times have been consistently missed and promises broken. Carwyn Jones thought that by patching over the cracks with a change of Minister, his blushes would be spared. This isn’t good enough. Due to pressure from the Welsh Conservatives over a number of years to ring fence the NHS budget, the Welsh Government has been forced to put £150 million into the NHS to attempt to improve these appalling outcomes.
The most significant announcement of the year, if not in the history of devolution, was the announcement made in October by the Prime Minister. Standing in our Welsh Parliament in Cardiff Bay, David Cameron showed the Conservative’s commitment to the people of Wales by taking forward 30 of the 31 recommendations of the Silk Commission. This means that for the first time, tax and borrowing will be in the hands of Welsh politicians. As I outlined in a speech earlier in the year, this allows Wales a proper chance to become competitive through using the tax system. It was a truly historic moment.
Sadly, 2013 saw the passing of two giants of the Conservative party. Lady Thatcher was an exceptional politician: a leader of courage and conviction who transformed the British economy. For me she had the charisma and presence to make a real difference in everything she did. Closer to home, Lord Roberts was a tremendous ambassador for Wales. He never forgot his Welsh roots whilst serving both his community and the party with distinction and devotion. Both will be sadly missed.
As we look ahead, we are going to continue pushing for much needed change in Wales, setting the agenda and holding, lazy, tired Labour Ministers to account for poor performance. But more importantly, we will continue to show the people of Wales that they don’t need to settle for second best. We believe in Wales and we believe in the Welsh people. As the gulf of aspiration between what we deserve and what Labour is delivering grows ever wider, we will champion those who want to get on in life, those who want a better NHS and education system, and those who want a better Wales. Change can only come with a vote for the Welsh Conservatives.