Nick Bourne says Wales is buzzing with optimism which promises an exciting election in May
It is an exciting time to be living and working in Wales. There is a sense of optimism greater than I can remember for a long time, due I think to a combination of factors.
The UK Government’s announcement that it is to electrify the Great Western mainline is fantastic news for Wales. Though pencilled in to reach Cardiff, you can be assured that Welsh Conservatives will take up Philip Hammond’s offer and lobby vigorously for its extension to Swansea. The added decision to electrify the Valleys lines will prove a significant boost to many communities in Wales.
Rail electrification will make travel cleaner, greener and more efficient. It will have tangible benefits for Wales and Welsh productivity. Britain has a proud heritage and longstanding fascination with rail travel. I am delighted that the coalition government is to bring this proud history up to speed, with significant investment fit for the 21st Century.
George Osborne’s announcement at the Conservative’s Spring Conference in Cardiff just over a week ago that the UK Government will now look at the way that Wales is funded, in the first instance providing the financing arrangements for a Barnett Floor, is good news for the National Assembly. It holds the substantial promise of building on the excellent work of Gerry Holtham and his team by looking at whether funding within the United Kingdom should be allocated based on relative need.
We should be under no doubt that this was an historic announcement. Labour faced widespread and justified embarrassment when it was revealed that they dodged the issue of a Barnett Floor in coalition negotiations. The Conservative-Lib Dem Government is the first administration to commit to reviewing the way Wales is funded, and we have lobbied hard for this from Wales.
As this and many other decisions show, this is a government that is on our side. It’s not just Ray from Leicestershire, “determined to despise every move” as David Cameron said, but then disappointed by constructive and compassionate action. There have been countless others who’ve come to appreciate this government’s resolve to clear up the mess it inherited in a manner that is responsible and fair.
Whether it is the uprating of the state pension, the ending of Labour’s jobs tax, the abolition of ID cards, increases to the Working Tax Credit or the millions of pounds of investment in broadband, transport and defence in Wales, it is clear that this is a government that is putting hard-working people first. After a decade of stifling dependency and state bureaucracy, this is a government that will reward everyone that works hard, saves, and wishes to provide for their family. Those who, as George said, want to get up and get on.
Finally, the resounding ‘yes’ vote in the 3 March referendum on further powers has given everyone in Wales a massive boost. Initial fears about turnout did not come to pass. Attendance was on a par with the Barnsley By Election, for instance – although we all hope to see a higher turnout in May.
Conservatives pledged that they would facilitate the referendum if a request was made, and did just that, before the One Wales deadline of May. Coming just weeks before the Assembly elections, the result offers the tantalising proposition for the next Assembly Government – of whichever party colour or creed – of having primary law-making powers. Welsh Conservatives will be doing everything we can to persuade the people of Wales to put their trust in us to form part of that government. We have ambitious proposals for Wales, and we are ready to lead.
Ron Davies once said that devolution was a process, not an event. Wales is now a further step ahead on that process, and it is an exciting place to be – not just for us as representatives, but more importantly, for everyone in Wales. Our task now, as I see it, is to strip away the same sense of dependency that is being dismantled at Westminster, and work to build a Wales in which everyone can realise their potential. This is what drives Welsh Conservative proposals to free up schools, for example, so that teachers and headteachers can plan to spend their resources in a way that only they know best. Or to take small businesses out of business rates so that they can spend this money on employing more staff, developing new products or seeking new markets.
Events across the world remind us that representatives are only ever just that – representative of those who dream of leaving their country a better place than they found it. Wales is buzzing with a similar sense of verve and a huge sense of promise. It’s up to all of us in the coming weeks to show how we intend to build on that promise. It should be an exciting election in May.