Conservatives share ‘new voice for Wales’

Jonathan Brooks-Jones points to the key features of the Welsh Conservatives manifesto, launched today

Today the Welsh Conservatives launched their manifesto for the forthcoming Welsh General Election on 5 May. The document, entitled ‘A new voice for Wales’, claims they would increase wealth levels in Wales to 85 per cent of UK average by 2020 and 100 per cent by 2030.

In order to achieve this they would scrap business rates for businesses with rateable value below £12,000, and taper the rate between £12,001 and £15,000. They also plan to create a stronger Council for Economic Renewal (called Enterprise Wales) to give the private sector a larger role in public policy.

A skills audit and advice service will be offered to everyone over 40, and private sector-led skills academies will be set up to provide job-focused training particularly for certain sectors, such as transport and IT.

The Welsh Conservatives also pledge to build a modern transport network for Wales, including a direct air link to North America. They will freeze Severn Bridge tolls for cars and commission a study to look at the economic effects of bridge tolls, with a view to reducing or removing them. There is also a pledge to work with the UK government to electrify the Valleys network and the Great Western to Swansea. They will also explore the possibility of devolving Network Rail to Wales.

They also pledge to work with the UK government to take forward all recommendations of the Holtham Commission’s reports on fair and accountable funding for Wales, including tax-varying powers.

On health, the Welsh Conservatives say they will protect NHS expenditure in real terms for the next 4 years. However, they will also ‘clamp down’ on the £1bn of annual wasted expenditure in the Welsh NHS. They will also re-introduce a £5 charge per prescription for all who can afford it, barring under 25’s, older people, cancer patients, and anyone else who was previously exempt from the charge.

They wish to target cancer by appointing a ‘Cancer Co-ordinator’ to implement a robust National Cancer Plan, and set up a cancer drugs fund to give Welsh patients the best possible treatments.

They also plan to invest £10m annually in the Ambulance service to speed up response times, and provide the Wales Air Ambulance with £3m every year.

On education, they plan to develop a ‘middle phase’ for 8 – 13 year olds to bridge the gap between the internationally acclaimed Foundation Phase and 14 – 19 Learning Pathways scheme. They will also establish a Public-Private-Partnership investment scheme, ‘Building Together’, to fund a major school building programme.

On Higher Education, they wish to allow universities to raise tuition fees up to £9,000. They will also work towards Cardiff University becoming one of the world’s top 50 universities by 2020.

They propose to make full use of Wales’ legislative powers, outlining eleven bills they would enact if elected. They include an Enterprise Bill to foster the private sector and a Flood Risk Management bill to prevent irresponsible development of land at high risk of flooding.

They also wish to bring their vision of a ‘big society’ to Wales, saying they want to ‘decentralise power to the lowest possible level’. Part of this involves giving communities to the power to instigate referendums on council tax increases, car parking and business rates. They would also give local authorities greater discretion over their expenditure by reducing costly use of ring-fenced grants. They argue this would save £70m every year and allow local people to decide on priorities.

Other key pledges are:

  • Invest in education to give teachers, parents, governors a greater say.
  • Introduce an Armed Forces’ card to give benefits such as free bus travel and NHS priority care.
  • Eliminate child poverty by 2020.
  • Protect free bus passes and free prescriptions for older people.
  • Protect flood plains with new ‘Blue Belts’ to prevent irresponsible development.
  • Promote the Welsh language with a new Charter Mark for businesses that encourage its use.

Jonathan Brooks-Jones is sub-editor for ClickonWales

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