Wales can do better, say Lib Dems

Jonathan Brooks-Jones highlights key features of Welsh Liberal Democrat 2011 manifesto launched today

The Welsh Liberal Democrats signature policy for the Assembly election on 5 May is to reshape the Welsh economy by tackling Government waste, and by making Wales a more business-friendly place. Launching their Manifesto in Aberaeron today they pledged to stem the proliferation of rules and regulations for businesses by introducing a ‘one-in-one-out’ scheme. This means no new regulation can be brought in without other regulations being cut by a greater amount. They will also freeze business rates for a year while reforming Wales’ business environment.

Alongside these plans, the Welsh Lib Dems will campaign for a needs-based funding formula to replace Barnett. They also wish to develop the financial accountability of the National Assembly and pursue the possibility of tax-varying powers for the National Assembly.

For education, their priority is to tackle the gap in spend on pupils between England and Wales. To do this they will target £2,500 at each of the 80,000 pupils in greatest need. This money will stay with the pupils, allowing the schools to invest in smaller class sizes and one-on-one teaching.

Schools’ performance is to be improved by creating a new, streamlined National Curriculum and giving teachers more flexibility over how these subjects are taught.

On healthcare, Welsh Liberal Democrats say they will cut down on waiting times by cutting wasteful spend, and redirect all ineffective spending in the NHS to frontline services. At today’s launch they attacked the Labour-Plaid coalition for “turning waste and incompetence into an art form”.

They also want to see a more localised National Health Service, making greater use of small hospitals and health centres to provide 24-hour GP and nurse-led care to treat minor injuries and illnesses. This, they say, would create a faster service for patients and take some pressure off the larger general hospitals.

Welsh Liberal Democrats want to make it an option for everyone to “go green”, by creating schemes to help people make their homes more energy efficient. They plan to cut Wales’ carbon footprint by 75 per cent by 2050. Part of this will involve scrapping the subsidy for the north south air link – what they dub Ieuan Air, after Economic Development Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones whose Ynys Mon seat is home to the northern end of the link. Instead, they say they would prioritise greener transport such as rail and bus links across Wales.

They plan to do this by driving a shift towards cleaner fuels and cutting the amount of energy use. They will begin by tackling fuel poverty, and cutting emissions from people’s homes. They will raise the profile of the Green Deal, so that those who are eligible are made more aware of the service providing money for insulation, new boilers and cavity wall insulation. They will also ensure the Welsh Government takes the lead in cutting carbon use by setting carbon-reduction targets for all its departments and quangos and publishing performance figures. They will also publish an annual Carbon Budget so that people can see what impact their plans will have on the environment.

The Welsh Lib Dems complain that devolution in Wales has not stuck to the principle of decentralism, and that the Welsh Government has become ‘too much like Westminster; too distant from people and with too much control over our communities”.

In order to put power back into the hands of communities, Welsh Liberal Democrats will cut restrictions preventing local councils from innovating and acting in the best interest of local communities. They also wish to give local communities freedom to take control over certain local authority services that are best delivered at a community level.

The manifesto is also critical of the scrutiny system in the Welsh Government. They plan to restore faith in the Ministerial Code of Conduct by making sure it is policed by an independent body, thereby ending the situation where the First Minister is in charge of complaints against the government. They also wish to restore power to the National Assembly by giving power to a committee to call back Ministers who fail to answer questions properly.

Jonathan Brooks-Jones is sub-editor for ClickonWales

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