Tonight is not just a review of the last three years, but a chance to see how One Wales can cope and survive the next tough year. But before I do that, let me take you back to 2007.
Faced with the question of how to provide a stable government for Wales for the term of this Assembly, we spent many patient weeks drawing together a programme which together we could deliver and around which we could unite.
We then published our joint commitments, so that it would be clear what we would deliver through having a stable, progressive government for Wales.
To clarity, we added transparency.
Underpinning all this work was a spirit of mutual trust. Now trust takes time to build. It has to exist between individuals but also between parties. As we negotiated, both sides needed to know that they could trust not only the people around the table, but the many thousands of members behind them.
Trust – at least in the honesty of our endeavours – was built during those weeks and sealed by the special conferences of both our parties.
I can only reflect on recent events in Westminster and wonder if the pressure to form a government there – and the lack of the whole party backing to the agreement that has been made – is an opportunity lost.
Certainly, seeing two Coalition government members voting against that central principle of any government – the Budget – suggests either a worrying lack of trust in the Liberal Democrat ranks or a failure to do the deal and bind it properly.
Now trust within government is one part of the bargain, the other is the trust of the people in government. So right from the start, we made the performance of our One Wales agreement a key part of the agreement itself. It was written in and delivered at a Cabinet level.
So, since April 2008, we have published regular, factual accounts of what we have done, what we are doing, and when we are doing it.
Anyone who wants to can see where we are with each and every one of our commitments
We know we can deliver, our regular reporting reassures me that we are delivering, and it can reassure you that we will deliver.
That careful but straightforward approach has built trust and it is something I can commend to any other government with a coalition agreement to implement.
This also means both parties have kept their identities and values whilst pooling resources and effort in government. And we have been challenged. The credit crunch and recession raised predicable cries of “you can’t deliver your One Wales promises” from the opposition parties. I will leave you to relish the irony of those charges following the last weeks’ events.
Delivering our promises was precisely what was so important to this government however, and we have prioritised them absolutely, come hell, high water or recession, up to and including the referendum next spring.
Changes in personnel can also challenge trust, but I want to make it clear that both parties dealt with the change of First Minister in that spirit of trust and mutual respect which has increased during the One Wales years. And Carwyn has continued as First Minister in that spirit.
And that mutual respect is not some throw away phrase, like “the respect agenda”. Respect needs no annotation, it is either there or it is not. These first few weeks between Wales and Westminster have been rocky, it must be said, but perhaps now with the agreement to pass our Sustainable Homes LCO unamended, respect does have some fruitful soil in which to grow.
Let me underline to you the commitment we made to the people of Wales with some numbers.
The One Wales agreement has 228 promises in it. Some of those have more than one part to them.
Counting all of these separately, there are 237 specific commitments there.
The agreement was written to run from July 2007 to April 2011, that is for 46 months, and 36 of those months have passed.
As of now:
- 156 commitments have been delivered;
- 81 commitments have not yet been fulfilled. Of these, 64 are scheduled for completion by May 2011, and 17 will be completed during the next Assembly.
I won’t be satisfied until all our commitments have been delivered, but I’m proud of the difference we are already making for people. Let me share with you some of the achievements of which I’m proud.
- We promised that we would review health service provision and protect our hospital services. The proof of our commitment is being seen in Bronglais, Aberyswyth. It is being seen in the A £30 million scheme on the first multi-purpose well-being centre pilot site is well under way at the site of Cardiff Royal Infirmary – and millions of pounds’ worth of funding has been earmarked for a flagship health park in Merthyr Tydfil.
- We are promoting affordable housing. Despite difficult economic conditions, more than 4,000 families have been provided with homes they can afford. The latest figures show that we are two thirds of the way to achieving our One Wales target of 6,500 new affordable homes during this term of government. We have looked at planning in rural areas and changed the rules for dwellings. All part of the whole Wales approach and the importance this government attaches to rural sustainability.
- And we are delivering on our commitments to support the Welsh Language, not just in the draft Measure laid in March 2010 which sets out how we will give Welsh speakers rights, confirm the official status of the Welsh language and establish a new Welsh language Commissioner, but also in the Welsh language education strategy and the Welsh language strategy to follow this autumn.
- Strategies are one thing, you may say, what about delivery, well next year will see our Coleg Ffederal Cymraeg established with a target of an extra 1,000 students following higher education courses through the medium of Welsh.
Turning to my own portfolio, I am proud that for the first time ever we now spend more on sustainable forms of transport – from railways to cycling – than we do on more traditional areas like roads.
This is a signal change. And next week will come another, when I – together with other government Ministers – will launch our new economic direction.
The Welsh economy has been through tough times and only by working together will we achieve recovery and renewal. Over the last 9 months we have looked hard at how we provide support to businesses and how our wider policies contribute to economic development.
On Monday we will announce our conclusions.
Now, this Economic Renewal Programme is not a One Wales commitment as such, though we did say we would adopt an all-Wales approach to economic development. But I don’t hesitate to mention it because it shows that we’re pursuing our broad One Wales ambitions as well as ticking off our specific commitments.
It also demonstrates very well the way two parties, again working on the basis of trust and respect, can identify the key lessons of the government and plan a long term way forward which perhaps neither party expected to do at the start of this government.
It also demonstrates, I may add, that coalition government can be dynamic, can adapt to prevailing circumstances and does not have to be hidebound or trapped by its founding agreement. But it can only do this if the trust is there.
We – both Labour and Plaid Cymru – said that One Wales was a “progressive agenda for government”. The word progressive has undergone a bit of a dictionary definition change over the last few weeks. But when we used it then, and when we use it now, we do not mean targeting cuts in public services so the oldest, weakest or poorest suffer the most. Other parties may mean that, we did not, and do not.
The challenge for One Wales now in its final year to demonstrate that we can set a Budget – shaped by cuts in Westminster that are in excess of what is required to deal with the deficit and which endanger our struggling economy – in a way which protects the vulnerable and builds our economy and our institutions in any way possible.
One of the key ways that we can do this is by using our resources more effectively to change Wales’ economic fortunes.
Carwyn said a few moments ago that Wales needs the power to make it own laws, across the full range of its functions, and of course I agree.
But we also have to speak up for fair funding for Wales. Nearly a year ago, the first part of the Holtham Commission’s report was published. The report made a persuasive case for reforming our current funding arrangements and for strengthening the devolution resource allocation process. It says much for the quality of the Commission’s work that their recommendations have been almost universally well-received.
We are disappointed that the UK Government’s programme and budget have done nothing to tackle the increasing under-funding of Wales, demonstrated by the Holtham Commission.
When public finances are being cut, it is all the more important that funds should be targeted where they are most needed. On a basis of need, Wales is under-funded. We will continue to press these points with the UK Government.
I have no doubt that the second part of the Holtham Commission’s report will be equally thorough and persuasive, and I very much look forward to seeing it next week.
Our coalition has provided a firm, stable framework for delivery – delivery of specific commitments, and coherent pursuit of shared aspirations for Wales.
Let me end on a more personal note. When I took my own party into government three years ago, I said that doing so would change the way we do politics in Wales and reset the political mindset.
I think that has happened. It hasn’t all been done to One Wales, much has happened through external forces, but the political scene I view today is very different from 2007.
The debate about how to fund Wales properly is not fringe, it is central to our relations with Westminster. We have a referendum on the horizon to cement the role of this Assembly as a proper legislature. And two parties have worked together – putting Wales first – to mitigate the effects of the worst recession in 60 years on our workers and communities and by doing so have demonstrated that not all politicians are the same!
These last three years have seen democracy in Wales mature and grow.
I look forward to the achievements we shall add in the coming months, for they will lay the foundation for what we achieve in future.
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