Three years ago, the One Wales agreement was published – a principled and realistic document for a progressive coalition.
It wasn’t an easy birth, as many here may remember.
And at that time, as we dusted ourselves off from the many weeks of negotiations and the forthright views which had been aired in both of our parties, few would have really believed that three years on we would have established such a solid working relationship.
From a personal perspective, whilst I served in the One Wales Government from its inception in 2007, when I was elected leader of my party and subsequently First Minister last December, it took on a slightly different role in my life – suddenly, with Ieuan, I became its joint curator!
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Ieuan, who has allowed the trust and respect that had built up previously to seamlessly continue. As it is Wimbledon week, perhaps you’ll forgive me for explaining it this way…Our parties may have played against each other many times in singles matches, but we play a very effective game of doubles!
So, the new Assembly – with new powers – needed direction and stability. One Wales provided both.
It described our ambitions. It listed specific things we would do. And it was a comprehensive programme for the whole of government, with the long-term well-being of our people at its heart, coherent across the full range of our responsibilities.
I have three messages today:
- We are delivering One Wales;
- One Wales has proved more robust than even we realised; and
- One Wales takes us forward.
We are delivering tangible benefits for the citizens of Wales.
Without wanting to recite a long list of achievements, let me just run through a few of them…
- Five years ago, more than 100,000 patients were waiting over 26 weeks for treatment. By December of last year, the NHS in Wales had met our target that no patient should wait longer than 26 weeks.
- There has been consistent progress in improving treatment for the 800,000 people in Wales who face chronic illnesses. In particular, the numbers of emergency medical admissions for diabetes, coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive airways disease have all significantly reduced.
We are both proud that there is a great emphasis within One Wales on children and on delivering for our young people and their futures:
- We are creating and developing links between education and entrepreneurship. Under a Youth Enterprise Action Plan, 300 experienced business people are now providing valuable role model support to the entrepreneurs of the future. Indeed, latest figures from the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction Survey 2010 show that universities in Wales generated 10 per cent of all UK graduate start-up firms – that’s twice our share of university graduates.
- We have been supporting apprenticeships, with an extra £25 million to expand the apprenticeship programme in Wales over the next 3 years – and a further £20 million to protect apprenticeships during the economic downturn. This work has been backed up by a new £70 million, three-year project to raise skills in Wales’ most deprived areas.
For our children, we are delivering.
- I’m proud that Wales is the first of the UK countries to introduce new legislation to tackle child poverty. The Children and Families (Wales) Measure, which became law this February, helps deliver more effective arrangements locally to meet the needs of low income families and provide them with a clear route out of poverty.
- The laptop pilot creates a network of local projects providing laptops for up to 1,200 ten and eleven year olds, from selected schools in Communities First and Flying Start areas
- The current free swimming scheme will be made more widely available during the school summer holidays this year and a new agreement we have with local authorities will help every child learn to swim by the age of 11.
We are building a more sustainable basis for our economy.
- We are using European Union funding to help businesses to flourish. Despite the difficult economic climate, the £3.5bn EU Structural Funds programmes are progressing well – and so far have already helped nearly 12,000 people into work.
- In February 2008, Wales’ £795 million Rural Development Plan was approved by the European Commission – providing a mechanism for supporting the countryside and our rural communities.
We are protecting our environment for future generations.
- We have now put in place a Green Jobs Strategy to ensure greater carbon efficiency and help generate a range of new jobs based on emerging green technologies and products – a sector already estimated to be worth 9% of Welsh GDP.
- As part of our work to reduce use of landfill, we have set a 70% target for recycling and composting household waste by 2025 and aim to be a zero waste country by 2050 – plans which we believe are among the most ambitious in Europe.
And we are taking strategic decisions too.
- The Strategic Capital Investment Fund we set up is providing money for important projects which improve our services and boost the economy – providing schools, hospitals and affordable homes, as well as improvements to transport infrastructure.
But we’re here to celebrate 3 years of the One Wales agreement not just because we’ve made such good overall progress in delivering our promises, but because they were the right promises to make.
One Wales has been tested, and not found wanting:
- Tested by recession;
- Tested now by the challenges to Wales that result from the political response to the recession.
At various times in the last 2 years, we’ve been asked as a Government what One Wales Commitments we would drop in response to the recession.
Well, we’ve delivered the majority of One Wales commitments already. And we’re pressing on with the rest!
The simple reason is that the things we set out to do are even more necessary in bad times than in good.
- Our work on raising skill levels has been key to the unique Welsh response to world-wide recession. Our ProAct scheme helped make upskilling a real alternative to redundancy for 9,569 workers. For those who lost their jobs, the ReAct programme helped 12,000 people – nearly 8 per cent of all Job Seekers Allowance recipients.
That’s real help for people during tough times.
- Credit Unions now cover in all parts of Wales, so that hard-pressed families aren’t driven to loan sharks.
- Our Mortgage Rescue Scheme has been among the most successful throughout the UK in terms of helping those who face losing their homes during the recession. It has saved 680 adults and 351 children from becoming homeless since it was launched in June 2009.
That’s real help for people during tough times.
Now, we don’t just have an economy slowly recovering from recession.
We have undeniable new risks to our fragile recovery and huge challenges to public services, reflecting the way the new UK government has chosen to respond to economic realities.
But the ambitions we set out 3 years ago remain our ambitions now – and the principles we have followed thus far are precisely the ones that should guide us in our present circumstances:
- Not deciding cuts on the basis of administrative convenience.
- Nor on the basis of what can be out-sourced to the private sector on the pretence that this will of itself cut costs.
- Nor assuming that all public services are the same, and need the same approach.
- We should be – and we are – prioritising what makes a practical difference to the lives of ordinary people.
- Simple measures with multiple benefits.
- Think of our new strategic energy performance programme, Arbed, which will improve the energy efficiency of homes in some of the most deprived parts of Wales, reducing carbon emissions and fuel costs, at the same time as providing jobs and training.
We should be defending the recovery against the threats it faces; worrying about people not markets; investing in the long-term well-being of our communities and our people.
We need to take a long term approach which limits the impact on jobs and services, to provide stability and resilience for the future – a smaller public sector will not guarantee a larger private sector.
Different solutions are needed for different services – and sometimes the best economy is to invest more in getting things right first time.
It’s not the cheapest service delivery we need when resources are tight, but the best value outcome.
The Efficiency and Innovation Programme and Board is driving a joined-up, collective response by public service partners to ensuring that our public services are improved, and that the best value for money is achieved for people in Wales.
This is supported by a new £60 million Invest-to-Save Fund and the continued work of Local Service Boards that have been operating across all 22 local authority areas to ensure the best use of money for front-line services.
We are a creative nation – and we shall need every ounce of that creativity and commitment going forward.
We have to work together through the stresses and strains which inevitably lie ahead.
We all recognise that we will not deliver for our communities by working in the same old ways by just doing a bit less by salami-slicing our budgets.
We have to take a radical look at how we work, redesigning the front-line and services as well as streamlining the back office.
I am convinced too that the best place for us as leaders to learn what can be done with least damage, is from those who provide our services and those who use them.
That’s why this summer, I am going out on the road,
to all parts of Wales,
to meet staff working in our public services.
I want to speak with our nurses and hospital porters, our teachers and our refuse collectors, our social workers and our housing officers.
I also want to speak with those who use those services.
I want to explain our approach and seek their views and expertise in protecting services and outcomes for our communities.
But there’s one guiding principle that I will share with you. You cannot build a recovery by penalising people for not finding jobs that aren’t there.
You have to help them to build a future for themselves and their families and their communities.
That’s the direction of One Wales.
A vision of the sort of Wales we want to create, with practical steps to move us towards it.
And that’s One Wales too. Many steps have been taken, but the vision still records our direction.
Where cuts are necessary – and I can’t pretend there won’t be painful choices, for the deficit needs to be reduced and Wales will play its part – they must reflect a commitment to strong society and to sustainable prosperity.
And that is precisely what the aspirations in One Wales are about.
One part of the One Wales agenda, in particular, is an absolute must now.
Wales needs the power to make it own laws, across the full range of its functions.
Our joint commitment to secure a successful outcome of a referendum for full law making powers was a keystone of the One Wales agreement of course.
Once we have those powers, we will have the scope to redesign the legal frameworks and structures that presently govern public life and public services in Wales.
The Cabinet is looking hard at how we can, for the future, make absolutely the best use of the public money available to us, how we can maximise the long-term well-being of people in Wales. (Ieuan will be mentioning the economic renewal programme in just a few moments.)
Whilst holding true to our shared values and principles, set out in One Wales, we may need to review some of our policies and programmes quite radically.
And if we are to have radical and progressive redesign of public services, then having adequate legislative powers will be vital.
The alternative to radical and progressive redesign is radically regressive cuts, which is no alternative.
I have pressed for the referendum on further powers to be held at the earliest opportunity.
With each passing month, it becomes clearer that the constitutional and democratic deficit we now experience in Wales, compared to other parts of the UK, is beginning to hamper how the people of Wales are best served.
When I speak of this deficit, I am not talking about some sterile, abstract, academic and legalistic debate about powers – the kind which we hear about all too often in our media.
The further powers I want to see coming to Wales is for one simple and now increasingly necessary reason – to deliver the very best we can for our people, both in terms of the services they receive and how we shape this proud nation in the future.
That is why – as I have said on previous occasions and I repeat it this evening – Wales needs the ‘tools’ to get on and do the job and that is why we need a positive outcome to the referendum.
We will continue building a progressive vision in the final year of this Assembly.
With decisions for Wales taken by Wales, we will be able to move further and faster in the next Assembly and beyond.
While you’re here, we’ve got something to ask you: will you join us?
We’re working every day to bring the right people together and generate the ideas to make Wales a world-leading force.
We’re independent of government and political parties. We provide a much-needed space for open, transparent debate about the ideas that can make Wales better.
To continue to do this, we need people like you to join us.
Join us today and you’ll be supporting vital work that’s making our country better than ever.