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Kirsty Williams Spring Conference Speech 2012 - Cardiff

March 6, 2012 4:02 PM

Please check against delivery.


Conference, this morning Mike German led tributes to Lord Emlyn Hooson.
I want to pay my own tribute.
Emlyn was respected in his own community and in the wider political arena for his passionate Liberalism, his love of Wales and his razor sharp intellect.
Not only will he be remembered for his high profile legal work but also for keeping the flame of Welsh Liberalism alive through the 1960s
Wales has lost one of its true gentlemen and the Welsh Liberal Democrats, a steadfast champion.
Among his many achievements, he was the person who founded the Welsh Liberal Party in 1966.
The first of the UK parties to recognise Wales' unique political needs and to understand that Welsh people need Welsh politicians free from London whips to speak up for our nation.
But, of course, the creation of the Welsh Liberal party itself did not come out of the blue.
Before Emlyn Hooson, Lloyd George not only led the Cymru Fydd movement that fought for Welsh Home Rule but as long ago as 1897 he founded the Welsh Liberal Council.
So when I hear Plaid Cymru call themselves the Party of Wales,
And when I hear Carwyn Jones tell Labour Conference they are the 'true' party of Wales,
I say that the Welsh Liberal Democrats are the original party of Wales.
Welsh democracy, the great Welsh Home Rule project started by Lloyd George, sustained by Emlyn Hooson, Geraint Howells, Richard Livsey and many more in our party, but yes in other parties too -
no Welsh party has a monopoly over all of Wales.
I believe the people of Wales want political leaders grown up enough to accept that we are,

All of us,
of whatever party,
elected in Wales,
accountable to the people of Wales
and with Welsh interests at heart.


So for us, insisting that the Coalition government establish the Silk Commission was a natural next step in our battle for strengthened devolution.
The BBC poll released this week showed that we are the party most in tune with the people of Wales.
Plaid Cymru's call for independence attracts support from just 7% of people.
The Labour and Conservative hostility to financial autonomy is overwhelmingly rejected by the Welsh people.
Two thirds of people agree with our view that it is time to bring more accountability and responsibility to the Welsh Government
not just for its own sake but because a progressive Government could use these powers to drive forward Wales' economic development,
creating jobs and prosperity for people in Wales.


It's not for the first time the people
And the Welsh Liberal Democrats are leading the way.
Carwyn Jones, Labour - what are you afraid of?
As our representative on the Commission --- Rob Humphreys is working hard to ensure that our commitment to strengthening devolution is at the heart of what the commission does.
Now of course I know that he won't be able to get his own way all the time.
He and other members will have to work hard to balance the competing and sometimes conflicting views that the committee will hear from different political parties and organisations.
But still, Rob has an easier job than Nick Bourne.
As the Conservative representative, he will have to work hard to balance the three conflicting and contradictory submissions made by
the Conservative party:
one from the Assembly Group
one from the Conservative Party
one from former Policy Director, David Melding!
But I am being unfair. All political parties are broad churches and it is sometimes difficult to develop a coherent position.
But you know how we resolve our issues?
We hold a conference and debate policy openly and democratically.
A party conference.
In Wales.
You know, the Tories should give that a try!
To be fair though, having cancelled their conference they have belatedly realised that they need to organise something else instead.
So they've come up with the idea of a rally.
No policy discussion.
No debate,
No democratic decisions.
Set piece speech after set piece speech.
I'm not sure what they didn't just call it Conservative Party conference.
And perhaps that's why they have scheduled it to take place on International Waffle Day.
*****
Today is the one year anniversary of that historic referendum giving Wales greater law-making powers when the people of Wales took that bold step forward and gave the National Assembly increased responsibility to better their lives.
I remember as the yes votes were coming in, there was a feeling of hope and optimism.
People now turned to the Assembly to deliver.
Wales could come out of that slow lane,
ease ourselves into that middle lane
and finally overtake in the fast lane.
And then a few months later,
………..another Labour government was formed in the Assembly.
A Labour government that said this time the Assembly would be all about delivery.
No more excuses, they said.
Exactly one year ago the people of Wales were promised a new beginning.
But since the referendum the Welsh Labour Government has published just one piece of legislation.
So, what is this Bill we've been waiting 600 years for, I hear you ask.
Well, it's "The Local Government By-laws Wales Bill."
Now don't get me wrong, as a Liberal Democrat, I am as fascinated by the minutiae of local government by-laws as anyone in this hall.
But it's hardly the great leap forward, is it?
Some say that legislation isn't everything and to some extent I agree.
But this speaks volumes about the lack of ambition, imagination and sense of urgency that characterises the Labour leadership.
Carwyn Jones.
Standing up for Wales.
That's what he repeats.
Ad nauseam.
But it's difficult to take him seriously when he's slouched over his podium every week at FMQs.
Carwyn Jones slouching,
His Government sluggish.
Wales suffering.
______

Months after the Westminster Government announced the creation of enterprise zones to attract businesses to England
the Welsh Labour Government is still floundering.
Delaying decisions while English enterprises zones steal the march.
It's only because of Eluned Parrott's dogged determination, scrutiny and harrying that the Business Minister has been forced to bring forward announcements on enterprise zones.
You've all heard of Red Ed?
Well in Wales, Labour's Business Minister, Edwina Hart, is so unreconstructed, that she's known as REDwina.
She even said that she regretted the capitalist system.
Well, Edwina, while you regret the nasty capitalist system,
I regret, that Jaguar Landrover were pumping investment into Wolverhampton citing your lack of decision on enterprise zones as one of the reasons Wales was left behind.
750 jobs gone to the West Midlands that could have been brought to Wales.
Under Labour, Welsh businesses, Welsh workers are being left behind.
And what about education, one in five children leaving primary school cannot read and write properly.
Functional illiteracy. That is what the Government's own inspectors tell us.
What hope do our pupils have of succeeding in secondary school if they cannot read and write well enough to understand and participate in lessons?
When our schools fail, the Labour First Minister tries to blame it on the local authorities, the schools and the head teachers.
Everybody to blame but his own Government.
Under Labour, Welsh pupils are being left behind.
In Carwyn Jones' speech just two weeks ago, he said that the NHS was made in Wales,
And was safe in Wales
So safe that earlier this week 800 people felt compelled to come down to the Senedd to protest about the downgrading of their local hospital.
So safe that minor injury units across Wales, in Chepstow, in Ruthin, in Pwllheli and in Colwyn Bay have been closed under Labour.
So safe, you wait six months in Wales for an operation when you wait sixteen weeks in England.
Again, everybody else to blame but themselves.
Under Labour, Welsh patients are being left behind.
You know, Harold Wilson once said
"The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing"

Labour.
A moral crusade?
With that record?
I don't think so.

While Labour has been sitting back, Welsh Liberal Democrats have been rolling up our sleeves.
Before the election last year, Labour predicted 'a comfortable majority' but they ended up with no majority at all.
And last year, I told you that following that election result, the Welsh Liberal Democrats may have the opportunity to influence the direction of our country.
And that when that opportunity came, this party would not let the people of Wales down.
We were clear that the Welsh Liberal Democrats would not back any budget that did not make progress towards closing the funding gap with England
-starting with the poorest children who need the extra help the most.
Nor would we vote for a budget that neglected the need to tackle unemployment and boost the economy.
Those were our priorities during the election last year.
And they were our priorities during this budget round.
And so, from this April, as a result of Welsh Liberal Democrat influence and Welsh Liberal Democrat votes,
Every child in Wales, on free school meals, will receive an extra 450 pounds towards their education through the pupil premium.
Our priority as Welsh Liberal Democrats has always been to make sure that the most disadvantaged children get
the help they need
the help they deserve
and the help that will get them out of that vicious cycle of poverty.
£118,000 for Pentrehafod School in Swansea
A quarter of a million for Fitzalan High School here in Cardiff,
£111,000 for Rhosnesni High School in Wrexham
Funding going direct to schools, spending this money how they see best.
All children, regardless of their background, starting life on the same foot.
Equal and fair.
Welsh Liberal Democrats
Using our influence
Making the difference
And Conference, we also managed to agree an Economic Stimulus Package worth nearly £39 million.
funding for nearly 2,000 apprenticeships to help young people take their first step on the career ladder.
Financial aid to companies looking to expand their workforce.
Capital investment in our schools.
Assistance in helping people keep their homes warm and energy bills low.
New affordable homes
and Enterprise Zones - to create those much needed jobs.
Conference, it would have been easier politically, to walk away from the budget talks.
It is always easier in politics to sit on the side-lines and take pot shots.
But Wales needed a budget
and it is a better budget for our influence.
Welsh Liberal Democrats,
Using our influence
and making the difference.

In less than nine weeks, the people of Wales will go to the polls
to elect the people in their communities who will stand up for them in county hall.
In 2004, the Welsh Liberal Democrats won a record number of seats.
We took over the leadership of Wrexham, Swansea and Cardiff.
It was the first time the Welsh Liberal Democrats had ever led these councils
In 2008, we increased the number of our councillors and managed to continue providing good, value-for-money services for the people of our nation.
And this year, we owe it to Wales to succeed again.
Because local government and democracy means so much more to us Welsh Liberal Democrats than any other party.
For Labour, local government is a delivery mechanism for control.
Micro-government from Cardiff Bay.
8 people around a cabinet table dictating to people in Machynlleth,
Maentwrog and Mardy. That's not local democracy.
Welsh Liberal Democrats want decisions taken and services delivered
at the most local level possible.
That is what makes us Liberal Democrats.
Because liberalism is about power. Who wields it, for who and to what purpose.
We want to see local people using it on behalf of their community to improve their lives.
And that's what we've seen all across Wales where Welsh Liberal Democrats have been entrusted with that power by their community.


In Cardiff, a record £180 million invested in school buildings across the city.
St David's 2, bringing jobs and prosperity.
Recycling rates have shot up.
Libraries have been saved and new ones built
And gone are the days of Labour's huge council tax hikes!
That's Cardiff Liberal Democrats led by Councillor Rodney Berman.
But compare that with Vale of Glamorgan council, home turf of Tory Assembly group leader. He has vocally committed his party to 0% council tax rise,
Guess, what? His own Tory council are proposing, yes, you've got it, a rise in council tax.
In Swansea, a stunning public transport hub in the city centre.
A leisure centre to be proud of,
a football stadium home to the only Welsh team in the premier league, (for now- the Bluebirds are flying too)
and additional funding to boost literacy and numeracy.
All this while freezing council taxes for the people of Swansea.
That's Swansea Liberal Democrats under Councillor Chris Holley.
Compare that with the neighbouring Labour controlled Neath Port Talbot Council where council tax is £250 a year higher than in Swansea - and the second highest in all of Wales.
In Newport, a £21 million investment to fix the city's crumbling roads,
major employer Admiral attracted to the city centre with a potential for up to twelve hundred jobs,
and started a major redevelopment of the city centre.
That's Newport Liberal Democrats led by Councillor Mike Hamilton.
Compare that with Plaid Cymru Caerphilly Council which spends less per pupil than any other council in Wales.
In Wrexham, additional PCSOs funded to help keep our streets safe,
investment in school buildings
and recycling rates on the up.
GCSE A-C pass rates doubled.
That's Wrexham Liberal Democrats led by Aled Roberts and now Councillor Ron Davies
Compare that with Labour-run Rhondda Cynon Taff.
They failed to tackle the 3,000 empty homes in its area
And slashed the salaries of the lowest paid staff at the council
- but protected salaries of those earning more than £40,000
In Ceredigion, in Powys, in Conwy and all across the country - we are delivering services for half the population of Wales with huge success.
That's Welsh Liberal Democrats.

And wherever there are Welsh Liberal Democrat councillors
We use our influence and we make a difference.
St David said 'Gwnewch y pethau bychain'
or 'do the little things'
Up and down the country , Welsh Liberal Democrats are doing the little things.
Going one step further for the people in their communities.
Grafters like Cllr. John Bell in Rhondda Cynon Taf out in his ward, in his waders, pulling up manhole covers to stop homes being flooded.
Local heroes like Cllr. John Roberts, in Ceredigion, shovelling snow and gritting hills allowing safe access to 100 houses.
Dedicated representatives like Alice Robinson in Colwyn Bay, who has served her community for over three decades, now in her 80s, and led the charge to refurbish the local theatre for the community.
Community leaders like Cllr Maureen MacKenzie in Powys, who through tireless work fundraising with local people has brought in hundreds of thousands of pounds of grant funding for the arts, for community halls, gardens and playgrounds in her patch.
And councillors who care, like Amy Kitcher in Merthyr, who went out of her way to help a former serviceman suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Left in a small flat with just a sofa.
No heating. No hot water. No fridge. No cooker
His life, he said, was hell.
But the compassion and rallying calls of a local councillor turned his life around.
"If it wasn't for Amy Kitcher,"
he said
"and if I wasn't such a strong person, I could be dead by now,"
This hall is full of councillors like that. You work so hard for our party but you work even harder for your communities. And I thank you
For a Welsh Liberal Democrat, being a councillor, serving the community, is not just something to put on the C.V.
It is what we do and it's who we are.

****
Conference, we know how difficult it is to make the family budget stretch in tough financial times.
That's why Welsh Liberal Democrats are using our influence,
At whatever level of government
to make a difference and help struggling families in Wales.
On a local level, Welsh Liberal Democrat-led councils have consistently kept council tax rises low.
In the National Assembly, we've ensured that children from poorer backgrounds get the help they deserve.
And in Westminster, we are lifting millions of people out of paying income tax and putting more money back in their pockets.
£200 last year a further £130 this year on top of that.
And Nick Clegg is fighting for even more tax cuts for the lowest paid funded by closing tax loop holes for the wealthiest
Conference, for us, April is a month of pounding the streets, delivering the leaflets and promoting our achievements.
It is a month of worn out shoe leather, dangerous dogs and lethal letter boxes.
But it is also a month of listening and engaging with people who are only too ready to put their faith in people who put their community first.
And this year April will be much more
April, when families in Welsh Liberal Democrat councils are protected from harsh council tax rises.
Our achievement in local councils
April, when the poorest children will receive an additional £450 going towards their education.
Our success in the Assembly
April, when hard-working people across Wales will take home more of their own wages because of our fair tax policies.
When pensioners across Wales will receive the largest increase in their pension ever, thanks to the triple lock guarantee won by the Liberal Democrats.
Our battle in Westminster.
In difficult times, Welsh Liberal Democrats are putting people first.
Using our influence
Making a difference ---------- That's really standing up for Wales.