Wefan Gymraeg

"Putting People First" - Kirsty Williams' speech to Welsh Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2015

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Kirsty Williams AM addressed party members at their Autumn Conference in Swansea, the most well-attended in the party's history.

You can read Kirsty's full speech below.



It was with initial disbelief and then horror as I watched the events in Paris last night unfold

Our thoughts are of course with the families and communities who have been affected by this tragedy.

But we mustn’t forget that the whole point of terrorism is to intimidate and terrify

And the horrors of last night were indeed terrifying

But it’s how we respond that matters

And we can’t let the terrorists win

Never must we allow their actions to change our way of life

Never must we allow them to turn people against one other

Never must we allow them to diminish our values of freedom and fairness

We must stand up, we must be strong and we must be united.



Now, can I just say how delighted I am to be holding our conference back in Swansea?

This city means a lot to me

In many ways, this ‘ugly lovely town’ is like coming home

My mum was born on Townhill

Grandma was the cook at Blaenymaes school for many years

My parents met in the old Swansea library and then later married here

When I was younger, as Dylan Thomas said: this sea-town was my world.

It’s also where I first cut my teeth in the world of elections

I’ll never forget the excitement of delivering leaflets for the late great Harry Spooner

A Pioneer Sergeant in the 1950s, Harry was a great character

He delivered a regular Focus leaflet around Town Hill for years and years

He worked hard for local people and stood up for a community that had been neglected for too long

We won that election – making him Town Hill’s first ever Liberal Democrat Swansea councillor

From that moment on, I was hooked.

Oh, and how did I get involved in the first place?

Well, it was thanks to the persuasion of a local councillor at the time named Peter Black – whatever happened to him I wonder?



Now conference:

The General Election was as tough as it gets

Roger and Jenny didn’t deserve to lose

Both achieved so much and worked so hard

But, like so many Liberal Democrats across the country, it wasn’t our night.

Mark deserves great credit

An anchor against an enormous tide – he stood tall with his record of local delivery

And we are all so proud of him.

Now, in the speeches I have made since the election, you’ll have noticed that I’ve spoken frankly

In Coalition we achieved many great liberal reforms that we’re all proud of

But it would have been wrong to sweep mistakes we had made under the carpet

Before we looked forward, we had to look back

But now, with the election just six months away, we must look to our future

Since May our membership has grown by 35%

It’s incredible to see so many new faces here today

New faces that have offered us the vibrancy that we all needed

And of course, it’s great to see the familiar faces that have been with us through thick and thin

We’re like a family. We’ve seen good times. We’ve seen bad times.

But we know that we’re stronger when we stick together

We also know the only way to turn things around, the only way to respond, is by winning

We’ve shown in the past we can do it, and you know, we are showing it again:

Rob Walsh – what a spectacular win

Rob not only won what was a safe Labour seat in Wrexham,

He also secured over half the vote

An immense achievement.

But taking a seat off Labour wasn’t enough

We had to take one from the Tories too didn’t we?

That’s only fair

James Gibson-Watt stood in a Radnorshire ward where we’d never fought before

It was also the seat vacated by the new Tory MP

That didn’t stop James – and he won.

So that’s one off Labour and one off the Tories… Plaid better look out!

Things are changing. Things are looking up. We’re fighting back

Rob, James – we are proud. Thank-you for leading the fight-back.

Conference: these by-elections show us two things:

One: Free from the struggle of the coalition years, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are winning again

Two: we have momentum on our side

These wins couldn’t come at a better time

I know how hard it was campaigning through the years of coalition, it was as tough as it gets, and too often we didn’t reap rewards

But people are willing to listen again

Ready to recognise the hard work of Welsh Lib Dem campaigners

Open to give us another look

Conference: We are growing,

We are united,

And we are needed now more than ever

This is the election we fight back.



Now, I want to talk to you today about ‘People’

Politicians spend a lot of time talking about their values and their party’s values – and rightly so,

But they don’t talk enough about people

Too often they forget the people outside of the room, the people they’re supposed to represent

Welsh Liberal Democrats are the best at getting out, knocking on doors and speaking to people

Why? Because we care about people, no matter who they are or where they live

In this election, I want everyone to know that it’s our party that puts people first

We’ve had years of the same Labour government listening to vested interests, but ignoring the people they’re meant to stand up for.

It’s time for change

It’s time Wales had a government that works for people,

Works for them, so they can rely on decent public services

Works for them, so they can get a job and their businesses can thrive

Works for them, so they can get on in the world

The policies we have passed at this conference today put people first.



And we’ll start with our NHS

Putting patient’s views front and centre.

In contrast, Plaid want to scrap all the health boards and run hospitals, such as Bronglais, from Cardiff

That’s not what people want

Plaid don’t get it: It’s not about structures, it’s about people

The Tories want to take money away from front-line services to fund elected health commissioners

That’s not what people want

Tories don’t get it: it’s not about structures, it’s about people.

Our message on the NHS is clear:

Yes we will increase funding and that funding will go straight to the front line

But funding isn’t enough

We must be reformers, not just investors.

Week in and week out I speak to people suffering from mental health problems who are not getting timely treatment

They illness is not a priority for this government

In just two years the number of young people waiting over 14 weeks for support has quadrupled

That’s in just two years

Our party led on this issue in the coalition government

I want to replicate that success, which is why we’ll enshrine equal care for mental and physical health into Welsh law

No more people told their mental distress isn’t a priority,

No more waiting months to access counselling,

No more sweeping this issue under the carpet.

We will also help people access their GP

A service families rely on more than anything else.

Too many struggle to get an appointment

You know the drill

Unwell people and worried carers told they can only call at a certain time:

on a certain day,

at a certain hour.

People don’t want that

People want to be able to book an appoint and see their GP when they need help, not 3 weeks on Tuesday

That’s why we’ll invest in primary care and virtual wards

Providing support in the community to people with the most complex needs, stopping unnecessary admissions to District General Hospitals

We’ll deliver a fully funded Access to GPs scheme to guarantee prompt appointments and extend opening hours where needed,

Allowing surgeries to expand new roles, freeing up GP’s time to see patients more quickly

And let me be clear: we’re not talking about some undeliverable, 7-day a week GP service that Mr Cameron refers to

That’s a fantasy

No, we’re combining realism and idealism

So people can have faith that we will deliver on our promise to improve access to their doctors.

And finally, we’ll make Wales a world leader on hospital care.

People want an NHS where staff have the time to properly care for loved ones

We’ve listened and responded

Our More Nurses bill will deliver the right number of nurses on our wards

Putting dignity right at the heart of our NHS

This bill is so close to being a reality

Months away

We must keep this momentum going

Polling shows that nine in ten people support our bill

Thousands of people have signed our petition

This is a Welsh Liberal Democrat grass-roots campaign that will save lives and transform care

The bill has the backing of the people

And Conference: this bill will deliver for the people.

Equality for mental health, better access to your GP, and More Nurses –

Our three point plan is clear, concise, and a blueprint for a better health service

Conference: in this election we will have the strongest message on the NHS

We will be the party that puts patients first.



Education remains a priority for this party

The other week I met a Food Technology teacher

She told me that in the past, because children had to bring their own ingredients, often the poorer pupils couldn’t take part

Can you imagine?

Heartbreaking and unfair

But things, she said, have changed

And why? Because of us.

She used her share of the Pupil Premium to buy the ingredients for every pupil

Rather than being excluded and isolated:

every child taking part, every child gaining those valuable life-skills, every child treated fairly.

Only last year, here in Swansea, five and a half thousand children received extra support because of the budgets we secured from the Welsh Government

One-to-one tuition, homework clubs, extra resources – all because of our party

We are the party of education, and our record proves it

We are the only party that prioritised education in budget negotiations

And in Government we would continue to invest in schools, while reforming the system so it puts pupils and parents first

We’ll introduce a Pupil Monitoring system to properly assess whether schools are delivering for their pupils and to help them reach their potential

We’ll establish a new body to set the curriculum, independent and free from government interference

We’ll give schools more freedom to innovate, allowing teachers to teach and leaders to lead

We’ll drive up standards in our classrooms with smaller class sizes and a robust inspection system

And we will improve access to higher education by introducing a Student Living Grant, as we are the only party that recognises it is living costs, rather than fees, that deter people from going to university.

And why is education so important to us?

Because it fosters people’s talents, it broadens their horizons, and it helps them fulfill their potential

It’s what forms a tolerant and successful society

- the sort of society, to quote the Liberal Democrat Constitution, “in which no-one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”

That is our goal. That is our mission

Freedom and fairness in our schools

Only one party has the ambition to turn things around

Conference: that party is us.



But providing good schools and hospitals is dependent on a thriving economy

The fact is, people don’t trust the Labour Government to help businesses create jobs.

In Westminster - Labour is seen as anti-business

In Cardiff - Labour is seen as anti-business

Everywhere - Labour is seen as anti-business

In fact, it might be the only coherent narrative they currently have.

Labour doesn’t trust in empowering people to create jobs for others

Wales needs a government that business can trust and that trusts in business.

Earlier this month we announced proposals offering new and enterprising ideas to revive our high streets

We’d slash business rates for those buying empty properties and empower people to work together to promote regeneration and growth.

My conference speech in Bournemouth focused on jobs and small businesses

We must continue to bang this drum

I’m yet to speak to a small business owner who doesn’t complain of the weight they feel to be under

Which is why we will tear down the barriers that stop businesses from fulfilling their ambitions.

We know that you have to invest in infrastructure, innovation and innovators so that people can be the very best they can be

We know a fair, liberal and sustainable economy is essential to enable people to succeed and to shape their own future

We know that business can be a powerful engine of social mobility.

And because of the Liberal Democrats driving the agenda forward in Coalition, Wales now has more power over how it can support business,

An opportunity to be more creative.

And has Labour taken that opportunity? No.

More must be done to support Wales’ steel industry

I know the importance of this industry

My uncle – who is here today, my grandad and my great-grandad all worked right here in Swansea at the steel works

It’s devastating to see people, whose families for generations have worked in this industry, now be told their livelihoods will be swept away

The UK Government must act and it must act now

But the Welsh Government must do its bit too

At the moment, it hasn’t lifted a finger to help these people

We will use Wales’ new powers, to scrap business rates on plant and machinery

More must be done, but this simple yet significant step would show Wales is open for business

It will show that Wales is pro-active in securing jobs

And show that Wales is willing to think big

Conference: Wales needs a party that means business… We will be that party.



Now, I’ve spoken to you today about how we are the party of ideas on health, education and the economy

But over the next six months we must show why we’re different

We are the only party that stands up for the forgotten, for the underdog, for the ignored

That is why we’ve led the fight against the Tories’ plans to scrap the Human Rights Act – which would water down protections for the most vulnerable in society – victims of rape, slavery and domestic abuse

It’s why our party put mental health on the agenda in England, and we’ll do so in Wales too

It’s why I am so proud Tim Farron has led the calls for Britain to take its fair share of refugees

It’s why protecting the environment will be at the heart of our manifesto

We’ll oversee a green revolution of small-scale energy projects so that Wales is leading the way in the world

And it’s why Tim and Peter Black are putting housing on the agenda too

Have you noticed that no party in Wales talks about housing, no party except ours

We will double the number of affordable homes being built in Wales

Labour wants to spend a billion pounds on a small part of the M4 - while we want to put roofs over people’s heads

These issues matter and we’ll lead on them:

Help for the helpless

Defence for the defenceless

A Voice for the voiceless

Conference: our party will always fight for what is right.

Final passage – our record

And that’s why I am so immensely proud to be a member of this great party

Liberal giants like Lloyd George, Roy Jenkins and, Emlyn Hooson are our political ancestors

That gives me an immense sense of pride

We stand on the shoulders of giants

And that means a lot rests on our shoulders too.

We are the only party that has represented every area of Wales in Westminster

Our roots here are deep, but we embrace the Wales of today

We understand rural communities. We understand urban communities. We understand people.

For over 150 years Welsh Liberals have fought for fairness on behalf of local communities

But having a history isn’t enough; it’s what we do now that matters.

Back in 1919 Lloyd George said the finest eloquence is that which gets things done

In 2015, we’re getting things done

Still delivering for our communities the length and breadth of Wales

Alongside my colleagues: Aled, Bill, Eluned and Peter, we in the Assembly continue to punch above our weight

Only this week we forced the Government to u-turn on its disgraceful attempt to clamp down on transparency by no longer publishing Ministerial decision reports

We were also the only party to have the guts to vote against the outrageous ten thousand pound pay increase for politicians

At a time when budgets are being squeezed, an 18% rise in AM’s salary is completely unacceptable.

We may be a small group in the Assembly, but we’re making a big difference

Through budget negotiations we secured:

millions of pounds extra for our schools,

Thousands of new apprenticeships,

Improved access to life-saving treatments,

Reduced fares for young people so they can access work and training.

The list goes on – and all policies passed by you at conference and secured by us in the Assembly

All policies that put people first

When you look back at the last five years, be proud that it is our party that’s delivered for our communities

Every person you speak to, tell them our achievements

Every leaflet you write, tell them our achievements

Every time things get tough, remember our achievements

Conference, we have a record to be proud of and you have made that happen.

The polls before the last Assembly election said we would be wiped out, they were wrong

They will be wrong again

Our future is in our hands

And we can secure it

Six months to show we’re the party of ideas

Six months to show why we’re needed

Six months to show why Wales needs a Liberal voice

That is our challenge and we accept it.

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