Rodney Berman Speech - Spring Conference 2012

March 6, 2012 4:09 PM

Four years ago - at our conference in Llandudno - I spoke about the successes of the local councils that we ran, and how we were looking forward to an opportunity to deliver for another four years.

Well after that, we went into the election and we won a record number of seats - 162 in all. I was delighted that we went on to deliver again for the people of Wales for another four years in Swansea, Cardiff and Wrexham - but also in Newport, Powys, Ceredigion, Flintshire, Gwynedd and Conwy.

In 2008, Labour were so unpopular that even their own party members were too ashamed to stand under the party's banner, many of them forming splinter groups of so-called 'independents' instead.

Remember the headlines the day after the election four years ago?

We remember Labour's meltdown in 2008. The Labour party remembers it. And the people who voted to kick Labour out, remember it too.

But people don't just remember Labour's meltdown - they also remember what came before that: the years of Labour's neglect, underinvestment, complacency and inaction; the huge council tax hikes; and the failure to listen to local people and put their needs first.

Here inCardiffwe certainly remember it. Prior to 2004, we had the worst social services in England & Wales and the dirtiest streets of any city in England & Wales.

When the Wales Audit Office said Labour-run Cardiff Council had paid out £2.5 million of allowances to councillors unlawfully, our Labour leaders tried to challenge them in the high court causing a bill of £5 million to be rung up in legal fees trying to defend the indefensible.

But to be fair - there was one thing they were good at. In Russell Goodway, we did have the privilege of having the highest paid Council Leader in England & Wales!

I should point out that when he combined the roles of Leader of Cardiff Council and Lord Mayor, Russell Goodway only had two jobs paid for out of the public purse.

Labour's other Russell - Russell Roberts, the leader of RCT - and who is today the highest paid council leader in Wales - currently has no less than four jobs paid for out of the public purse.

As well as being leader of RCT Council, he's also chairman of the South Wales Police Authority, deputy leader of the Welsh Local Government Association and a non-executive director of Cwm Taf Health Board.

So when it comes to Labour, clearly nothing changes. It's not so much jobs for the boys as jobs for the boy.

But of course thanks to the work of Liberal Democrat campaigners the length and breadth ofWales, we showed people that there was another way.

And over the last four years, Liberal Democrats have delivered for people up and downWales.

The media always say that local government is the backbone of the Welsh Liberal Democrat party.

And they say that for good reason. Whoever it is - wherever they are - Liberal Democrat councillors work hard for their constituents, fighting for them in the way that the other parties don't.

In councils the length and breadth of Wales we have a track record of delivering service improvements that is second to none.

In Swansea, we have opened a brand new leisure centre after it was closed under Labour. We have built the new bus station that was promised by Labour to be built before 2004, but never delivered.

This year, Chris Holley and his team have put an extra £1.2 million into schools - well above the level recommended by the Welsh government. And of course, they also finished off the Liberty Stadium.

Moving on to Newport, it's clear that Mike Hamilton and Ed Townsend have done incredible work in coalition to repair some of the damage done by a complacent Labour party that ran the council for thirty years.

Kick-starting the town centre regeneration; attracting major employer, Admiral, to a new location in the centre of town - with the potential for up to twelve hundred jobs; and working to develop a purpose-built entrepreneurial spin-out centre to help grow new businesses in the city.

In Wrexham, we have improved our recycling rate dramatically - starting off at the second lowest rate in Wales when Labour were in charge - and now we are firmly in the top five.

Under the leadership of Aled Roberts, and now Ron Davies, Wrexham has vastly improved its GCSE exam results, and invested £80 million to improve school buildings.

Everybody is aware of the Cardiff-Swansea rivalry. But rivalry is not always a bad thing - and there's another rivalry in Wales that you might not know about: the rivalry between Cardiff and Wrexham.

For the past eight years, Cardiff and Wrexham have both been engaged in a ferocious battle, but nothing to do with football: we have both been in a battle to deliver the lowest average increase in Council Tax over the last eight years.

It was a close race - almost a photo-finish - but in the end Cardiff just pipped Wrexham to the post. So now Cardiff and Wrexham have the two lowest council tax rises of all councils in Wales over the last eight years.

Finally, in Cardiff, we have made a £180 million programme of investment in school buildings and the largest expansion of Welsh-medium education provision in Cardiff's history

And when it comes to the funding for schools, we also have an impressive record. Under Labour, schools inCardiffonce had the second lowest level of funding per pupil. The latest figures show we are now the second highest. That's a huge turnaround and we are now spending £313 per pupil above the Welsh average.

We've overseen massive regeneration in our city centre, at ourInternationalSportsVillageand in local communities across the city.

At a time when Labour councils around theUKhave been closing libraries, swimming pools and leisure centres, we've embarked on a substantial programme of refurbishing such vital community facilities and even building new ones.

Just look at our multi-award-winning new Central Library in the centre of town, or our new Olympic-standard swimming pool and white-water rafting centre in Cardiff Bay, or the multi-million pound redevelopment currently underway at the heart of one of our most-disadvantaged communities in Butetown if you want to see some examples.

You may not know that when Labour ran Cardiff they were so committed to recycling that they actually charged residents for the privilege of recycling their waste.

It was such fantastic initiative, that after the charges were introduced, the amount of waste collected for recycling actually fell by a quarter.

Under the Liberal Democrats, I'm pleased to say we haven't recycled such a rubbish idea. As soon as we took charge in 2004, we set about building a new recycling plant for the city and expanding kerbside collections.

When Labour ran Cardiff, the city recycled just 14% of it's waste. But in the last three months of 2011, our recycling rate rose to a staggering 54%.

For the first time ever, Cardiff is now recycling or composting more than half its waste.

That's the Liberal Democrat difference.

If you listen to the other parties, they are predicting our meltdown in this year's council elections.

But we are not fighting an election after resting on our laurels for years.

We are in good spirits. We have a good story to tell. We are proud of our record. And we will be facing these elections with our heads held high.

What would you like to do next?