“It’s time to set the compass for the next decade of devolution”


Plaid leader pledges a new direction for Government in Wales and to radically shift reduced resources to support children and schools

Plaid Cymru’s leader Ieuan Wyn Jones will today (Monday 12th July) begin to outline his party’s priorities for the next Assembly election and will pledge to shift Government resources from ‘schemes and structures’ which are not delivering tangible, long-lasting social or economic benefits to supporting children and schools.

The Plaid leader will say that his party is driven by an ambition to see a wealthy Wales – both in terms of a successful economy and in the breadth of experiences available to people. And in the first of a series of a keynote speeches, Mr Jones will this evening say that he wants to lead a change in Government policy in 2011 in order to tackle Wales’ long term systemic problems – unemployment, poverty and its low skills base - and to create sustainable, prosperous and healthy communities. Mr Jones will say that the single most effective way of ensuring all our children and young people have a decent start in life is through education.

Last week Mr Jones, as Deputy First Minister and Minister for the Economy and Transport in Wales, announced a change in Government policy in the way it supports the Welsh economy. The Economic Renewal Programme will now see Government addressing the structural problems facing the Welsh economy – infrastructure, skills and Research & Development – and will refocus resources from direct intervention in individual companies to transforming the business environment for all.

This evening Mr Jones will say that in 2011 he wants to lead a similar shift in the way Government intervenes in order to really get to grip with the systemic problems facing many Welsh communities – poverty, unemployment, ill health and crime. The Plaid leader will tell an audience in Cardiff that a complex web of projects and structures must be swept aside, particularly at a time of diminishing funds, so that resources can be focused on schools and family support. He’ll say that it is time to accept that “education is the single most effective way of ensuring all our children and young people have a decent start in life.”

In reflecting on the party’s experience in Government over the last 3 years Ieuan Wyn Jones will say that Plaid has good reason to be proud of its achievements, particularly in reversing the previous government's hospital downgrading problem and securing greater investment in the NHS; in delivering the foundation phase; in improving transport; in supporting the Welsh language and through securing a Referendum on law-making powers for the Assembly. But the Plaid leader also said that the experience in Government had led the party to consider more fundamental questions of Welsh government and Plaid Cymru’s future contribution to securing real and positive outcomes for Wales.

Mr Jones will say that this has brought about a fresh determination to change the thinking behind government intervention in Wales and to “set a new direction”.

Ieuan Wyn Jones will say:

“As we face the final year of this government, we must start to look towards the next Assembly elections, and it is time for Plaid Cymru to make clear to the people of Wales what we have learned in government and how we would take Wales forward. It’s time to set the compass for the next decade of devolution. We must now begin to start outlining how we propose to continue to deliver on our ambition for Wales at a time of shrinking, not growing, public resources.

Firstly, let me say what Plaid Cymru is. As a party of the whole nation, Plaid Cymru is still the only party in Wales which puts Wales as our starting point and our end point.

Some parties shape their ideology on concepts like Big Society, or Small or Big State. Whether they state it openly as Margaret Thatcher did when she said there was no such thing as society; or covertly, as Labour did when they built state interventions into all our lives without proper thought or real outcomes. None of the other parties start with the nation and its people. We do. We start with Wales. We ask ourselves what will make the nation grow more successful. How can we include as many as possible in the making of a thriving country?
In the first instance it is time to assess whether all current Government interventions to tackle inequality and poverty are in fact achieving their aim? Nobody can doubt the sincerity behind the creation of the complex web of projects and structures currently in place by both the Assembly and UK governments. But are they working? It’s no good government pointing to lists of bodies and funds that have been created to tackle deprivation or poor educational attainment if the big question of ‘is it making a difference’ is then being avoided.

Plaid Cymru can no longer go along with that way of thinking.

The Labour AM Andrew Davies was right when he drew attention to what he described as the “uncomfortable fact that one in five young people in Swansea are not in employment, education or training even though there are 100 funded projects in Swansea alone aimed at helping young people into work or training[1].”
We will assess and evaluate all such interventions and concentrate future Welsh Government resources on what works and delivers real benefit.

Plaid Cymru emerges from a period in government much more clear minded about what we can, and cannot, do as government. And much more single minded about how we will take things forward after the next Assembly election.
Having done a great deal in this first term of office to put the NHS in Wales back on its feet and in creating a new direction in terms of economic development, I believe we must turn our attention now to education and the support we provide to children & young people.

Education is the single most effective way of ensuring all our children and young people have a decent start in life.
It’s no good setting up scores of projects to deal with improving the Welsh economy if you haven’t got the basics right – an education system that ensures all children have good literacy and numeracy and the best start possible.

We have too many young people who do not have the skills to make their own way in the labour market or to get on with other people and live rewarding lives.

Of course, it starts with parents, but as a government we must ask ourselves what else can we do that makes a difference. I think we must take two key steps.

Firstly, we must work with communities in supporting early intervention. Dealing with teenage anti-social behaviour or criminality is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Secondly, we must use the scarce resources we do have to support education and schools – particularly in those key early days. We have made the right policy start with the Foundation Phase, but we now need to take that forward through the school years. I believe that early intervention and the best possible attention to pupils’ needs is the long term key to dealing with deprivation.

That means that faced with limited resources we must move from the plethora of current programmes targeted at the aftermath of poor educational achievement and shift them directly into the heart of the education and the family support system.”

The Plaid Leader will also say:

“There will be a significant change of priorities which will be reflected in our manifesto next year.
We are faced with a cost-cutting government in London whose long term aims we reject completely. But in doing that, we must not protect or fight for things simply because they are there or have always been in existence.
From now on, Plaid Cymru will deploy its thinking on achieving our aims through firmer outcomes. You will not find us wedded to ways of doing things simply because it’s always been done that way.

We must be bold in the way we interpret our principles for Wales.

Plaid Cymru in 2011 will be a sharper, more focused party that you have ever seen before. While the Liberal Democrats try to hide from the responsibility for the disgraceful way they have abandoned their principles; while the Tories plan public services cuts as a backdoor to ideology, and while Labour remain stuck in oppositional mode to Westminster but bereft of ideas for Wales, we – the Party of Wales – will step up to change our nation.”