Politically Speaking - Carwyn's Legacy and Hopes for the Future

This week has seen an event which happens rarely - the changing of the guard as Mark Drakeford takes over from Carwyn Jones as Leader of the Welsh Labour Party and as such, with the ongoing support of the only Lib Dem Assembly Member, Kirsty Williams, and Independent Member, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, there has also been a change in First Minister.  I would like to congratulate Mark Drakeford on his election as First Minister of Wales and would like to wish him well in leading our country through what will be a period of great opportunity but also one of many challenges. 

 

Mark was elected to the Assembly on the same day as me back in May 2011. For the whole time I've been an AM, all I have known is Carwyn Jones as the First Minister. People across the country are crying out for change but I fear that the result of this election is simply going to result in a big change in style but more of the same when it comes to substance.

 

As a far-left Corbynite, the new First Minister's political beliefs are polar opposites to mine and he has a big task ahead of him in solving the problems which Carwyn Jones' Labour-led government have created for Mid Wales, not least his support for the Mid Wales Connection Project which made him particularly unpopular in areas of rural Montgomeryshire who were vehemently opposed to his Government's attempts to centralise decision making over onshore wind energy and trash our wondrous landscapes rather than delivering true devolution to local communities, shifting power away from central government and bringing transparency and local power to the heart of local decision-making.

 

More generally, the Welsh Government's record since 2009 under Carwyn's leadership is, sadly, one of missed opportunities, and no more disastrously than in the National Health Service. Despite promising to protect health spending, he is the only leader of any modern political party in the UK to inflict real-terms cuts to the NHS. Carwyn Jones's first budget as First Minister took £0.5 billion out of the Welsh NHS. By 2014, the health budget had lost almost 8 per cent in real terms, equating to £1 billion.

 

The impact on waiting times and standards has been devastating. In December 2009, no patient in Wales was waiting any longer than 36 weeks from diagnosis to the start of treatment. Yet today, that figure stands at 13,673. In nine years, some key performance targets have not been met once. The target for 95 per cent of accident and emergency patients to be seen within four hours has not been met since 2009, and performance is getting worse. In October this year, only 54 per cent of patients were seen within four hours at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, the hospital which serves many of those in the North of Montgomeryshire.

 

Turning to education, a commitment was made by the First Minister during his leadership campaign to spend 1 per cent above the block grant on education every year until the per pupil funding gap between Wales and England had been eliminated. Nine years on, and the funding gap still remains, and the education budget is 7.9 per cent smaller in real terms than it was in 2011. In the 10 years to 2016, 157 schools closed, mainly in rural Wales, and, across the country today, 40 per cent of schools are facing a budget deficit. This is despite the fact that the Welsh Government receives £1.20 for every £1 spent on schools in England.

Under Carwyn's watch, Wales has seen has the lowest wage growth of any UK nation and opportunities to create the conditions for indigenous small business growth and greater inward investment have been missed in favour of trying to control and over-tax business. The Welsh Government's business rates regime has led to Wales having the UK's highest high-street vacancy rate, with too many vacant and boarded-up premises. Wales is now the most expensive part of the UK in which to do business and creating the conditions in which businesses can prosper, and investors are attracted to set up in Wales, should have been a far greater priority over the last nine years, to generate growth and increase prosperity levels. 

 

Carwyn Jones has announced new regional deals in Cardiff, Swansea and North Wales which will deliver billions of pounds worth of investment and will see better transport links, better broadband and mobile connectivity and other programmes to boost innovation, create employment and raise living standards. But what about Mid Wales? I firmly believe that Mid Wales deserves the same kind of investment to: resolve the remaining broadband and mobile notspots which is holding many rural communities back; to transform our economic fortunes; and to integrate Mid Wales into the wider Midlands economic engine. The Mid Wales Growth Deal has the UK Government's support and I hope Mark Drakeford's Welsh Government will work to make this deal a success for our area.

 

Finally, during Carwyn Jones' stewardship, we have seen urban local authorities in South Wales pitted against rural local authorities in Mid and West Wales with an inequitable funding settlement which has meant that Powys has had the poorest or joint poorest budget settlement in nine of the last ten years and between 2010 and 2020, Powys would have taken £100 million out of their budget - an unsustainable situation which will inevitably affect the delivery of essential local services. Carwyn Jones' legacy is that Powys County Council will have to find a £14 million gap in funding in the next financial year and £20 million in each of the three years after that, so one of the first things which I will be calling for from the new First Minister is a review of the 2019-20 local government settlement to ensure that the people of Powys don't end up paying more for less.

 

As you can tell, I am very much hoping that we see a change of direction with a change of First Minister. Mid Wales needs original ideas, a fresh approach and new leadership from Mark Drakeford and while I wish the new First Minister well, I am more convinced than ever that, to fulfil its true potential, Mid Wales needs a new Welsh Government rather than simply a new First Minister.