Welsh Labour had a good party conference, is showing leadership at the assembly in Cardiff Bay and squaring up to the ConDems on key issues. However, in some key areas, particularly health inequalities, better policy delivery is needed for the future.
Peter Hain, Carwyn Jones and Neil Kinnock led the Welsh charge up to Manchester. Neil gave a thoughtful and touching memorial to former Blaenau Gwent MP and Labour leader Michael Foot and Carwyn’s conference update was well received. Peter introduced Welsh Night and it was great when members raised the roof to celebrate our 29 per cent swing to Labour in Blaenau Gwent. Thanks to Progress for highlighting our result in the elections best practice guide published by Community.
The coming months in Wales will be dominated by issues of constitutional change and financial cuts. Close to St David’s Day 2011 on March 3 we’re likely to see a referendum on extra powers for the Welsh assembly. At the moment, the assembly can make laws in the areas it’s responsible for like health and education, but very often still has to ask Westminster first for the powers to do so. This is expensive and time consuming – in essence, the assembly has to jump through hoops before it can pass a law. So, a positive result from the referendum is important, but the challenge will be to garner a solid turnout, to help the growing credibility of the assembly.
In terms of the public spending round, Nick Clegg recently visited Cardiff and urged people to keep future spending cuts ‘in perspective’. This is typical of the government’s approach at the moment. Their words about cuts being progressive are already proving hollow in Wales. It’s just been confirmed the government plans to lose 300 jobs by closing the passport office in Newport. All of us from south-east Wales are hopping mad.
On the same visit Mr Clegg also ducked answering questions about the establishment of a new defence training centre in the Vale of Glamorgan. This might seem an easy cut to make – key contracts have yet to be signed – but cutting is likely to be a ‘value for money’ mistake as the planned investment will replace nine separate military training bases. Economies of scale across all three services and a boost to capital investment would come at just the right time to avoid a double dip. The other key decision to watch out for on October 20 is the planned investment in electrification of the Paddington to Swansea rail line.
It looks like the ConDems are walking away from Wales. Let’s see what happens.
One of my most uncomfortable days since being elected to parliament, was spent listening to Department of Health officials in England confirming how little progress had been made addressing life expectancy in areas with the worst health deprivation. However, despite advances like the ban on smoking in public places, there is still very often a ten year gap in life expectancy between the best and worse off areas.
When former Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan gave the Bevan Foundation lecture at the Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale this summer, he rightly pointed to the massive investment in health by Labour – indeed in Blaenau Gwent we have a new hospital named after Nye. However, Rhodri thought Nye would have been judgemental against public health progress over the past 50 years.
So, let’s make sure we give sustained and absolute emphasis to make a real difference and markedly reduce health inequalities in the future.