Opinion: One year on

This week saw the first anniversary of the One Wales Government, the coalition deal that put Plaid Cymru into government in Wales in alliance with Labour. To mark that occasion the Welsh Liberal Democrats staged a debate on the record of that Government, highlighting the many unfulfilled promises and the problems facing the two parties in delivering an uncosted wish-list.

A few ministers over the last few weeks have sought to deflect criticism by responding to several attacks by saying that ‘you have to be in government to change things’. However, what is clear and what has been demonstrated in the ‘One Wales’ celebrations, and over the last year, is that it is no good Plaid Cymru and Labour being in government if they cannot deliver on their own targets and agenda.

In education, the foundation phase for the under-sevens has been underfunded to the extent that planned pupil teacher ratios cannot be afforded, and roll-out has been extended by an extra year. The Government has missed its own target on school buildings. It stated that all school buildings would be fit for purpose by 2010, and that target was reiterated by Education Minister, Jane Hutt, in the present Government despite knowing she cannot deliver it. An increase of around 1.5 per cent in funding for further education means that many colleges are not able to deliver the Government’s skills agenda. There is also a £61 million funding gap in higher education, and despite a personal commitment by the First Minister to try to close that gap, action has still not been taken.

In local government, we have a below inflation increase in funding, which is hitting schools and social services. We have seen a failure to help pensioners pay their Council Tax this year as promised, and a failure to deliver on a Welsh language daily newspaper, as set out in ‘One Wales’. Post offices are being closed, and yet there is no movement on bringing the post office development fund forward, even though some Labour Members have called for it. There have been delays in finalising the local transport services grant, which has further strained councils’ ability to fund essential services. The Government has also failed to meet its own targets on child poverty and fuel poverty, and it continues not to meet those targets.

The Government talks about providing 6,500 affordable homes, but there has been no significant progress in delivering those homes. There is no indication that the number of new homes being built is greater than in previous years, and the over-reliance on planning gain has now been hit by the credit crunch, removing an important plank in delivering that policy. There is no means of measuring achievement on that policy, and when you take into account sales and demolitions, the likelihood is that we have fewer affordable homes now than we did a year ago. Repossessions are up by 75 per cent, and local councils are under pressure to deal with that, and yet we have no extra money for homelessness facilities and support.

Wales is at the bottom of the GVA league table for regions and nations of the UK . Our GVA is now 78.1 per cent of the UK average, down from 85.4 per cent in 1989. The ‘One Wales’ anniversary celebrations that we are now in the middle of have two features: We have Plaid and Labour claiming all the credit for themselves, with Islwyn MP, Don Touhig playing Banquo at the feast; and we have been treated to a long list of inputs and questionable half-outcomes, but little actual achievements.

Welsh Liberal Democrats have been in government, and we have made hard decisions. However, when we did so, we put together a programme that could be paid for and was deliverable. That is the major failing of this present Government. We are not asking Labour and Plaid Cymru to spend money on our uncosted promises, we are asking them to deliver on their uncosted promises. The people of Wales should expect nothing less.

These promises were made by Labour and Plaid Cymru, and there is nothing unreasonable in expecting them to deliver on them. Yet we still have Plaid Cymru and Labour making excuses. They say that Government is hard, that the UK Government has short-changed them, and that they have to make hard decisions. That is true, but you also need to go into Government with both eyes open, and cut your cloth accordingly. The biggest failure of this Government is not just that it has missed key targets, but that it has made promises that it cannot afford, and cannot deliver on.

* Councillor Peter Black AM blogs here.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Wales.
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