Nick Clegg's Welsh Conference speech

February 27, 2015 6:00 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Speaking at the Welsh Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Cardiff, Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said that the Welsh NHS could benefit from up to £450m extra under his party's plans.

Accusing the Labour party of failing to support Wales' health service, Nick argued that this extra investment can be used, amongst other things, to support Kirsty Williams' pledge to increase the number of nurses on hospital wards.

A full transcript of Nick's speech is below:

I spend a lot of time travelling the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, but there's something about coming to Wales that always lifts my spirits that little bit higher.

You have a confidence, an optimism and a relentless desire to deliver for your communities and your country.

No one embodies that drive better than Kirsty Williams. Kirsty is an inspiration to me just as she is to people all across Wales and throughout the party.

Her commitment and sheer bloody-minded determination to get things done makes her a leader to be reckoned with and makes the Welsh Liberal Democrats a party that continues to punch above its weight.

And listening to Mark Williams and Jane Dodds just now reminds me how much incredible talent we have throughout the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

But given we're in Cardiff today, I want to take the opportunity to pay a special tribute to an exceptionally talented MP - Jenny Willott.

Everyone who watched the recent BBC programme 'Inside the Commons' saw her absolutely steal the show - even if she did have to share the limelight with her sons Toby and Joshua!

She was passionate, committed, persuasive - a breath of fresh air in the dusty corridors of Parliament.

Jenny is an inspirational MP and has been an extremely effective minister too, both in the Department for Business and the whips' office.

I can't wait to welcome Jenny - and Toby and Joshua - back to Westminster after May the 7th.

Liberal Democrats, because of your talent and commitment we have won time and time again in Wales.

Your hard work, drive and dedication to your communities is why we won in Cardiff Central, Ceredigion and Brecon and Radnorshire.

It is why we won five Assembly seats in difficult circumstances four years ago.

And it is why we will continue to win in the General Election in May and in the Assembly elections next year.

Education

This rally is about the Liberal Democrats winning so I want to start by talking about one Liberal Democrat win that I am extremely proud - one that Liberal Democrats have delivered in Westminster and in Cardiff Bay: the Pupil Premium

The Liberal Democrats are and always will be the party of education because right at the heart of our mission in politics is a desire to spread opportunity, to tear down the barriers that stop people from being able to realise their potential.

There is no greater way of spreading opportunity than through education.

If you can give a child the best start in life, right from those vital early years and through their school life, you can make a difference that will stay with them forever.

That's what the Pupil Premium is designed to do - helping children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to catch up and keep up with their better off classmates.

More than 13 years ago, I visited a number of schools in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands and it was on those trips that the idea of the Pupil Premium first came to me.

That idea became Liberal Democrat policy.

That policy became a front page manifesto commitment at the last general election.

And that commitment became the centrepiece of a liberal agenda for education in Government - after we fought to deliver it in Westminster and you did the same in Cardiff Bay.

As a result, today, right here, right now, it is changing lives.

In England, the Pupil Premium came into effect earlier than the Welsh version and now that it has bedded in we are starting to see the impact. In recent months we have seen primary school pupils from the poorest backgrounds getting their best results ever and the gap between them and their better off classmates narrowing.

The early signs of that impact are starting to show in Wales too.

Keep winning, as I know you will, and, as you continue to increase the Pupil Premium, Welsh children will get better and better results.

If you ever want proof that a Liberal Democrat policy is both popular and working, watch the other parties try to nick it.

We've seen the Conservatives try to pull that one over and over again with the Liberal Democrat tax cut for millions of working people - a policy David Cameron told me to my face, live on television, could not be delivered.

And you're seeing that in Wales as Welsh Labour try to claim the Pupil Premium - sorry, the Pupil Deprivation Grant - for themselves.

It takes a hell of a nerve to throw mud at us the way they do while trying to trumpet one of our proudest achievements as their own.

But don't worry, Labour renaming the Pupil Premium is like Vincent Tan making Cardiff City play in a red shirt. No one is buying it.

In Westminster, we dragged the Tories into making this policy a reality. And in Cardiff, we forced the Labour Party to do the same.

Whichever side of Offa's Dyke you live on, Liberal Democrats have worked tirelessly to put education back on the agenda - and we have won.

NHS

Liberal Democrats know that if we want that fairer society that creates opportunity for everyone, it must be built on the foundation of a strong economy.

That's why the single most important thing the Liberal Democrats have done in Government in Westminster is bring stability to the economy and ensure the difficult decisions needed to turn it round are made as fairly as possible.

But the work is not done yet. We are committed to finishing the job of deficit reduction, in full and on time, but doing so in the fair, balanced and sensible way we have pursued in Government for the last five years.

And because we will finish the job in three years, unlike Labour, and fairly, unlike the Conservatives, we are the only party that will start investing again in our world class public services in three years time.

We will cut less than the Conservatives and borrow less than Labour.

Labour can't be trusted with our public services because you can't have a world class NHS or a world class education system without that foundation of a strong economy.

They wasted their chance and if they get another shot at power in Westminster they will waste our money again.

The cuts of the last few years are a direct result of Labour's failure in Government, borrowing too much and leaving us dangerously over-exposed to the financial crisis.

Not only have we had no apology from them for wrecking the economy, they clearly haven't learned their lesson either.

Labour's plan means they will borrow £70bn more than us by 2020, as well as spending an extra £4bn just paying the interest on our debt - money that could be spent on schools and hospitals instead.

The Conservatives have absolutely no intention of sticking to the balanced economic approach we have taken in coalition - and they're quite open about it.

They promise massive cuts to public spending, much deeper than necessary to balance the books, with no end in sight. Austerity forever.

Yes, there will have to be more cuts to finish the job of fixing the economy, but because we will also ask the richest in society to pay their fair share and end austerity in three years' time when the deficit has been cleared, we will not have to make the deep cuts the Conservatives demand.

Our plan means that in the last year of the next parliament we will cut £38bn less than the Conservatives.

And what's more George Osborne has singled out only one section of society to pay for their ideological cuts plan - not their friends in big business and big houses, but the poorest working age people in Wales and the whole United Kingdom.

With Liberal Democrats there is light at the end of the tunnel. After 2017/18, we will invest again in our public services as the economy grows.

That means we can commit to giving the NHS the money it needs to stay strong. For the NHS in England that means an additional £8bn a year by 2020.

And that means an extra £450m a year for Wales by the end of the next parliament.

It is up to the Welsh government to decide how to spend that money, as it should be.

But make no mistake, the Welsh health service needs that cash injection.

I want to see that money used to improve the Welsh health service, spent on Welsh health priorities. But as Welsh Labour has shown, that is not guaranteed.

After years of Labour mismanagement, there are plenty of pressing priorities.

Labour has left the people of Wales with the worst ambulance response rates in the UK, longer waiting times for vital treatments and unequal access to the medications they need.

Wales needs better treatment for people with mental health problems, for too long regarded as second class citizens by Labour on both sides of the border.

And as Kirsty has said over and over, Wales needs more nurses.

Welsh nurses care for more patients per member of staff than anywhere else in the UK.

They are over-stretched and unable to spend the time with each patient that they need.

Kirsty has rightly put safe staffing levels for nurses front and centre of the health debate. Extra investment in the Welsh health service can be used to increase staffing levels, but it needs the Welsh Government to do it.

The people of Wales deserve better than Labour.

While Labour is failing on the NHS, the Conservatives are showing their true colours.

We all heard their health spokesperson in the assembly suggest that some people should be charged for using the health service - threatening to do away with the fundamental principle that the NHS should be free at the point of use.

I want a better health service for Wales than Labour has delivered or the Conservatives want to deliver.

But I won't set England against Wales as David Cameron did when he said the difference between England and Wales is the difference between life and death.

Liberal Democrats want opportunity for everyone, no matter where in the United Kingdom you are from.

We want a strong NHS in a strong Wales as part of a strong United Kingdom.

More power for Wales

To build a stronger Wales, we need to give you the powers you deserve.

That's why I am proud that Liberal Democrats in Government in Westminster have delivered greater devolution to Wales than anyone could have expected in 2010.

Thanks in no small part to the brilliant work of Jenny Randerson, we have started the work of delivering the Silk recommendations through last year's Wales Act, giving the Welsh government the opportunity to have more control over tax.

Today we have taken another step towards Home Rule for Wales with the new powers in the St David's Day Agreement.

This means a plan for fair funding for Wales and a new constitutional settlement, moving to a reserved powers model and handing over more control of important areas like renewable energy.

The nature of coalition means that I made this announcement standing alongside David Cameron. But make no mistake, this would not have happened without the Liberal Democrats. Giving away power does not come naturally to the Conservatives.

Silk would not be being implemented at all without Liberal Democrat Ministers sitting at the cabinet table, making the case over and over again for devolving power to Wales.

But we will not rest here. The genie is out of the bottle.

We want proper Home Rule for Wales.

We will be the guarantors that fair funding will be delivered.

And we will continue to campaign to give Wales more control over its own affairs in areas like policing and transport.

The Liberal Democrats are fighting Wales' corner in Westminster, just as you are fighting for your communities day in and day out.

We can change Wales for the better. We can make a difference to people's lives. But that work starts with every vote we win, every councillor and every assembly member we get elected and every MP we send to Westminster.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have shown time and time again that with drive, determination and a record of action to shout from the rooftops, we can win and will win.

Thank you.