Welsh Labour's John Griffiths outlines Labour's policies and principles for the coming Welsh assembly elections.
By John Griffiths, Labour’s Assembly candidate for Newport East and the Welsh Counsel General and leader of the legislative programme
The people of Wales will set the course of the country for the next five years when they go to the polls on May 5th. This is a crucial Welsh assembly election. The UK coalition government seems determined to continue a programme of ideologically driven cuts – deeper and faster than necessary – and impacting disproportionately hard on Wales.
Past Labour governments recognised the case to support the transition of the Welsh economy from declining traditional industries by relocating government services to Wales but this is now under attack, with planned closure of Newport’s Passport Office putting it first in the firing line.
And attacks on welfare benefits affecting the most vulnerable will also hit Wales particularly hard given our greater level of reliance on those benefits – further reducing spend in local economies.
The regressive policies of the Tories and Liberal Democrats threaten progress in redistributing wealth and income hard won over many years. Areas of the UK such as Wales stand to suffer a reversal of gains made. Whereas Labour, in government in Wales and Westminster, worked together for the benefit of our people, the next Assembly administration will have to protect our communities from UK policies.
This is why Welsh Labour is fighting this campaign to retain our key policies as well as take new ones forward. We are pledged to keep free bus travel for older people and disabled people, free prescriptions and free school breakfasts. Sixth formers and further education students will continue to receive Education Maintenance Allowance and our university students will not pay the higher tuition fees applicable in England.
The distinctive approach of co-operation and collaboration rather than competition, public services not privatisation, remains our underpinning philosophical basis.
If Welsh Labour forms the next assembly government we will prioritise the protection of the most vulnerable and strong social justice policies.
• With youth unemployment rocketing we will create more apprenticeships and a Welsh Jobs Fund to boost employment;
• Access to the NHS will be boosted by evening and weekend GP surgeries;
• Our commitment to education will be evidenced by increasing spending by at least one per cent above the increase in the block grant from the UK government;
• A vital good start to life will be helped by more free nursery places and health visitors through the Flying Start programme;
• UK cuts to police numbers will be counteracted by 500 more police community support officers for grassroots policing in our communities.
The stakes are high. The next assembly government will face major challenges. It will have to operate in an environment of increasingly tight budgets making prioritisation and innovative and more effective service delivery the order of the day. The new primary law powers available following the March referendum Yes vote must be effectively used.
Welsh Labour is clear that, with many important strategies and policies in place, delivery must be the mantra for the next assembly government. The opinion polls are encouraging and our leader, Carwyn Jones, is far and away the most popular choice for first minister.
We are campaigning hard across the length and breadth of the country for an overall majority despite the difficulty of the mixed first past the post and party list system. The other parties are manoeuvring to cobble together an opportunist coalition of Tories, Plaid Cymru and Lib Dems if we fall short. The prospect will spur on our campaign teams to redouble our efforts to ensure a majority for Welsh Labour to deliver on a progressive socially just Wales.
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