The South Wales Valleys have felt the impact of the coalition Government’s policies more than any other part of the United Kingdom. Low pay, zero-hour contracts and part-time work have undermined the standard of living of thousands of people in the Valleys, and the Government’s Welfare Reforms have been a way of cutting benefits to some of the poorest in society.
These issues will need to be tackled by an incoming Labour Government, so that despair and deprivation is replaced with hope and prosperity. An important starting point must be the abolition of the bedroom tax and measures to curb exploitative zero-hour contracts, while raising the level of the minimum wage.
Crucially, it will also be important for a Labour Government to establish the essential economic framework within which Wales can develop and flourish. The Tories plan to take public expenditure levels back to those of the 1930s – before the NHS even existed. This would be disastrous for our communities.
Labour is the party of devolution and because of Labour, many of the instruments for promoting economic development are devolved to the Welsh Assembly. Over the past four years or so, the Labour Welsh Government has done much to counter the harmful effects of central government policies. In Wales we have seen what a Labour Government, determined to grow our economy for everyone not just privileged few can achieve. Schemes like Jobs Growth Wales sets us apart as a progressive force for working people; working with employers to provide the skills, training and jobs that our communities need so badly.
Labour wants to take devolution further by giving more powers to the Welsh Assembly. It will also establish a firm partnership with the Welsh Assembly. Labour believes in power being brought closer to the people. This is the best way to harness the potential of the South Wales Valleys.
The Valleys have a long and proud tradition of collective solidarity and the creation of opportunities for countless individuals. Our Valleys are brimming with creativity both business and artistic. We want to work with small businesses and harness this resource, developing our small businesses and supporting our entrepreneurs. So we can generate wealth from within.
This can only be done if a new ‘partnership’ is established between central government and the Welsh Government. This is precisely what Labour will do. Under the Coalition, the Westminster Government has pursued policies which have worked against the interests of the Valleys. The rich have got richer and everyone else has become poorer. Wealth has gravitated to London and the South East of England and areas like the South Wales Valleys have been largely forgotten.
The truth is that our Valleys cannot afford another five years of the Tories. That’s why members and supporters from across the Labour movement gathered in Nantgarw, will focus on bringing this Tory Government to an end and how we make the most of the opportunity that Labour Governments at both ends of the M4 provide for Valleys communities.
Today will be a practical opportunity to discuss and debate how the policies necessary to bring about nothing less than the transformation of the Valleys can be developed further. Labour is a Party which is rooted in the Valleys; it is a Party which grew out of the Valleys and it holds firm to the great traditions which still make the Valleys very special. This conference will both reinforce our relationship with the Valleys and begin to set out how Labour will change the Valleys for good.