Wales

Welsh Lib Dems' Kirsty Williams' power 'elite' warning

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams has warned that the assembly is beginning to resemble Westminster with power "hoarded by a political elite".

She addressed her party spring conference, a day after the Yes vote on direct law-making powers.

Ms Williams said the referendum result meant there must be "a new era of devolution" with "no more excuses".

She said those behind devolution were "not listening enough".

With the assembly election in May, Ms Williams also accused the Labour-Plaid Cymru administration of turning "waste and incompetence into an art form".

The Brecon and Radnorshire AM told party members in Cardiff that the referendum showed people "wanted to endorse and strengthen devolution" but that they "also want it to work better".

She said voters were right to show "widespread dissatisfaction" with the assembly government's performance.

Devolution was meant to give more people the chance to get involved in running Wales, and it wasn't "just about moving from London to Cardiff Bay," she said.

"Too much power in Wales is hoarded by a political elite," she told supporters on Saturday.

"Devolution has had its successes, but it is becoming a little bit too much like Westminster: not enough listening and too much control over our communities."

The Lib Dems are the fourth largest party in the assembly, with six out of 60 seats, and in her speech Ms Williams made no predictions about how the party would perform at the May election.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg spoke at the conference on Friday night, and Ms Williams told delegates that they "don't need to be defensive" about the record of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government in Westminster.

She concentrated her fire on the assembly government, and criticised First Minister Carwyn Jones for taking part in the trade union-led protest march against cuts in Cardiff on Saturday.

'Bungled'

"In Wales we have a first minister who is happier to be out on the picket lines protesting than rolling up his sleeves delivering for Wales," she said.

Ms Williams said her party would "give education the priority it deserves" and attacked the £600-plus funding gap between pupils in Wales and England.

She criticised Education Minister Leighton Andrews for saying that "schools in Wales are not delivering the outcomes that our young people need and deserve".

"Well, that's one way of putting it, isn't it Leighton? I'd say that the Labour-Plaid government are the ones not delivering the outcomes that our young people need and deserve."

She pledged that Lib Dems would:

  • Tackle the spending gap by providing more money for school, with "extra resources for pupils who need it the most".
  • Invest more in training and development for teachers.
  • £2,000 to companies for staff training if they give jobs to the unemployed young
  • The creation of a Welsh Stock Exchange.
  • Cut waiting times in the NHS by "rooting out ineffective spending and diverting savings to the frontline"
  • "Improve care for the elderly and vulnerable by ensuring that you can choose the care package you want, when you want it".

Another criticism was that the assembly government was "guilty of piling of layers of additional complexity on Welsh firms that businesses investing the other side of the Severn Bridge will not have to navigate".

She said there was a "closed for business" sign that had to be torn down and companies had to know they would helped, not hindered, if they invested in Wales.

Ms Williams also accused rural affairs minister Elin Jones of having "bungled one rural issue after another".

She said these included the agri-environmental scheme Glastir "that is so complex only 19% of farmers even expressed an interest in enrolling".

She said rural Wales knew that the air ambulance "isn't a luxury, but a necessity" and promised that her party would ensure it was funded "to provide a seven-day-a-week service for all of Wales for the first time".

* The party's leader in Westminster, Roger Williams, told delegates on Sunday that once the nation's finances were in order, then the party would honour its promise to replace the Barnett formula with a "new and fairer " funding formula.

In his closing comments, Roger Williams also told the party members to prepare for May's assembly elections and "go out and do the work and you'll get a very good result".

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