Wales politics

Welsh Labour conference: No U-turn over NHS reforms, says Carwyn Jones

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Media captionCarwyn Jones defended his party's record on health and education

The biggest threat to the NHS in Wales is doing nothing, the first minister has told the Welsh Labour conference.

Carwyn Jones told a gathering of the party faithful in Llandudno that the Welsh government would not back down over controversial reform plans.

He defended his party's record on health and education in a speech which was also highly personal in parts.

Proposals to close some smaller hospitals and move services from others have sparked protests around Wales.

Mr Jones appointed Mark Drakeford as his new health minister last week.

But Mr Jones told the conference: "There is no bigger threat to the National Health Service in Wales than saying 'there's no need for change'."

He admitted that health reform was never easy but insisted that the reconfiguration plans were necessary to ensure that the Welsh NHS had a "safe and sustainable future".

The Welsh government has faced particularly strong criticism for its plans to move neonatal intensive care for babies from north Wales over the border to Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral.

During the afternoon members of several groups that oppose some of the reorganisation plans of the Betsi Cadwaladr Local Health Board turned up at the conference to make their views known.

Mr Jones also said that Labour was the "devolution party of Wales" which could "navigate a middle way between nationalism and a Tory government that is hell-bent on dragging power away from the people".

He told delegates Labour was in its strongest position since devolution, but the party still needed to change.

"Renewal should always be about the confidence to change and adapt when you are at your strongest," he said.

Mr Jones also recounted the experiences which led him to became a Labour politician, in a highly personal part of the speech.

'Some failings'

He spoke about how two of his great-grandfathers had moved to find a better life and how another started work at the age of 12 in a colliery - and that these events had helped shape his "social conscience".

Speaking of his own experiences with the NHS, he said the service had been there for his grandmother and his uncle who suffered from ill-health, as well as for his wife who suffered from leukaemia.

He also said he had spent weeks in an incubator as a baby.

The first minister admitted there had been "some failings" with regard to education in Wales in the past, but insisted that Labour ministers had "rolled up their sleeves".

Education Minister Leighton Andrews is expected to address the conference later on Saturday.

Mr Jones also outlined the need for his party to reach out beyond its core vote.

Image caption Ed Miliband will address the conference on Sunday

He attacked the UK coalition government on numerous occasions but also took the opportunity to take a swipe at Plaid Cymru, which he claimed was only "interested in protest and gesture politics, not serious government".

Speaking about the future direction of devolution, he said that he wanted to develop a devolution settlement that would stand the test of time.

Nationalism

In his speech, shadow Welsh secretary Owen Smith warned about the risks that devolution could bring including the "division and dilution of our collective means".

He explained how UK Labour's slogan - one nation - applies to Wales, and emphasised his party's commitment to the "commonwealth" of the United Kingdom.

He said Labour "believe in the concept of the common good and the commonwealth.

"Welsh nationalism is a denial of that concept of commonwealth."

Mr Smith criticised Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood for calling for the responsibility for devolution to be devolved.

The Pontypridd MP also questioned Wales' ability to pay its own way, saying that "the Silk Commission recently reported that we raise around £18bn per year in Wales and we spend around £30bn".

The commission was set up by the UK government to consider the future of Welsh devolution.

Its first report recommended that the Welsh government be allowed some tax powers, including the ability to vary income tax by 2020.

Mr Smith also set out what will be Labour target seats for the 2015 general election. These included Arfon, Aberconwy, Camarthen East and West, Preseli, Pembrokeshire, Cardiff Central and North, the Vale of Glamorgan and "maybe even Clwyd West".

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