If a week is a long time in politics then 13 years might as well be a lifetime. But for me, my return to the Senedd this week feels like I haven’t really been away. Yet for me personally, so much has changed. I’ve had two children, run my own business and have been focussing on local politics at a community and county level at home in Monmouthshire.
I always knew that one day I would want to return to do what I loved – standing up and fighting for the causes I believe in and representing the area that’s always been home. But never under these tragic circumstances. As I took my seat in the Chamber on Wednesday I paid an affectionate tribute to Mohammad Asghar and pledged to continue his work to the best of my ability.
And I started in much the way I want to continue. I was in a combative mood, like many families across Wales frustrated with the snail’s pace the Welsh Government is taking to ease the lockdown and help our economy recover. I challenged the Education Minister why it’s taken so long to announce plans to reopen schools in September, called for clarity over the farcical mixed messaging on wearing masks on public transport and called for improved access to sports facilities for young people.
While much has changed in 13 years, the colour of our Welsh Government and its inability to raise standards in our public services has not. The First Minister Mark Drakeford was the man pulling the Welsh Government’s strings back in the early 2000s as Rhodri Morgan’s lead special advisor. Even Jane Hutt is still sat around the cabinet table, continuing to outlast some of most undemocratic leaderships in the world.
13 years ago the Welsh Government had a target to raise the percentage of wealth generated in Wales to 90% of the UK average. In 2007 little progress had been made and the Welsh economy had an average productivity per head of 72.8% of the UK average – the lowest of the UK nations – while West Wales and the Valleys was trailing at close to 60%.
The most recent year for which figures are available, 2018, has Welsh GVA back at exactly 72.8%. In economic terms, we’ve wasted the last 13 years and are as poor as before the 2008 economic crash, still economically the weakest UK nation. No wonder blue collar workers left Labour in their droves last year because it’s the Welsh Conservatives who stand for working people and with Boris Johnson and Paul Davies we have a plan to build that dynamic enterprising economy.
Standards in our public services have languished too under Labour, but key performance measures for schools and hospitals have changed so many times it’s as difficult to compare progress as it is to compare standards with other UK nations – a cynic might think that was the intention. But with NHS waiting times this winter the worst on record and with Wales continuing to languish at the bottom of the UK PISA rankings, it’s desperately sad to see such a lack of progress in a country with such potential.
It’s that potential that I’m determined to work to unleash, by working with colleagues to argue for change in Wales – a more dynamic and enterprising economy, where profit, wealth and ambition are no longer dirty words; a well-funded and patient-centred NHS free at the point of use; and a stimulating and outward-looking education system which leaves no child behind and effectively prepares young people to compete in the global jobs market.
It’s that ambition that will drive me in my new role because with Conservative values of enterprise, ambition, fairness we can make our country such a healthier, cleverer, greener and more prosperous place.