Westminster

Some Party leaders come to Wrexham for Election Debate

On Wednesday 30 March I attended the FSB Welsh Leaders’ Debate at the Catrin Finch Centre at Glyndwr University. I have a rather exciting story to share from the evening, but I don’t want to share it at the moment because I do not want to give away my political allegiances before the hustings that I have arranged with Sheila Meadows OBE at the end of the month.

Until then, here is the story of the evening as taken from Wrexham.com

 

With the Federation of Small Business hosting the event at Wrexham Glyndwr University the debate itself was a businesslike affair.

First Minster Carwyn Jones was subbed by Edwina Hart AM, with Mr Jones having understandable business regarding Tata Steel. Mark Reckless of Rochester and Strood fame stood in for UKIP’s Nathan Gill, with the other parties having their leadership lining up as promised – Andrew Davies from the Conservatives, Kirsty Williams from the Liberal Democrats and Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru.

Wrexham.com did offer to film and live stream the event, however organisers have said BBC Radio Wales will be ‘carrying the event’ in some form, so we will provide a link if/when we spot it, for now there is a summary of some of the points made and a few observations of the evening.

( UPDATE there is a 30 minute edit that you can listen to online, or download an MP3 of on the BBC website here )

The debate was fast paced crammed into an hour with topics focused on Welsh business and related subjects.

The initial question that dominated the first quarter of the discussions centred around the news over Tata Steel looking to dispose of their assets in the UK (More coverage on this can be found on Deeside.com, with the obvious Shotton interest).

The responses from the panel were along party lines nationally through today, with Labour stating it was not just a Welsh Government issue but global due to ‘dumping’ from China with a wish that the issue will ‘rise above politics’. Edwina Hart said she wanted to see a ‘fit for purpose’ steel industry in the UK as regardless of Tata or state owner it is making £1m per day claimed losses.

In a conciliatory tone the Conservative leader stated it was ‘vital’ that both the Welsh and UK Governments worked together, and that they were not against a ‘stake’ being taking in the business for a short while if it was so required. A ‘tit for tat tariff war’ was warned against, with a refusal of Chinese steel being linked to possible knock on effects to other demand such as Airbus planes.

UKIP cited the lack of protection from the EU over ‘dumping’, with Mr Reckless wanting the UK to stand alone to enable ‘anti dumping tariffs’. EU rules over clean energy were noted with new coal power plants being on UKIP’s agenda if the referendum votes ‘out’.

The Liberal Democrats echoed other views of steel being an ‘industry of national strategic importance’, explaining that Shotton appears to be the only profitable part of the Tata UK operation and concern over the lack of clarity to its future. Referring to the banking bail outs, Kirsty Williams said “We need to put our money where our mouth is” to similarly bail out the steel industry, saying governments spend money on things ‘a lot worse’ than saving jobs.

Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru introduced a political fight, challenging Labour’s record saying manufacturing had ‘not been a priority for years’, pointing out that the Conservatives had been lobbying for China to be granted market economy status – a move that would it is claimed have severe impact on the competitiveness of the UK steel industry. UKIP also had their nose tweaked as their EU argument was skewered with it pointed out regardless if the UK was in or out, there is still a Conservative Government in Westminster so the policy on China would not change.

Another question was asked over divides in spending, with the implication the M4 corridor in South Wales and Deeside get a bigger bite at the proverbial cherry than other areas. The M4 is currently due to get a £1 billion upgrade, with a controversial relief road being much debated. The various black and blue versions of routes were mentioned several times leaving a debate in North Wales with a question over a southern focus bruised.

All parties noted issues with the A55, with electrification of the North Wales mainline or associated transport link improvements also being seen as important by all. The dividing lines were drawn over the implementation of spending, with UKIP looking to develop links with the so called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ in a geographically imprecise area.

Edwina Hart challenged the view on the south getting a better deal than the north, saying that us here in the north get more per head spent on transport than the south. Looking at Andrew Davies, she also pointed out that the limits to cash available are due to the Conservative party in Westminster.

Kirsty Williams said there ‘was life outside of Cardiff and Newport’ and favoured a balanced regional approach, explaining how she was from mid-wales and therefore knows how it feels to be ‘not listened to’ by Cardiff. Leanne Wood went a step further saying Plaid Cymru would entrench fairness in spending into law to ensure there could be no geographical bias.

Wrexham.com has covered the mystery over the ‘deal’ for North Wales, and with the Chancellor George Osbourne putting it on par with a £1 billion city deal for Cardiff (signed and sealed) it did seem odd there was no mention of it. Andrew Davies reiterated that a strong economy was required for growth, and echoed UKIP’s view to ‘plug in’ to the Northern Powerhouse, explaining how he sees more east-west connections rather north-south.

With only twenty minutes remaining the last two questions about inward investment, tax reform, business rates and business support were answered in an often tangential manner.

Leanne Wood from Plaid Cymru explained plans for Welsh Government to take equity stakes in new startups rather than straight grants, a system that would share the risk and reward.

Mark Reckless from UKIP said it was a ‘disgrace’ that the Severn Bridge tolls were to be kept under Conservative plans, with Andrew Davies from the Conservatives responding to abolish them would cost £15-20m and increase road use by 25%.

Kirsty Williams from the Liberal Democrats made the only mention of tourism, saying she welcomed more visitors and encouraged more to be done to promote Wales.

Edwina Hart from Labour spoke of her positive experiences of visiting classrooms and seeing entrepreneurial spirit from children however pondered when it was ‘knocked out of them’.

No large scale reforms of the business rates systems were proposed, with various tapers and reliefs being put forward by all to help business. Kirsty Williams did give a warning that any wholesale changes would need to be ‘very careful’ as her locality does not collect much in rates but gets much more benefit, and devolving collection and control to local authorities could exacerbate any finance gaps.

In what was quite a tranquil debate the only audience applause (and a whoop) occurred when Edwina Hart suggested that Andrew Davies’ Conservative Party could make large global corporates pay tax, presumably referring to the likes of Facebook and similar who paid £4,327 in corporation tax in the UK in 2014 despite making $2.9bn profit globally.

Mr Davies replied that more had been collected under the Conservatives recently than under the whole of the previous Labour Government, a similar applause then took place.

The event went well, with the BBC Wales host Brian Meechan conducting his work with a subtle touch, however after the meeting there was mutterings on the small scale of the event and inability to get tickets. One told us they had many interested friends who were unable to attend, with them disappointed the audience appeared ‘packed’ with ‘political types’ – we did spot a couple of candidates for various positions and members of their entourages sitting in.

There was a video link in place to Swansea, with one question posed via the connection, one wag after the meeting said: “We have a meeting about North Wales in North Wales and still South Wales gets focus”, although for those unaware of the M4 routes it would have been an educational experience.

Hustings arranged for the benefit of the disabled community in Wrexham

After a lot of communication via Facebook and Twitter with local candidates for the forthcoming Welsh Assembly elections, Sheila Meadows OBE and I have organised a hustings for recipients of the Welsh Independent Living Grant to listen to the prospective party plans for independent living and help them decide who to vote for on May the 5th.

Below I have copied the flyer that Sheila and I wrote that is to be emailed to those affected in Wrexham and Clwyd South. We are hoping that the meeting will be well attended as we have had confirmation that a number of prominent local politicians will be attending. Those that have been invited include Carrie Harper and Mabon Ap Gwynfor of Plaid Cymru, Alan Butterworth and Duncan Rees of the Green Party, Lesley Griffiths and Ken Skates of the Labour Party and Andrew Atkinson of the Welsh Conservatives.

The flyer reads as follows:

Future of WILG (Previously ILF)

 

Independent living is at risk for disabled people across Wales. In the run up to the May 2016 Assembly elections we have managed to arrange a meeting with local candidates about how they, and their party, plan to support disabled people if elected. 

Meeting to be held at:

Maesgwyn Community Centre

Lilac Way, Wrexham,

LL11 2BB 

Monday 25 April – 1:30-3:00pm

 

The Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) will remain in place until March 2017. A total of £27 million will continue to be transferred from the Westminster Government to Wales until 2020. How this sum of money will be administered is anyone’s guess. Should Wales establish their own Welsh Independent Living Fund to provide long-term security? Perhaps you accept the funding should come via the Local Authority but require assurances over ring-fencing? Whatever your standpoint, this is our chance to meet, discuss the issues and question the politicians that will influence our lives over the next political term. Don’t miss your opportunity to be heard…

If you have a question that you want to put to the candidates, or for us to feed back to the Welsh government, email your questions to either Sheila Meadows (sheilamdow@aol.com) or Nathan Lee Davies (nathandavies01@hotmail.com).

We look forward to seeing you all on 25 April at Maesgwyn Community Centre.

Keep on keeping on

So, the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) has been extended to March 2017. This is a reason for celebration and is the culmination of a lot of hard work by many people over the last 12 months to protect independent living for disabled people across Wales.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels and must start thinking about what we are going to do this time next year. We are still looking for a long-term solution to the problems that the Tories caused when they closed the Independent Living Fund (ILF) .

We also need to analyse the letter which was sent to Paul Swann at Disability Wales who acts as Secretary of the Cross Party Group on Disability. The full letter can be downloaded here:  Minister’s response to CPGD re ILFWILG.

As stated above, Mark Drakeford AM (Minister for Health and Social Services) has confirmed that the draft Welsh Government budget contains £27 million to enable WILG to continue until March 2017. However, it is clear from the letter that the current level of funding form the UK Government is only sufficient to maintain recipients’ payments at the same level as they previously received form the ILF. It does not cater for any changes in a person’s circumstances or any changes in the level of support they require. The Minister confirms that the funding provided by the UK Government does not include any funding in respect of administration costs.

The Minister does recognise that a long-term solution is required and he has confirmed that he hopes to be in a position to respond more fully with regard to the scheme within a month.

With an election on the horizon in Wales the Assembly Members will be preoccupied until May but this does not mean we can’t do our homework in building a strong case as to why we need a more lasting Welsh ILF system – similar to the ones that have been established in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I intend on meeting my prospective AM and getting their commitment to safeguard independent living in writing, I’ll write to the Welsh national press to make this issue a political hot potato and in a change of tact I also hope to get back in touch with Ian Lucas, my local Labour MP, who has always represented me well in Westminster. I would like to ask him to press the Tories hard about the amount of money they give to the devolved governments to cover independent living. It is not good enough to simply pass on the same amount of money distributed in 2015 as this does not account for new claimants or changes in circumstances. As someone with a progressive disability, I fear that the time will come – sooner rather than later – when I won’t be able to pay for the hours of care needed for me to remain living independently in the community; The Tories must be challenged and stopped from pushing ahead with fascist plans that boil down to nothing less than systematic social cleansing.

Writing and campaigning is what I am good at. Back in December, I wrote a blog entry entitled Fighting for independent living in Wales in which I appealed for assistance from recipients of ILF in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I wanted their opinions and experiences on how their national ILF schemes functioned since the closure of the UK-wide ILF in the hope that it may prove an inspirational model for us to follow in Wales.

I received the following comment in response to my blog: 

Hi Nathan – My name is Charles Rainey and, in 2012, with my wife set up the ILF User Group NI, dedicated retaining the ILF in NI should Westminster decide to replace it. With the support of relevant charities and individual politicians we drove the decision to set up the current situation where users have basically noticed no difference going from one to the other. Send me an email and I can send you more details on our approach.

I sent an email to Mr Rainey and set up a telephone call in which I’d discovered that my new found friend from Northern Ireland had done wonders in setting up a User Group that actively lobbied for the retention of an ILF for Northern Ireland. Mr Rainey is an accountant by trade and deserves enormous credit for all his hard work in helping to create a stable future for disabled people in Northern Ireland. I wish that I could follow his inspirational lead, but I am just not cut out for all the paperwork and bureaucracy that is involved in establishing such a protest group. Therefore all I can do is appeal to any professionals with a conscience based in Wales to take up a similar challenge to Mr Rainey and help provide hope for disabled people nationwide.

On top of this I am also concerned about my own staffing situation. I currently have a vacancy for a personal assistant for 16 hours per week with every chance that this will lead to more hours. This is a great opportunity to work with a small team in a rewarding environment. Rates of pay are £7.26 (between 7am and 8pm) and £9.64 (between 8pm and 7am) and training opportunities are available. However, this position has been advertised for over 12 months with little response and even when I do receive applications from candidates and invite them for interview then I find they are far from suitable.

I believe this is a sign that we live in an increasingly uncaring society.

I guess this is a call for anyone in the Wrexham area, preferably female, with a caring attitude to read the following job advertisement and consider applying to become a member of my staff.

http://www.penderelstrust.org.uk/recruitmentDetailsPA.php?recruitment_id=5211

I don’t bite, honest.

 

In Response: Leanne Wood AM

I received the second response to my letter to the four main political party leaders in Wales from Leanne Wood AM of Plaid Cymru. I thank her for her reply to my concerns over the future of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), which I have shared below.

***

Dear Mr Davies,

Thank you for your email dated 30 November regarding Plaid Cymru’s response to the UK Government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF). Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.

Our MPs in Westminster have vehemently opposed this move in Westminster.  Our spokesperson on these matters, Hywel Williams MP, is particularly passionate about this issue as his brother benefitted directly from it and was enabled to live independently as a result of the ILF. It is a great shame that once again, the Welsh Government is forced to pick up the pieces in the wake of a UK Government intent on decimating valuable public services.

I also share your concerns about the Welsh Government’s response to the fund’s closure. Plaid Cymru has called for the Welsh Government to follow the example of Scotland and Northern Ireland in establishing its own scheme and this call was mentioned in the media. You can read about it on the disability wales website here. You can also read about this in greater detail, and about our wider approach to welfare support for disabled people, on our website here – although for clarity, this was clearly written before the decision to close the ILF was finalised.  

I hope this assures you of our position.

Warmest wishes,

Leanne Wood

Arweinydd Plaid Cymru ac Aelod Cynulliad Canol De Cymru

Leader of Plaid Cymru and South Wales Central Assembly Member 

 

***

 It’s no wonder I have a crush on Leanne Wood – she seems to genuinely understand the situation.

I am sorely tempted to vote for Plaid Cymru in May 2016 as the inspirational words and leadership of Leanne Wood make me feel safe and optimistic. This is more than I have felt under Welsh Labour in recent years, highlighted by their lack of decisiveness and clarity over the future of WILG. This inaction has left me feeling isolated, alone, let down and disposable as we enter the festive period.

In my book, Every Silver Lining has a Cloud, I describe my homesickness and unhappiness while living in Scotland. Six years after leaving the  Scottish Highlands and I sometimes wish that I still lived there now that the left-wing SNP have established control in Hollyrood and, amongst other refreshing and principled practices, have seamlessly rolled out the Scottish ILF.

I’d love to live in such a fair-minded society but as I’ve no intention of returning North of the Border I can only hope that either Welsh Labour wake from their trance and embrace the politics of their Westminster leader, or Leanne Wood and her Plaid politicians clear the deadwood and set Wales on a similar path to the one being blazed by the SNP in Scotland.

 

In Response: Kirsty Williams AM

I received the first response to my letter to the four main political party leaders in Wales from Kirsty Williams AM of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. I thank her for her prompt and detailed reply to my concerns over the future of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), which I have shared below.

I have a lot of time for the Welsh Liberals thanks to the hard work of Aled Roberts AM who has been a dedicated and empathetic supporter of independent living for disabled people for many years.

Liberal ideals should be applauded, but unfortunately we live in right-wing times and are controlled by a bias media that dismisses or ignores ideas from sources other than the ruling elite.

I remain confused and uncertain over the future of WILG past March 2016, although it is encouraging that Kirsty Williams believes that the Health Minister has stated that he will continue the scheme until March 2017. This would give me a stay of execution and give me time to increase my campaign for independent living, but I won’t believe it until I get written confirmation.

In the meantime I look forward to receiving replies from the other party leaders soon.

***

Dear Mr Davies

Thank you for your email regarding the Independent Living Allowance. I fully appreciate the concerns of many people such as yourself given the uncertainty over the future of this allowance.

As you say the funding has been guaranteed until March 2016. However, the Health Minister [Mark Drakeford AM] has stated that he will continue the scheme until March 2017 and in a written statement in March of this year announced that if funding continues to come from Westminster based on actual numbers then he would consider setting up a permanent Welsh body to administer the ILF.

The Liberal Democrat General Election manifesto in May included a wish to “deliver Home Rule to each of the nations of a strong, federal United Kingdom by transferring power to control a range of benefits for older people, carers and disabled people.”

It is also our goal to push for improvements in the benefits system for disabled people, based on the principle of one assessment, one budget. This will bring together support like Personal Independence Payment, Employment Support Allowance, a replacement for the Independent Living Fund and health and social care entitlements.

Unfortunately of course we are no longer in position at Westminster to deliver this.

In Wales we will do all we can to ensure a fair and equitable benefits system which is administered on a Wales wide basis and not subject to any Local Authority “postcode lottery.”

Yours sincerely

Kirsty Williams AM

Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG)

I sent the following email to the four main Welsh political party leaders –  First Minister Carwyn Jones (Welsh Labour), Leanne Wood AM (Plaid Cymru), Kirsty Williams AM (Welsh Liberal Democrats) and Andrew RT Davies AM (Welsh Conservatives) – on behalf of the disabled community concerning the Welsh Independent Living Grant.

I will publish any responses I receive.


Dear [insert name]

I am writing as a concerned Direct Payments recipient who would like to enquire as to what your party would do to support independent living for disabled people in Wales should you win the forthcoming election.

Earlier this year the Conservative Government at Westminster closed the Independent Living Fund (ILF) across the United Kingdom as part of their austerity measures. This left many disabled people unable to pay for the care needed to be independent.

In England the ILF funds were given to local authorities while the devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland received the monies to distribute as they felt appropriate.  Scotland and Northern Ireland joined forces to create their own ILF schemes – giving long term security and confidence to disabled people and their families.  In Wales we have had to make do with the short term solution of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG), which is not guaranteed beyond April 2016.

WILG resulted from a public consultation that clearly highlighted opposition to Wales following England’s lead and transferring ILF funds to local authorities. Instead, disabled people, their families and support workers want something special for Wales – a system which does not depend on the whims of individual local authorities.

As you can appreciate this is a pressing concern amongst the disabled community in Wales as many people – including me – are unable to plan for the future and are clouded by an oppressive degree of uncertainty.  Subsequently, I would welcome information about your party’s long term plans in relation to WILG and Independent Living as a whole.

More about my specific story can be found at the link below:

http://www.leaderlive.co.uk/news/149987/our-fight-to-fund-independent-lives-in-flintshire-and-wrexham.aspx#.VZu96zMTWf4.twitter

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely

Nathan Lee Davies

Speech by Professor Mark Drakeford AM

Professor Mark Drakeford AM,

at Disability Wales’ Annual Seminar,

You Say You Want a Revolution: Getting to the Heart of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 

at the Copthorne Hotel, Culverhouse Cross,

on 8 October 2015.

 

Good morning, Bore da. Thank you very much for the invitation and for the opportunity to be here this morning.

I knew it would be an unusual experience when I saw the programme also featured 2 slots by comedian Ted Shiress.  My office in the Bay thinks it is very amusing indeed that I should be on a programme with a comedian and spent all week telling me what a brave decision it must have been to agree to speak here! I am reminded of a famous political story and as we have a doyen of Welsh reporting in the chair, I thought I would just start by sharing this with you.

So, this is a story from the early 1980s when Mrs. Thatcher was Prime Minister, and a by-election happened in one of the Blackpool constituencies. In those days by-elections were very big business, when the whole of the media and national press would descend on any constituency where a by-election was being held.

The Conservative Party chose as its candidate a local Blackpool bus driver. He was unveiled to the waiting media in a press conference where he was to speak and where the local, biggest Conservative Party supporter, Ken Dodd, was also part of the press conference.

 

So, a press conference is held, the Blackpool bus driver is unveiled and unfortunately his grasp of policy turned out not to be quite as detailed as his grasp of the Blackpool bus timetable, and he had a rather torrid time in front of the national press. Willy Whitelaw, the Deputy Prime Minister, had been sent up to be in charge of the campaign. When the questions to the bus driver had finished, and Ken Dodd was to speak next, apparently he turned to the press and said: “Ladies and gentlemen now over to a professional comedian.”  Or a professional comedian, depending on your point of view.

That will be my only attempt to tell a joke you’ll be pleased to know!  I am going to concentrate as you would expect in the rest of the time I have on the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, put on the statute book in 2014 ready for implementation on 6 April next year. A landmark Act.

The Fourth Assembly is the first assembly to have law making powers in the full sense of that term. A referendum in March 2011 led to this Assembly being able to make laws on exactly the same basis as any law passed in the Parliament in Westminster. I actually don’t think that it is an accident that with devolved powers of that sort for the first time, the National Assembly has decided to make Social Services the subject of by far the biggest single piece of legislation which will have gone through the Assembly during this Assembly term.  The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act is quite certainly in terms of its scale and scope, the largest piece of legislation that the Assembly will have tackled and in some ways amongst the most profound in the impact that it will have on people’s lives.

We have been involved, as many of you in this room will know, since the Act made its way through the Assembly on to the statute book, in putting down the detail that is needed to underpin any major piece of legislation into the system as well.  So, the Act itself is a major piece of legislation but the detail of it, how it will actually work in practice, comes through in regulations that flow from it, from statutory guidance, from the code of practice.  And these are major undertakings in themselves.  And we have consulted in 2 different tranches on the regulations that the Act requires to be in place in time for it to go live in April of next year.

The first tranche of regulations were consulted upon and made their way through the Assembly just before the summer break and the second tranche of the consultation is now closed and completed, and we will bring those regulations in front of the National Assembly in November. And if all goes according to plan, then they will complete their passage through the National Assembly this side of Christmas, which means that everything that we need to make this Act go live on 6 April next year will be in place.

Now, I know that that is still only 3 or 4 months before the Act happens, but I am confident that with our partners in local authorities, in health boards and in the third sector as well we will have certainty about the way that this act is intended to operate. The rule book which will be in place to make it all happen will be there, and there in sufficient time for everybody to do the difficult job of preparing themselves for its implementation.

Nobody should imagine that the world of social services will change on 6 April.  That will be the start of the process of implementing this Act.  And the Act is as much about cultural change as it is about some of the specific strands that lie within it.  The specific strands, of course, are very important and very important to people in this room and the organisations that you all represent.  Strands such as the strand on direct payments, on financial assessment, on advocacy, on social enterprises.  All of those are things which the disability movement in Wales has been especially influential in the way that the regulations and the code of practice and the guidance flowing from the Act has been developed.

So, I am immensely grateful to all those individuals and organisations who have helped us during the period of consultation to make this Act as good as we can make it, including well over 200 contributions in the second tranche of consultation from organisations right across Wales.

And I sometimes think that members of the public would be surprised at the seriousness with which consultation is taken in government.  Every one of those consultation responses has been gone through by officials working for the Welsh Government; every one of them has been reported to me in terms of the views that people have expressed in them; every one of them has had an influence and an impact in some way on the final codes and guidance that we will issue.  You will know, some of you, that the codes we put out to consultation are not the codes that we will have confirmed by the National Assembly because those codes will genuinely have been improved and influenced by the consultation process.

And as you heard Rhian say, I was especially pleased to be able to respond positively to the concerns that bodies such as Disability Wales and others have expressed during the consultation exercise about the need to put a statutory framework into the supporting paraphernalia of the act, to make sure that the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People is firmly embedded in the codes of practice. You’ll see that that has now been agreed and is taking plac. And when you see the results of the tranche 2 consultation I hope you will be pleased to see as well that we have been able to respond positively to calls from Disability Wales and others to strengthen the citizens’ voice at the regional partnership boards which will be the engine rooms through which so much of this Act will be put into practice. Those regional partnership boards where we bring together senior people from our Health Service, senior people from Local Government, senior people from the third sector in Wales and now you will hear I hope when the tranche is published how we are going to strengthen the voice of the citizen at that top level decision-making layer in the way that this Act will now be put into practice.  All of that will be complete by Christmas, then we move into that period of final preparation for the Act’s implementation.

I wanted though this morning to say something. Not just about the detail of the Act, and the way that it will be put into practice.  But about what lies behind the Act, because in a way that is the most important thing of all.  What lies behind the Act is a new way of thinking about the way that we provide services to people who rely on our social services here in Wales.  A new model was put, I thought eloquently, to you in the start of the video you have seen this morning, because it genuinely is about taking some very important messages from the way in which the disability movement has developed a social model of the way that services need to be provided, and putting that social model at the heart of the way that our statutory and voluntary Social Services are provided.  It really is an Act that has at its starting point the view of people who come through the door looking for assistance – that those people are not problems to be solved. They are people who have strengths and who have assets, who have managed successfully through long periods in their own lives and when they now need help, our job is to start from the strengths and the assets that they possess.

People are absolutely equal partners in the way that this Act is constructed. They are not the passive objects of the benign concern of the people who provide services.  They are equal participants who bring the skills, the knowledge, the expertise, the life experience that they will have had, and put that to work in a joint enterprise with the people who provide services.

This is about shifting power isn’t it? That is what the disability movement has taught us about the way that they operate.  At the heart it is about tackling the way the power is distributed and operated between citizens who use services and people who provide them.  This Act is about democratising services and about equalising the way that power is distributed across the system.

So when someone comes through the door, the question we need to ask someone is, not what can we do for you today? Because that is an invitation to hand the issue over to the service and to put the service in charge.  The question we need to ask is:  What are we going to do today?  Jointly?  Together?  So that we pool the expertise that lies with the service provider and the person who uses the service.  The issue is not handed from one side of the table to the other, it is put in the middle of the table, where everybody has both joint ownership of it and therefore a joint responsibility to make a contribution to addressing that problem and to move that issue forward in people’s lives.

The word that was used in the video – a word I had on my scribbled notes – it is all about enabling people to maximise control over their lives.  It is not about turning people into the dependent clients of services that then inevitably move in and take over control that people would otherwise exercise for themselves.  The Act is all about trying to make sure that people are able to feel, as much as they possibly can, in charge of the things that matter to them most, and that new co-productive relationship is at the heart of the culture that this Act is aiming to bring about.  So, “Nothing About Us Without Us”.  I think that could have been the slogan written through the rock, that this Act is trying to bring about.

 

Let me respond very briefly to one or two of the issues that were raised in the video. There is no getting away from the fact that we live in the toughest times any of us in this room will ever have known in the way that money to do absolutely vital things in Wales is now available to us. The budget that the Welsh Government has in 2015 has now been reduced back to where it was in 2005.  So ten years later, with all that we know about the way that the growth of services, the demand for services the things we would want to do, all that has grown and yet we are back to where we were ten years ago as far as money is concerned.

In addition to the cuts we already know about, we have a new set of them coming our way at the end of November in the Chancellor’s autumn statement. I can be confident of that. But even with the cuts we already know, we are only 40% through what has already been announced.  So, far from being down at the bottom of the valley and ready to come up to the other side, we are yet to get to the floor. When the cuts bite directly, both in the lives of people who use services and in the lives of people who provide services as well.

Our public services in Wales are, by and large, not staffed by people who are on enormous salaries and wages. They are staffed by people who have modest incomes themselves.  We have the highest proportion of single earner households anywhere in the United Kingdom and that single earner is very likely to be a woman.  A woman therefore managing all the demands that that household has to manage, and managing on incomes that are fixed while costs are going up.

That sense of stress and strain in our system happens right across the board. So, any sense that there is a cavalry coming over the hill, with money on its back to allow us to do all the things we want to do.  I am afraid that is not going be the way it happens.

What we have done in Wales is to protect our social services budgets alongside our health budgets. You have heard many criticisms, I am sure, of the way that the health service budget in Wales, it is wrongly said, has not been protected in the way it has been protected elsewhere in the United Kingdom.  What we have done is to protect our budgets in the round.  It is absolutely useless from the point of view of the individual citizen to have budgets artificially protected in the NHS only to find out that when they need services from social services, that those budgets have been slashed, burned and robbed from social services, artificially to make it look as though the health service has had a better deal.  What we have done here in Wales is to recognise from the point of view of the user, what you have to have is a service that works across both boundaries and available for you, whichever part of the system you happen to need it.  As a result, spending on health and social services in Wales remains 8% higher for every single person in the land than it would be if we were across our border.

We are doing that partly by making sure that the money that we are putting into implementing the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act is protected. We preserved £3 million in this financial year and if after the 25th November, and the Chancellor’s next set of cuts, we are able to continue to go on doing it into the next 3 financial years, then that is our ambition as a government here in Wales.

Let me end if I could just by paying tribute to the impact which Disability Wales and other disability organisations have had on the Act and the way we want to take it forward.

In the early days of devolution – and I have been at the Assembly one way or another, since the year 2000 – I remember just how amazed people were by the fact that in a devolved Wales, organisations were suddenly able to get close to people who made decisions and made the laws about them in a way that simply was never possible when Wales was run by the Wales Office with 3 Ministers who inevitably spent most of their time in London and a small part in Wales. John Redwood spent more nights on the Dordogne than he spent in Wales.

In the early days of devolution we got used to the sense of closeness between civic society and life in Wales. We take it more for granted now. But it is still something to be genuinely celebrated and it is something envied by people who live in other parts of the United Kingdom when the ability to get into the room to talk together – “Nothing About Us Without Us” – simply doesn’t exist in the way it does in Wales.

The impact of Disability Wales and others has been enormous from the beginning with the tool kit and the impact that continues to have, through the technical groups in the way Disability Wales was influencing the detail on which this Act will rely. In the fantastically exciting work that is going on to create citizen directed co-operatives that is happening in Wales, something that is not happening elsewhere, something I am keen to see the results of it.  So we move direct payments on from being simply something where someone is offered a chance to paddle their own canoe through the rough waters of life, to a position where people using direct payments are able to co-operatively share their risks and pool the rewards to allow people working in the sector as well, to mitigate the risks. It is an enormously exciting project and Disability Wales is right at the heart of it.  Over the next few months we will rely on Disability Wales as well to deliver training to local authorities across Wales on the UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities so that the decisions that flow from this Act in future will be properly informed by the due regard duties that the Act now places on the shoulders of our local authorities.

So, Diolch yn Fawr, thank you for listening so attentively. Thank you for being here today, thank you for your commitment to this whole agenda on behalf of those many other people across Wales in whose lives this Act will be making such a difference. Without you, we wouldn’t be able to make the excellent progress we have achieved in Wales.  I have seen the rest of the programme and it looks interesting and exciting.  I hope you enjoy it all.

Thank you for giving me the chance to speak to you this morning.