Everything Adam Price said in his spring conference speech
Everything Adam Price said in his spring conference speech.
Gyfeillion, mae'n hyfryd eich gweld chi gyd yma heddiw mewn person a thu fewn i’r Theatr hyfryd hon.
It’s so good to be here and to be here at home. Among friends and among family.
Here in my home county. In the town of the team I’ve always followed. Mewn ffwrnes yn nhref y tunplad.
This is a special month for me. It’s forty years exactly since I stood for the first time for Plaid Cymru. It was a mock election in Amman Valley Comprehensive School. There was no-one in the sixth form ready to stand for Plaid, so as a plucky thirteen year old, I volunteered my services. I came bottom of the poll. Behind the Communist Party candidate. In my defence the Communists were very strong in Ammanford.
I naturally felt deflated, though.
My history teacher, Eifion George, a man who single-handedly recruited more people to our party than anyone ever before or since – including my brother, Cefin Campbell, Peter Hughes-Griffiths, and the late Dyfrig Thomas we said goodbye to recently – came up to me after the results were announced and said those simple words of encouragement with the quiet sense of perspective only a historian can muster:
Dal ati, Adam bach. Daw’r dydd y bydd mawr y rhai bychain.
To be a Welsh Nationalist growing up in Ammanford in the 1980s was not always easy. Nevertheless, I persisted. As have we all through good times and through tough times. Ac y’n ni yma o hyd, gyda’n gilydd.
These last few years, and these last few months haven’t come without their challenges for us as a party and for me as your leader. We are challenged to be the change we want to be in society. And it is clear that we have to do better, much better than we have.
And I want to say this to you all here and beyond these walls: I will do and together we will do everything necessary, everything possible to get this right. This is important to me, and it’s essential for us. The work is already ongoing and it will go on as part of a continuing commitment to align our culture and our structure with our values, to practice what we preach. Because if we are to become a kinder, fairer Independent Nation – a Cymru for All where no one is left behind – we must shine a beacon as a Party for All where everyone feels safe, welcomed and valued. And that as a party is our solemn and united pledge.
When we work together, as one united team we make incredible progress. Look at us here in Carmarthenshire. I never dreamt growing up we would one day lead the council.
The leader’s even called Price. No relation. Though I hear he’s quite good.
What better place to forge the sparks of inspiration that can light up our country than this crucible of creativity, y Ffwrnes. And what better place to make some noise than Llanelli. From the roaring crowds of the Stradey to the tinplate capital’s crashing din, this has never been a place to be silent.
A dyma i chi ardal sydd yn sumbol o’r ysfa am gyfiawnder ac o gadernid. Eileen Beasley – Rosa Parks y mudiad iaith – yn gwrthod plygu dan fygythiad y beiliffs. Jac Ty Isha y Tymbl, Ru Paul y tradoddiad radical Cymreig, a ddanfonwyd i Dasmania am ei arweiniad. A merthyron y streic rheilffyrdd cyntaf ym Mhrydain ac ymgais ciaidd Llywodraeth Toriaidd i’w atal yn adleisio’n drwm y dyddiau duon hyn.
These are dark days. A time of multiplying crisis. Crisis after crisis. Bearing down on the poor, the vulnerable and the sick. Here, now, as I speak in this theatre, in this town families are skipping meals, sitting in unheated homes. Their rents and their mortgage payments are soaring; and their real pay is falling. There is defiance on the picket line, but at food bank or homelessness shelter or surgery, it is impossible to ignore the feeling of powerlessness and desperation, the look of despair and defeat. The children of the poorest go hungry, they shiver in the cold, and suffer from all the diseases of poverty. A sentence that could have described the Wales of the 1920s or the 1820s describes the Wales of the 2020s. We are living in the shadow of broken dreams.
And what is already bad enough may be about to get worse, when next month, tens of thousands more are forced into fuel poverty by a Government that cares more for the profits of energy giants than the people struggling to pay giant energy bills.
That is the reality of Sunak’s Britain. The next two years could prove to be the most difficult, economically, in living memory: worse than the financial crisis of 2008; worse than the first three years of the Thatcher government; worse even than Covid.
The Pound has lost a third of its value since 2016. Real wages won’t get back to their 2008 level until 2027 according to the Government’s own official forecaster. That means we will have had two decades of stagnating living standards. This is the sharpest fall in the rate of productivity in three centuries since the start of the industrial revolution.
They’re being called Britain’s lost decades for good reason. People have lost their jobs. They have lost their homes. They’ve lost loved ones. No wonder so many have even lost all hope.
Had wages continued to grow at their pre-crisis rate during this unprecedented 19-year pay downturn, they would be a full 40% higher for the average worker in Wales. That’s about £12,000 or £230 a week. Imagine the difference that would make now. That’s the price we pay to be part of this Union.
The UK will have the lowest growth of any G20 country this year, apart from Russia, ravaged by sanctions and the death and destruction of its war of aggression; the UK’s trade deficit with the EU is at an all-time high; and they tell us that an independent Wales would not succeed.
If they want to see what failure looks like, then the British political class need look no further than the mirror.
Yes, the 2008 financial crisis, the pandemic, the energy squeeze, the collapse in global supply chains have all been international in their nature, wider symbols of a global system straining at the very limits, social, economic, environmental, of its own survival.
But each of these crises has hit the UK hardest - in lives shortened and livelihoods weakened. Because London is not primarily the capital of a United Kingdom, it’s capital’s capital, the nirvana of neoliberalism, an ugly word for an ugly idea, the financialisation of everything and the impoverishment of everyone barring the filthy rich, as Peter Mandelson once admiringly described them.
The United Kingdom now finds itself at the very epicentre of the collapse of casino capitalism. Its walls are coming down. And they’re coming down heaviest on us.
And the choice that we face is stark. Are we content to live in the ruins of someone else’s cruel fantasy? Or build our own home with our hands?
For those of our compatriots that still put their faith in Britain as the greatest engine of redistribution that humanity has ever invented I offer these few salutary facts.
In the latest economic figures Wales – the country with the highest child poverty – saw the greatest slump in GDP of any UK nation, and the biggest fall in employment.
For those that put their faith in the job-creating power of Brexit tell that to the seven hundred workers at Two Sisters in Ynys Mon.
Brexit Britain was designed to be finance capital’s fantasy island, small state, low tax, high inequality, turbo-charged by a clutch of white-collared-cities, surrounded by deindustrialised towns and a depopulated countryside.
How is that working for us?
In the post-covid era an increasingly insecure world is clamouring for people and countries that can make things not money. All kinds of things, medicines, computers, electronics, chemicals, electrical equipment and primary metals. That should be a golden opportunity for us in Wales and a town like this where steel still pumps through its veins. But we live in a state that pulls up the drawbridge, declares a hard Brexit and thinks that banking and property will somehow still pay the bills.
A state that starves its health service of funding, and wonders why people are too sick to work.
So we now find ourselves in the grip of an economic emergency. So what’s the Emergency Plan. Well, from the Conservatives it’s Austerity 2.0. And from Labour it’s Austerity Lite, or at least Light on detail.
The Conservative Spending and Borrowing Plans from 2024 are not cuts, they’re amputations. Brutal. Callous. Not cauterised but calcifying.
We expect Tories to be Tories.
People hope and expect Labour to be better.
But the closer they get to office, the higher they rise in the opinion polls, the more cautious and conservative they become.
We will not be getting out the big government cheque book again, Keir Starmer says.
We won’t be able to spend our way out of their mess – it’s not as easy as that.
Sound money in our public finances – even when it puts a brake on things, we might like to do in power.
The last time we heard language like that it was 1929 when a Labour Chancellor plunged millions into poverty as he clung to economic orthodoxy. Google Philip Snowden and be very afraid.
So what kind of economic alternative could we and should we demand?
Well, we could start by rejecting a foolish, failed hard Brexit by re-joining the Single Market and the Customs Union. Keir Starmer knows that to be the best option – but, just like Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak, he says not what he believes to be true but what he believes to be popular.
If change is to come, then that must change.
Secondly, we should insist the Bank of England sets interest rates in a way that stimulates not kills economic recovery, and rewrite its remit so that it serves every part of all four nations not just the capital of one.
If change is to come, then that must change.
And the third big change is the biggest of all.
We must move from an economy that simply reproduces inequality to one that removes it.
Because an economy that is not redistributive will never be regenerative.
Listening to Labour with its No.1 target of the fastest growth in the G7 you’d think economic policy was like Formula 1 and the election’s the Monaco Grand Prix. You change the driver, put Keir Starmer in a helmet and a jump suit, and hey presto: the champagne corks are popping. It’s 1997 again, and things can only get better.
But they didn’t, did they?
Because unless you change the formula, unless you change the engine then the end results will be the same for people in places like ours.
Labour says it will pass a Take Back Control act. But it’s literally for England, only.
In Wales we will have to content ourselves with the devolution of youth justice.
But the only way to achieve justice, socially and economically, for the youth of our nation , will be through our nation’s independence.
That‘s how we will create a new economy that is an engine of change. That drives up wages and incomes not prices and products. Run not in the interests of the super-rich but the actual wealth creators – workers, farmers, small business owners, the doers and makers, not the millionaire class but the millions of working and middle class people that will make up our nation of equals.
Independence will mean we can build up our nation, our infrastructure, our public services, and the lives of our people. In a nation transformed by fair, sensible, progressive policies that tax wealth as well as income. That close off the loopholes and leakages exploited by large corporations and their super-wealthy owners. That means an independent Wales will be able to make the essentials of life like transport and housing accessible and affordable; and for health, care and childcare, universal and free. And independence will mean we will be able to reform the welfare and tax system so we can create the beginnings of a basic income scheme, and create a society where we work to live not live to work, through the move to a four day week.
The stark alternative, if power remains concentrated in the hands of others, is that our nation’s poverty will persist, as it always has.
But while we remain trapped in this un-united kingdom, here is the message we need to send to the next Westminster Government, whoever they may be.
Give us the tools so we can begin the work of transforming the Welsh economy. So that making poverty history can become our national mission, even though it is not yours.
That starts with binning the Barnett Formula created by the Labour Party as a temporary measure in 1978 and which it unforgivably failed to abolish last time it was in power. They must not wait thirteen months let alone thirteen years if they get another opportunity. And if Labour is still committed to HS2, then it can commit to the £5 billion of extra investment that Wales is owed, and to the hundreds of millions in equivalent European funding that the Tories promised but failed to deliver. It’s only Plaid Cymru MPs and Plaid Cymru votes throughout Wales that will force the next Prime Minister to give Wales the deal that we deserve.
And it’s not just the redistribution of finance that’s key, it’s the redistribution of power.
Ac mae hynny yn cynnwys rheolaeth dros ein hadnoddau ein hunain. Mae gennym gorff cenedlaethol o’r new Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru, ond y gwir plaen yw nad oes gennym berchnogaeth o’r potensial anhygoel sydd gan Gymru i yrru chwyldro gwyrdd yr economi gyfoes. Sut yn y byd mai Ystad y Goron yn elwa o werthu trwyddedau i gynhyrchu trydan oddi ar ein harfordir. A sut mae Cyngor Sir Powys yn cael eu rhybuddio gan Lywodraeth y Deyrnas Gyfunol na all godi tal am gludo dwr dros y ffin.
Ie, cwmni gwladoledig ddylai berchen a datblygu ein potensial adnewyddol fel sydd yn wir yn y rhan fwyaf o wledydd Ewropeaidd. Ond pa wlad y’n ni’n son amdani. Ynni Cymru neu Great British Energy. Mae ateb Plaid Cymru yn gadarn ac yn glir. Nid National Coal Board arall sydd angen ar Gymru, ond pwerdy i’n pobl ni.
Nid adnodd i’w ecsploetio er mwyn gwneud yn iawn am ddiffygion isadeiledd gweddill y Deyrnas Gyfunol mo Cymru.
Gadewch i ni greu ein rhwydwaith ein hunain, mewn perchnogaeth leol, yn parchu ein cymunedau ac nid er hwylustra cwmniau a buddsoddwyr allanol. Ac os ydy gwlad lewyrchus, lwyddiannus fel yr Ideldiroedd yn medru rhoi eu gwifrau trydan dan ddaear, wel hynny ddylai digwydd fan yma hefyd.
Mae yna rhywbeth Cymru Fu-aidd am weledigaeth rhai yn y Blaid Lafur o ddyfodol y Gymru Wledig. A’r dystopia yr ydw i yn cyfeirio ati. Dyw troi’r byd yn wyrdd ddim gyfystyr a’i gwyrdd-golchi ar gyfer corffoarethau sydd am droi’n ffermydd yn fforestydd a’n dyffrynnoedd yn draffyrddd trydan gyda briwsion i bobl lleol a’r elw bras yn cael ei allforio. A mae canslo buddsoddiad mewn heolydd gwledig tra’n diddymu’r gwasanaeth bysus yr un pryd yn golygu mai’r weledigaeth ar gyfer y Gymru Wledig sydd yn cael ei chynnig ydy anialwch werdd heb bobl na ddyfodol na phwrpas, parc hamdden awyr agored lle bu gynt gymuned yn cynhyrchu bwyd ac yn atgynhyrchu hunaniaith.
Mae pobl yn rhan annatod o ecoleg a iaith a diwylliant hefyd. I gyrraedd net sero mae rhaid i ni fynd a’n cymunedau gyda ni. Rhaid mynnu trawsnewidiad teg.
Ac mae hynny yn golygu empathi, gwyleidd-dra a chydymdeimlad sydd yn adnoddau digon prin gyda rhai o weinidogion Cymru.
In a foreword to a document on the Welsh Government’s new transport policy, the Deputy Transport Minister Lee Waters says this:
“I am not prepared to spend money in future on old-style road schemes that increase the capacity of the road network”
There is something a little Napoleonic about that statement. There is no way to net zero other than through a just transition. Otherwise you will just get oppositon. And then we really are stuck.
So we need a little less ‘I’ and a lot more ‘We’ from Welsh Government.
And the We has to be Wales.
Labour’s dropped the language of the Green New Deal as a bit too socialist-sounding. But their mark two Green Prosperity Plan sounds so top down it could have been written by the head of the Central Electricity Generating Board circa 1952.
Let’s be in no doubt investment-led green growth, a Welsh Green Revolution has the capacity to transform the Welsh economy.
By 2030 according to the National Grid, Wales, already an electricity exporter to the rest of the UK, may increase that more than fifteen fold, primarily through offshore wind in the Celtic Sea and in what is soon to be renamed the Celtic Channel, thanks to Mike Williams in Tenby. Up to 35 terrawatts of power from Wales to England. And that’s even before we harness tidal lagoons and the growing power of the Welsh hydrogen cluster.
But the question is this, is that power to be extracted from us for someone else’s benefit or developed by us for our own. Cofiwch Tryweryn. Cofiwch Aberfan. A Chofiwch Llangyndeyrn fel buddugoliaeth hefyd. We are done with being exploited for someone else’s gain.
We’ve paid the price of carbon in Wales with our lungs and with our lives. We want to be carbon-free. We want to grasp the generational opportunity of the green industrial revolution. We can revive, re-energise and reindustrialise, providing thousands of decent jobs and cheap electricity.
And as private sector investment has stalled the state will have to lead, which means borrowing to invest.
But give us in Wales the power to lead that investment drive and pay for it through borrowing. £15 billion over ten years could give us our own Welsh National Grid, connecting homes and business with clean, reliable, affordable power so we don’t simply act as someone else’s battery pack.
Now the Welsh economy did not feature in Keir Starmer’s national missions. But at least, through the cooperation agreement, we have managed to ensure it features in the missions of the Welsh Government’s innovation strategy - with its emphasis on the skills revolution, on adoption of new ideas and homegrown entrepreneurship. Through our work on the procurement bill we have managed to ensure that Welsh public sector purchasing – the goods and services that our public bodies buy – is a catalyst for redistribution: driving down outsourcing to cheaper private sector providers and driving up purchasing from Welsh-based suppliers that pay good wages. So that the public pound stays local within the pockets of our communities and our nation.
Innovation at the leading edge, fairness at the foundations, education as an engine of opportunity – Wales needs to advance on all these fronts. We can be a high-skilled, high-wage, high-productivity economy if we invest in the potential of a Welsh Green Deal. But we also need to reshape the “everyday economy”, to make work pay for those who work in care, retail and construction – not simply as a matter of social justice but because it’s the best way to guarantee sustainable growth. And we need to invest massively in economic opportunity, through skills, education and training – with targeted support for people and communities most in need.
We need a new model that turns the Welsh economy into an economy For Wales. That works for Wales. That works for every part of Wales. That works for everyone in Wales and helps us create the kind of society that matters to us.
That is the kind of overarching vision, roadmap and practical plan of action that Wales currently lacks.
And it should hardly come as a surprise. There are poor-performing economic development agencies in the world and high-performing development agencies in the world – and the WDA was both at different times. But one thing we can say. Every successful country has a development agency. No successful country lacks one. Without it, it’s like trying to get to the Moon without Nasa.
The Welsh Government needs simply to admit and redress that historic mistake.
That will be easier no doubt under a Plaid rather than a Labour First Minister. And for the avoidance of doubt, this party and this leader have not given up on the goal of leading our country. Not for ourselves but for the people who need the leadership on the economy that only Plaid can deliver.
But leadership is a singular noun, but a plural experience. Which is why I need Luke Fletcher to be the economy minister of the next Government of Wales. Like me he knows what it was to be a child on free school meals. He knows what it’s like to work on low wages of the hospitality sector. He’s researched the Welsh economy and he has the ideas and the commitment to reshape it. Like an earlier generation of Plaid Cymru visionaries.
It was the likes of Dafydd Wigley, Eurfyl ap Gwilym and others that in 1970 produced the Economic Plan for Wales with its central call for the creation of the WDA that later would become a model for countries throughout the world.
Now is the time for a new vision. I’m pleased to say that Luke Fletcher will soon be announcing a programme to create For Wales, Dros Gymru – a new economic plan for our nation’s future, a new economy that is digital, green, locally driven and socially just.
But even as we develop our economic vision for the future, we have to address the immediate emergency too.
That is why our work through the Cooperation Agreement is so vital.
And I’m very proud to be able to share with you today that to date, over 4 million additional free school meals have been provided to children across Wales, as part of our commitment to deliver universal free school meals for all primary school children by the end of 2024.
Let’s just think about that and its impact for a second.
That’s 4 MILLION free, hot, nutritious meals to children in primary schools across Wales at a time when more and more of our children are at risk of going hungry.
None of this would have been possible without you. The members of Plaid Cymru and the supporters of Plaid Cymru. You got Plaid Cymru MSs elected. You supported the Cooperation Agreement.
To each and every one of you who've helped make this work - I want to thank you with all my heart.
Social and political change does not happen because of the heroic leadership of individuals. In Scotland Nicola Sturgeon will leave an incredible legacy: the reduction in child poverty, so different to the situation here, the expansion of access to university education, the building of confidence of a soon to be independent nation.
But Nicola would be the first to agree. Change happens through the determined cooperation of a community. Of a movement. That’s the spirit in which the political strategy we will debate tomorrow has been crafted.
Because one person can't do all this alone. One leader can't magic all of this up through thin air. I can come up with ideas, yes –- but the negotiation, the planning, and delivery involve teams of people that have the empathy and the dogged determination to persuade and problem solve for the benefit of all of the people we serve.
Free school meals have been delivered on the ground by local authorities who have worked tirelessly to literally build new kitchens, systems, and infrastructures to make this work as quickly and as effectively as possible. They are the result of partnering up and co-operation with local food suppliers and producers that produce fresh, healthy food to every child’s dinner plate. And as we face the awful reality of the cost-of-living crisis - this couldn't have come at a better time.
We can be proud of this. Because this is the Plaid way. This is the Welsh way, to solve our shared problems by collective endeavour.
A short walk from here is St Elli Shopping centre and inside, on the wall of what is now the Principality Building Society is a Blue Plaque which commemorates the opening of the first purpose-built supermarket in Wales - the Co-op.
This is how change comes about in Wales. We cooperate, we work together, we find common ground, pool our efforts and our energies and collectively build a better future for all. That’s what I saw today, with Terry Davies and Ann Bremenda, Plaid in action here in Llanelli in Ty Isha ward and the investment in Pentre Awel.
It’s that Welsh way in the Cooperation Agreement that has delivered:
£110m for investment in free childcare as part of the commitment to extend this to all two year olds, the most radical steps to address second and unaffordable housing anywhere in these islands.
And as people struggle to pay bills through no fault of their own during this awful cost of living crisis, Plaid Cymru, as part of the co-operation Agreement, is moving ahead with Council Tax reform to make it fairer and more progressive, putting an end to the unfair burden it currently places on the poorest households.
And we have secured new money through our budget negotiations for measures to help people stay in their homes and avoiding repossession and homelessness, just as we did in 2008 with Ieuan Wyn and Jocelyn’s Mortgage Rescue Scheme in the last economic crisis under the One Wales Government, to help keep families in their homes when they fall into financial difficulty.
Ac nid gwarchod ein pobl yn unig yr ydym drwy’r Cytundeb Cydweithio ond adeiladu’r genedl. Pum deg mlynedd yn ol fe ddywedodd y cawr o Gefneithin Carwyn James mewn cyfweliad teledu: “Ni fyddwn ni yn Gymry go iawn nes bod ysgolion Cymru yn dysgu hanes Cymru”. Wel, diolch i Blaid Cymru mae’r freuddwyd nawr yn wir. Mae Hanes Cymru yn elfen orfodol o gwricwlwm newydd Cymru. Byddai Carwyn a Mr George yn falch.
Yn fwy balch byth o glywed pobol ifanc rhwng 16-25 oed nawr yn gallu cael mynediad i wersi Cymraeg am ddim o herwydd y Blaid.
Ac ar sail ein trafodaethau gyda Lywodraeth Cymru rwy’n ffyddiog y byddwn ni yn cyflawni ein hamcan o sicrhau bod bob plentyn yng Nghymru yn dod yn siaradwr Cymraeg hyderus drwy’r system addysg erbyn 2050, gan ehangu ac ymestyn addysg Gymraeg yn sylweddol ym mhob Ysgol, ym mhob rhan o Gymru.
Hanes Cymru ac addysg Gymraeg i bawb.
Dychmygwch y gwahaniaeth gwirioneddol y bydd hyn yn ei wneud mewn blynyddoedd i ddod gyda phlant a phobol ifanc yn deall eu hanes, yn medru’r iaith, yn ymfalchio yn eu gwreiddiau ac yn gweld bod llawer mwy i Gymru na’r sbin Brydeinig y maen nhw wedi ei dderbyn ers degawdau. A dychmygwch y gwahaniaeth y gwneith hyn i’n hunan-hyder a’n hunan-gred a’r goblygiadau hynny i’n dyfodol fel gwlad.
Mae na waith pwysig sydd angen gwneud nawr wrth gwrs. Ac mae yn dda gen i fedru ddweud bod y Blaid wedi medru sicrhau miliwn o bunnoed ychwanegol i fedru creu rhaglen o waith yn ymateb i’r her yr ydym yn wynebu yma yn Sir Gaerfyrddin ac ar draws cymoedd y Gorllewin yn wyneb ffigurau’r Cyfrifiad. Fel rhan o hynny beth am droi hen gartref y Beasleys yn ganolfan iaith fel cofeb byw?
Our Cooperation Agreement covers many important areas where we can make a difference. But we are not currently a party in government . And where we disagree we continue to probe, to push and seek to persuade.
One of those areas are the public sector pay disputes and what that says about the state of our public services more generally. A workforce, in health and education, that is undervalued and overworked, and the patients and the pupils that are paying the ultimate price
Labour and Conservatives are actually closer than they admit on the funding for our public services: they just exhibit different levels of dishonesty. The Tories pretend it will be possible to cut taxes in future while maintaining the quality of public services to keep their supporters happy. Labour says it can improve public services without spending or taxing more because it wants to win over those same Tory voters.
Neither party is prepared to tell the difficult truth. That if we want Scandinavian quality of public services, we cannot expect to pay North American levels of tax.
Difficult as it is at this time, we believe now is the time to be honest with people.
The combination of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis plus wave after wave of austerity mean the entire health and care system is now buckling under the strain and about to collapse. That’s the deep truth at the heart of the current pay dispute which isn’t just about pay, or even mostly about pay. It’s about a healthcare system which is brittle and a workforce in health and care that is exhausted and at breaking point.
Twelve years of austerity have meant declining real wages for workers and rising illness for patients.
In this year, the 75th anniversary of the birth of the NHS we are witnessing the digging of its grave.
Sickness rates in the Welsh NHS workforce are rising. The proportion leaving the Welsh NHS are rising. Unfilled vacancies are probably at an all-time high too, except we cannot be sure as the Government admits it does not have accurate records – which itself is a cause for concern. UCAS figures this year showed a collapse in applications for nursing degrees. These overlapping crises of sickness, retention and recruitment mean the use of agency staff in the NHS – temporary workers on short-term contracts – has skyrocketed from just £40 million ten years ago to over £320 million today. The irony is that if the Government was to channel this money into the wellbeing of its workforce instead of the profit margins of agencies then they wouldn’t need to pay the agencies in the first place.
And it’s not just the workforce that is suffering the effects of neglect. It can be seen in the very fabric of the buildings. The backlog of maintenance has grown from £380m to over a £1 billion in the last decade. In Swansea Bay health Board, 53% of the buildings do not comply with health and safety legislation, and only 51% are judged operationally safe. No wonder the NHS is struggling to recruit.
But the starkest effects of all perhaps are on the patients. It is depressing to record that Wales, the land of Bevan, had the third highest level of excess deaths across Europe this winter.
The Tories have declared war on the NHS workforce through their politics of austerity. But Labour has not done enough to defend it, let alone begun to transform it.
Money alone will not solve all our problems. But without new money, there is no way out of this crisis. And the people that will end up paying the highest price – with their life-chances and with their lives – will be those on the lowest incomes.
Just as our economy need to be redesigned so it acts as engine of the creation and redistribution of wealth, our health and care systems need to be designed to create and redistribute wellbeing.
But that can only happen through investment. Which means that progressive political parties need to make the progressive case for taxation to pay for it. The primary responsibility given where power lies at the moment is, of course, Westminster. But we dare not rely on them to do what is necessary.
Which is why we say to the Welsh Government, in the emergency we are facing, we have to use the powers we have, blunt and imperfect though they may be.
Unless we can pay the health and care workforce, and the education workforce too, wages they can live on, then the crisis will get worse.
And not to do so when you have the power to do so, is a political choice that we cannot support.
We will not support it in Westminster and we will not support it in the Senedd either. At the very least raise the tax rates of those in the highest bands to the same level of Scotland so we can do something rather than nothing in the crisis that we are in.
What we are seeing across this island are the stories of a failing state. Nurses and teachers at food banks. Kids dying from breathing mould in their bedrooms. People dying in their thousands on hospitals trollies.
Wales needs to better than this. Only independence will inoculate us from Westminster’s iniquities. But devolution if it is to deliver on its promise has to insulate us, as best we can.
We need an alternative to Tory austerity. Not to meekly accept it as our fate.
As striking teachers told me yesterday. No-one wants to strike. You strike when you feel there is no other option left. You strike when feel no-one is listening you. You strike not for yourself, but your family, your community and the people that depend on you to protect the integrity of the service you are providing.
The nurses strike is not about pay. It’s about the future of the NHS.
The teachers’ strike is not about pay. It’s about the future of education.
Plaid Cymru has been with our teachers and teaching assistants every step of the way, even if Labour have not. Indeed, when we are on the pickets, it’s not a case of Where’s Wally, but Where’s the Welsh Labour Senedd Member – and more often than not, they have been nowhere to be found, taking cover and absolving themselves of the responsibilities they have as a Welsh Government to provide a decent pay rise to our workers. Where hiding in fridges used to be a Tory thing, it now seems to be Labour’s thing too!
Labour or Tory, same old story.
Was it not ever thus?
Let me quote to you one of the great heroes of this county, the former coach of Llanelli and a former Plaid Cymru parliamentary candidate for this seat, Carwyn James, in a film he made for the BBC in 1968:
“Day by day the people of Wales are realising the futility of a government in which they had put so much faith. No real attempt has been made by successive London governments to plan the Wales of today. Our young people are leaving the countryside. But depopulation is not confined to the rural areas. It is becoming more apparent in the industrial valleys as well. The black pyramids are part of the scenery, a symbol of economic wealth. It is sobering to think how much mineral wealth has left these valleys, and today there is so little to show for it.”
The black gold was never ours to own. But that needn’t be true of the Green Revolution.
Carwyn ended on a more hopeful note. “I feel the ultimate decision is in the hands of the Welsh people – in our hands. If we will it, it is ours. Nothing can stand in the way of the power of the nation”
Take hope from those words. And with that hope let us take power as a nation, for the nation, and from our nation – to the world. To own our own wealth, our destiny, our future. Now is our time. For after the darkest winter always comes the green fuse of Spring.