Below is the full text of the speech delivered by First Minister and Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford this morning to the online ‘Spring Forward’ event.
This past year has been one of the most difficult in living memory. Families have lost loved ones. And we have all had to make sacrifices in the way we live and work. But out of the sadness and the pain of these dark days has come strength and solidarity. The strength of those that have helped us respond to the crisis. Our frontline workers and local councils who have got support out to the most vulnerable in our communities when they needed the most. The volunteers delivering food and medicine. The solidarity we have shown each other. The kindness and the consideration so many have shown in our villages, towns and neighbourhoods to keep each other safe. The bonds we have seen strengthen between trades unions, employers and government.
We really do have in Wales what that great Rhondda novelist Gwyn Thomas once described as: “A wealth of people.” And it is that wealth of people that has allowed us to face – and to survive – these most testing of times. When things have been at their hardest, Wales really has been a team. A team of three million people. And to every one of you I say thank you. Diolch o galon i chi gyd.
In government here in Wales we have had to use extraordinary powers – and take extraordinary actions – to save lives and livelihoods. There have been difficult choices. But we have never shied away from the decisions a responsible government has needed to take to keep Wales safe. We have used the powerful, independence of action which Labour’s devolution has created to stand up for Wales, when we knew it was right to do so. And people have trusted us to make those decisions. Gaining trust is not about telling people what you think they want to hear. Nor is it achieved by lacking the confidence to make your own decisions. Trust is created when each one of us, as individuals, show that we are willing to do the right things. To act in our own lives in ways which protect others.
Social solidarity is part of what it means to be Labour, and what it means to be Welsh. Our history has taught us, from the coal field to the rugby field, that when we work together we are always stronger than any one of us can be standing alone. Now, as we look ahead, it is that same shared experience that gives us grounds for optimism. Not only that there is a future beyond this pandemic, but that tomorrow can be fairer and stronger than today.
Thanks to the very difficult decisions we took before Christmas, the number of people falling ill with coronavirus in Wales is falling. The rate in Wales has been the lowest of any UK nation. The percentage of people who test positive with the illness is falling as well. The R number in Wales is below one. And nearly a thousand fewer people are today in a hospital bed because of coronavirus than only six weeks ago.
The outstanding success of our vaccination programme means that, only eight weeks after it began, we have already vaccinated over a third of the population of Wales. Next week we will pass the landmark of one million vaccinations carried out in Wales. And we are on track to ensure that by the end of April more than two million Welsh people will be vaccinated against this awful virus. These are real achievements. Achievements that have changed people’s lives. And they are your achievements. The achievements of every single person in Wales who has helped to keep us safe.
They are achievements that allow us to look forward. To the day when businesses can start trading again and individuals can get back into safe workplaces. To when families can meet up once again and we can get children and young people back into school and college – building on the start we have already made this week. And, perhaps most importantly, to begin to develop the bold and ambitious Wales of tomorrow. The Wales we need and want.
As leader of Welsh Labour, as well as your First Minister, I want that future to be rooted in the values of the labour movement. A future shaped by the priorities of fairness and justice. Values that have defined and guided our movement for more than a century. Social justice so that those in our NHS and at the front line of the Covid response – the people that we have depended on every single day – get the recognition and the reward they so richly deserve. Economic justice because the months ahead will still be dominated by the impact this virus has had on the life chances of the young and the most vulnerable and we need to support them with jobs and opportunities for the future. And environmental justice, so that we deal with the other greatest crisis of our times – the climate emergency and the existential threat facing our planet and our natural environment.
Mae rhaid i’r dyfodol a grëwn fod yn un lle mae gobeithion y bobl a chafodd eu taro’n galetaf gan Covid yn cyd-fynd â’r uchelgais rhaglen y llywodraeth nesa’. Lle mae gobeithion y teuluoedd, sydd â phlentyn mewn perygl o golli allan ar gymaint oherwydd y feirws, yn cyd-fynd â’r uchelgais am y gefnogaeth sydd angen arnynt yn yr ysgol i ddal i fyny. Lle mae gobeithion y person ifanc a’i bryderon am y dyfodol yn cyd-fynd â’r uchelgais cynnig o le gwarantedig mewn addysg, hyfforddiant, gwaith neu hunangyflogaeth. Lle mae gobeithion yr unigolyn sydd heb gael y lle i weithio o gartref ac wedi colli eu harbedion oherwydd y pandemig yn cyd-fynd a’n uchelgais i greu tai newydd a gwell sydd eu hangen. Lle mae gobeithion y busnesau sydd yn cael hi’n anodd o ddydd i ddydd oherwydd bod y cwsmeriaid wedi stopio ond mae’r biliau heb yn cyd-fynd â’r uchelgais sydd ei hangen i’w helpu i ailagor ac i adfer. Bydd Llywodraeth Llafur Cymru nesa yn paru’r gobeithion hynny gyda’r uchelgais.
The future we create must be one where the hopes of those hardest hit by Covid are matched by the ambition of the next governments programme. Where the hopes of the family, whose child risks losing out on so much because of the virus, are matched by the ambition for the comprehensive support they need in school to catch-up. Where the hopes of the young person whose worries for the future are matched by the ambition of an offer of a guaranteed place in education, training, work or self-employment. Where the hopes of the individual who hasn’t had the space to work from home and whose savings are completely exhausted by the pandemic are matched by the ambitions to create the new and better housing they need to get by and to get on. Where the hopes of the business struggling because the customers have stopped coming in, but the bills haven’t is matched by the ambitious support needed to help them re-open and recover.
The next Welsh Labour government will match these hopes with ambition. An ambition that puts meaningful action behind our urgent need to tackle the climate crisis. To put it at the heart of everything we do. Because we’ve proved that we can do it – the best recycling rates in the UK, the third best in the whole of the world. Ambition that has the humility to know how much more we have still to do: in banning the use of single use plastics in Wales; in making a reality of a new National Forest; in getting more people out of their cars and onto good quality public transport; in tackling agricultural pollution; in building new homes to the very highest environmental standards.
The next Welsh Labour government will match the scale of that need with ambition. To ensure we leave a living legacy for those generations who come after us. And to be ambitious in a way that uses the natural strengths of Wales to create the jobs and prosperity of the future. Just last year, over half the electricity we used here in Wales was generated from our own renewable sources. We are so lucky, in our country, to have all the natural resources we need to put Wales at the forefront of the global energy revolution which the world will need. Wind, water and wave. The next Welsh Labour government will make those assets work to create the jobs of the future. And in doing so make our contribution to securing the future of our beautiful but fragile planet.
Now, for all that to be achieved we need a more powerful devolution settlement. One in which we secure both home rule for Wales but in a successful United Kingdom. Internationalist, not nationalist. Outward facing, not inward looking. Yes for Wales, of course – that’s what I have been fighting for throughout my whole life – but Yes to a Wales that takes ownership of its own destiny alongside working people in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland who share our progressive values. Yes to a Wales which has the confidence of knowing that we are at our best when we break down barriers, not build them up. Where we create our future alongside other people, not despite them.
The election in May will be an extraordinary moment in our history. The pandemic has laid bare the harsh realities of inequality and austerity caused by the UK Tory government. It has been the most vulnerable that have been most exposed to the worst impacts of the pandemic. People in Wales can use this election to make a positive choice about our future. One that moves beyond the incompetence of the UK Tory government and the deliberate division of our opponents. To use it to strike out on a new course – to say that business as usual simply will not do.
This election comes at a point when the coronavirus crisis far from over. When the government elected will have to go on making deeply challenging decisions which make the difference to our lives and our livelihoods. The team of Welsh Labour ministers I lead is the only team with the experience to bring this awful period in our history to an end. The only team with the determination and the ambition to build something fairer and stronger in its place. I see our future built through the very practical socialism that has helped us through this crisis. A grounded set of values weaved into the very fabric of Wales. Into our history, our geography and our landscape.
The practical socialism that created our National Health Service, and which in the last five years alone in spite of coronavirus has helped us: reduce the time for new treatments from 90 days to 13; delivered, ahead of time, the most generous offer of childcare anywhere in the UK; made sure that our older generation can keep £50,000 of their hard earned savings when they go into residential care; abolish the right to buy to save our council houses for those in greatest need; repealed the oppressive anti-trade union legislation; extended the smoking ban to school, hospital and children’s play grounds; created the Development Bank of Wales; exempted care leavers in Wales from payment of council tax; opened the Grange University Hospital, on budget and ahead of time; and guaranteed free school meals during the holidays right through to Easter 2022.
And that’s only a quick top ten of more than 250 promises made and kept by Labour this Senedd term. That’s why, when we go into this year’s election, Welsh Labour will once again be the most forward looking party in the United Kingdom. A party tested in the fire of experience. A party with a plan that listens and learns from the evidence. A party ready to build the outward looking, successful and fair Wales we all want to see. A party ready to move Wales forward. Thank you for what you’ve done to keep Wales safe. Diolch o galon i chi gyd.