Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Wales needs substance, not soundbites

There is an air of complacent expectation across the Welsh centre-left at the moment that the 'pendulum' is merely going to swing back to them now the Conservatives are in power in Westminster. It’s writ large in their body language and they could yet be punished for it.

It leaves the impression that the Labour/Plaid coalition are less focused on making devolution work efficiently, by producing meaningful solutions to the problems that Wales faces, and merely content to allow the old Westminster model to ‘swing’ them back into power.

After 11 years of Labour-led governance in the National Assembly, inevitably it appears that they have truly exhausted their collective imagination... A tired government running on empty; bereft of ideas and, above all, bereft of leadership.

The same familiar faces, governing as if it were their right – and not a privilege afforded through merit.
Recently an ex-Minister was heard bemoaning the obstruction of government policy by senior civil servants - surely this misses the point altogether. It is the duty of Ministers to enact their democratic mandate and to ensure that working relationships with civil servants are maintained in the appropriate way. That is leadership in the truest sense. It would, after all, be humiliatingly absurd to hear such comments from someone of the stature of Sir Alex Ferguson, that he was no longer able to command the respect of his support staff...

In truth, the Welsh Assembly Government needs to learn to govern more maturely and with an authority hitherto unseen. Having spent several years happily playing little brother to Labour at Westminster they now appear to have seamlessly reverted to 'opposition mode' with the coalition having now taken up the reins in London.

This merely leaves a leadership vacuum, and we all know that natures abhors...

The next decade in Wales needs to be about firm leadership, with government conducting itself more maturely - with less belly-aching! Whoever wins the next election in May would do well to remember that.

Many WAG ministers have become too used to the comfort blanket of 'blank cheque-book politics'; throwing a lot of money and not necessarily the same degree of thought at a problem. This failure to articulate an inspiring framework of ideas lets the nation down. Too many gimmicks - not enough substance.

WAG will need to muster all of its creativity and energy if we are to see the economic revival that Wales desperately needs to catch up to speed with the rest of the UK. Right now i don't see much more than steam coming from the benches opposite.

If respect is indeed the currency of leadership then surely it won't be long before Labour's cheques start bouncing, revealing only what we've suspected all along - that they are ideologically bankrupt, both here in Wales and in the UK as a whole.

What Wales need is substance, not soundbites...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Must try harder! WAG failure to deliver for the future

Rather disappointing news this morning, with the publication of the latest results of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment – hereafter referred to as PISA!

It would seem that Wales is falling down the league table of nations according to this measure. This is rather worrying in the current economic climate because – unfortunately – it stands to reason that a poorly educated workforce is likely to be a poorer one.

(@ Careers Wales, discussing ways to increase opportunities for young people in Wales)

When companies are looking at investing in an area, once they have looked at the costs they will inevitably be looking at the levels of basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. As such, this does highlight a worrying trend; with the gap between Wales and its competing OECD peers growing each year.

If we are going to address this then we need a new approach because Wales cannot be allowed to continue to fall behind other nations, as it currently appears to be under Labour and Plaid. Being the worst performing nation in the United Kingdom means that all of those involved in the education of our children need to look closely at their own roles, reflecting on the changes that need to be made to bring about significant improvements.

We need to foster in our young the basic skills that they need to succeed in life and that starts with literacy and numeracy. Tony Blair often spoke of the importance of the three R’s; reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetics. (I’m hopeful that he appreciated the irony!) However, as appears to be the case under Labour and Plaid here in Wales, the initiatives brought forward were all too often overly-centralised and ridden with red tape. What is needed is the empowerment of the teachers and parents who are inherently best placed to understand the needs of pupils.

It's vital that parents and teachers have the ability to understand how their school is performing and, above all, how it performs against other schools. Giving those schools the power to respond to comparative examples of success/failings is also essential if we are going to improve educational outcomes in the long term. The ability to develop 'free schools' is something that I have championed since my first days in the Assembly, and it is no coincidence that Scandinavian countries (the first to pilot the concept) very often lead the field in educational excellence!

I know that the Shadow Minister for Education, Paul Davies, has some great ideas in this this area and with the policy launch that is taking place tomorrow I am very much looking forward to getting stuck into the debate that will inevitably follow…

In the end, it will be the people of Wales who decide and we must always be mindful of the need to give them a genuine choice at the forthcoming election.