THE BLOG

We Need a Labour Government in Westminster to Build on Our Success in Wales

19/06/2014 17:01 BST | Updated 19/08/2014 10:59 BST

For the first time Wales will host a joint meeting of the Welsh Labour Government's Cabinet with Labour's Shadow Cabinet.

We have plenty to talk about. The next future Labour Government in Westminster will be grappling with the unbridled chaos that has been unleashed in the NHS in England and the fragmentation of the schools system. First and foremost however, Ed Miliband will need to deal with the cost of living crisis that continues to blight the lives of millions, despite the slow and slight improvement in the UK economy.

Welcoming Ed, and his team to Wales, I look forward to discussing and showcasing some of our policies that have protected our communities from the worst excesses of the Coalition Government.

We are delighted, for example, that Rachel Reeves is looking to develop a new offer for young people based on Jobs Growth Wales. Other decisions we have taken in Wales, like the Council Tax Relief scheme and our equitable Tuition Fees policy have shown that even in tough times there are alternatives to the UK Government's austerity measures.

That isn't easy, however, when our budgets have been cut so severely by the Tory-led Government in Westminster. A real terms cut over the lifetime of this Assembly means that we have £1.7billion less to spend on frontline services. This is on top of the £300million a year that Wales is losing through the UK's unfair funding system.

Even operating in this financial straight-jacket, Welsh communities are right to expect us to deliver for them. All the key economic indicators show that we are doing just that.

The latest figures show, once again, that the Welsh economy is continuing to outperform the rest of the UK. Over the past year, Wales has seen the largest increase in the rate of employment and a lower rate of unemployment than the UK average. Over the same time, economic inactivity and youth unemployment are falling more in Wales than nearly all other parts of the UK.

We have also seen a bigger growth in private sector employment in Wales than England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. This clearly shows the impact that our economic policies are having on the Welsh economy. Employment in Wales has increased by 15.1 per cent since devolution, compared to an 11.2 per cent increase for the UK as a whole over the same period.

This record of success is not the result of a happy accident. Our decisions to focus on key economic sectors, to identify and work closely with Anchor companies, and most importantly to support our young people into work and training is paying huge dividends.

This week Ed set out some clear ideas about tackling youth unemployment, and he's right to prioritise this area. The policies of the Tory-led Government are badly letting down our young people. Only Iain Duncan Smith could conceive of jobs scheme called "the Work Programme" that doesn't actually work.

By contrast, our Jobs Growth Wales scheme has already found nearly 10,000 good quality job placements for young people, with the vast majority going on to stay in work, start an apprenticeship or go into further training. For some, our decision to keep the Education Maintenance Allowance is the only thing that is allowing them to keep going with their courses, and away from the dole queue.

Over 28,000 people in Wales started apprenticeships this year, compared to 17,900 in 2011/12. The really good news though, is not the number of people starting, but finishing. Our apprenticeship completion rates, way above 80%, show that this route into a career is becoming more popular and more important than ever before.

Through these and other policies we have built a resilient Wales, a Wales with good and improving employment rates and skills levels. People and communities are ready to thrive. But for this to really happen, we need a Labour Government in Westminster. A Government that won't lock people out of the economic recovery, but allow everyone to experience the benefits of an economic uplift.