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12 Mar 2003 : Column 349—continued

Mr. Simon Thomas: The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about getting wealth-creating companies into Wales, but we must ensure that that wealth is not sucked out of Wales, as happened in the past. The right hon. Gentleman mentions mining, steel and farming, but the money from those sectors went out of Wales and into other institutions. The one valid job that we have—whether in an Assembly or a Parliament in Wales—is to ensure that that money is retained within the Welsh economy.

Denzil Davies: I accept much of what the hon. Gentleman says. Much of the investment in mining, steel and iron was made by people who came from outside Wales; naturally, they took their dividends back to where they came from. It is certainly important that we try to generate local Welsh industries to produce the wealth to fund infrastructure and public expenditure. A good start has been made but we must not get carried away. There is much still to be done.

4 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I intend to talk about health and the economy. First, I refer Members to Labour's 1999 manifesto and the pledges therein. Many have said that those pledges were hostages to fortune—there were no ifs or buts—because they announced that by the end of the Assembly term, no one would wait more than six months for their first out-patient appointment. In 1999, the figure was 21,828; today it is 82,574. The manifesto said that no one would have to wait more than 18 months for in-patient treatment. In 1999, the figure was 2,197; it is now 4,715.

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Targets are supposed to be attainable. The doubling or quadrupling of waiting lists is not acceptable, and breaking a promise to end waiting lists is not acceptable. It was probably not possible to meet the 1999 manifesto promise and, perhaps, it was misleading, but the increased waiting times are catastrophic failures, condemning thousands to wait in pain and misery. At last week's Prime Minister's Question Time, the Prime Minister proudly said that

He was talking about the situation in England.

Waiting lists in the health service are not the only problem. The number of NHS beds has fallen every year since the Assembly came into being, a drop of about 300 over that period. There are fewer full-time GPs in Wales, with vacancies for 130. We need to train 200 a year to replace those who are retiring or leaving; currently the level is 120. Things are improving slowly and, with the new training facility at Swansea, I hope that they will improve further, but we are struggling against a strong tide of disaffected NHS workers.

Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman says that things are improving. Will he acknowledge that he is talking about an all-Wales situation and that, in north Wales, the situation is a lot better than in the rest of Wales? He is doing his and my constituents a disservice by talking down that area when they are working hard and providing excellent services in comparison with the rest of Wales.

Mr. Llwyd: I am trying to speak on an all-Wales basis, as the hon. Gentleman said. I will not go into figures about north Wales because I am not utterly sure—

Albert Owen: They are better.

Mr. Llwyd: I accept that he says that there is an improvement.

We in Plaid Cymru believe that health is as much about well-being as about illness; therefore, we need to have a revolution in the way we think about health. It follows that we cannot expect the Department of Health alone in Government to do all that is necessary for Wales to ensure that it is a healthy country. Health and social services are resources of the community and the community is a resource in terms of the aims of health and social services.

I shall suggest some things that might happen after 1 May to improve the position. We should put in place retention and recruitment measures for health professionals, including nurses, dentists, GPs and consultants. We should end the current Government's target culture, which merely steers funds away from more long-term strategic planning and empowers the system operating over the patient in such a way that it perpetuates the vicious cycle of poor services.

We should practise aggressive health promotion to prevent disease and illness and focus on primary care, since, of course, 90 per cent of care is delivered at this level. We need to direct strategy and funding towards community-based organisations and initiatives, including incorporation of the voluntary sector into

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national administration and planning. Of course, we must urgently tackle the "inverse care law", which means that those who most need care are least likely, under the present circumstances, to have it.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Llwyd: I am moving on to talk about the economy, and I regret that I will not take another intervention at this stage.

The First Minster of the National Assembly was proud to boast in November last year that 33,000 jobs have been created in Wales since November 2001. That figure dropped by 8,000 to 25,000 when he was quoted a few days later in the The Western Mail. Be that as it may. In 1998, the average wage in Wales was 89 per cent. of the UK average. I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, and agreed with much of what he said about the economy generally. Welsh workers, however, are getting 11 per cent. less than other workers in the UK. By the end of 2002, the level of their pay was worse: just 86 per cent. of the average. If we translate that into hard facts, a 3 per cent. decline has cost us about £100 a month each. If the First Minister's Government had kept things as they were, the average Welsh worker would be £25 a week better off. That is the true cost of this Government's current economic strategy.

What of the 17,000 manufacturing jobs that have been lost in Wales since 1999? The true cost of that is seen in the appalling statistic that, unfortunately, a third of Welsh children now live below the poverty threshold, five years after the Labour Government said that that would be tackled properly. Labour still pretends to look after the socially inept and socially excluded, but voting Labour has an economic and social cost. The gap between the rich and poor in Britain is widening. Welsh gross domestic product figures show that, per capita, the current figure of 82 per cent. of the European average is likely to drop even further during the next few years.

The Welsh Assembly Government have based their economic targets almost entirely on narrowing the gap in economic prosperity between Wales and the rest of the UK. The Chancellor refuses to acknowledge the regional need, and refuses full Treasury match funding under objective 1. I know that there have been arguments in the past about that, and there will undoubtedly be arguments about it in future. The hard fact, however, which anyone in any political party in the National Assembly will admit, is that full match funding is not occurring. We are not drawing down sufficient money, and we are not taking advantage of objective 1 as we could do.

That means that Wales is forced to find from its own finances—the health, education and social services budget—about £100 million a year to finance objective 1. There is neither match funding for objective 1 from the Treasury nor operating aids as an additional tool that would stimulate business growth in objective 1 areas. Despite the constant boasting, nothing has transpired from the current co-operation between London Labour and Cardiff Labour. The Westminster Labour Government continue to ignore the needs of Wales, as did previous Tory Governments. To rub salt in the wound, it is the Welsh Labour Government who

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reject a regional economic policy in Wales. There are neither regional direction nor regional employment targets.

The main aim of objective 1 and "A Winning Wales" is to increase comparative levels of GDP. No official statistics are available for Wales since 1999, however, which is disgraceful. That suits London Labour, of course, because the regional GDP figures remind everyone of the inequalities in the UK economy. It also suits the objective of Cardiff Labour, because every independent report indicates that, in spite of objective 1 status, the gap is widening between Wales's GDP per capita and that of the rest of the UK, and that the coalition has failed to change that.

The Chancellor was a strong supporter of the regions, and he probably still is. When he was in opposition, he regularly and tirelessly requested information about regional selective assistance from the Conservative Government. Unfortunately, that is no longer any concern of his. Payouts in 1997–98, when Labour came to power, were £295 million, two and a half times the estimated figure for 2002–03. The share of regionally targeted business support won by Scotland and Wales has fallen sharply in the past 10 years.

Before somebody asks what can be done, I suggest—in the cross-party way in which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) always deals with such matters—the following points for consideration. Plaid Cymru believes that we should create seven economic regions in Wales, more appropriately reflecting the economic and social patterns, and develop a sustainable economic development strategy in each region, together with set job targets. Within each region, we should identify special development centres that will provide the focus for economic growth in the area. That should give people quality job opportunities, provide social infrastructure and help to stem the outflow of young people. They frequently end up in Cardiff, which is that city's gain but the rural areas lose out.

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