Addressing the annual Welsh Conservative Party Conference in Llangollen, Paul Davies AM, Deputy Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly, said:
(Check against delivery / Gwirio gyda’r cyflwyniad)
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s great to be back here in Llangollen and I’m delighted to open a session on a subject very close to my heart….rural Wales.
It’s undeniable that Welsh Labour policies have been detrimental to those living in rural Wales.
Friends, the pace of Labour’s centralisation agenda is accelerating on every front – health, education, local government – the list goes on.
Labour Ministers are hell bent on stripping our rural communities down and leaving us to fend for ourselves.
And yet friends, it’s rural Wales that is the backbone of our economy and where our cultural identity comes alive.
Thousands of visitors come to visit our National Parks, our beautiful coastline and our breath-taking landscapes.
Indeed, the National Trust describes Wales as ‘a land of myths and legends, vibrant history and culture, stately homes, mighty castles and great gardens, surrounded by rugged coast and dramatic landscapes’
And Welsh Labour not only take this for granted, they simply turn their backs on it.
Welsh Conservatives on the other hand continue to stand up for our vibrant rural communities.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be joined by such wonderful ambassadors of rural Wales this afternoon, who will be emphasising the importance of rural Wales and the challenges our communities face.
Our first speaker is Gary Price, who is our Assembly Candidate in Brecon & Radnorshire…a seat which we will turn blue this May.
Gary has been relentless in his campaign to remove Kirsty Williams from her position and complete the last piece of the puzzle to see Powys becoming a true Conservative heartland.
We’re also joined by Simon Baynes, the Assembly Candidate for Clwyd South.
Simon worked for a leading UK investment bank before entering politics, and as a former bank manager myself, I’m delighted to be joined by a kindred spirit, who has also worked with small and medium sized businesses – who are very much the backbone of rural Wales.
Our next speaker is also no stranger to rural business - Barbara Hughes - who is standing on the regional list in North Wales.
Now, if anyone understands some of the challenges facing our rural communities, then it’s Barbara, as she continues to sit on the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society’s Clwyd advisory committee and is a board member at Arla Food.
She’s also a former dairy chairman for the Women Food and Farming Union and the first lady chairman of NFU Cymru’s Wrexham branch, Barbara is no shrinking violet.
Friends, I also understand that she shares a birthday with the late, great Baroness Thatcher – so ladies and gentlemen, we may very well be in the company of Wales’ first Iron Lady!
We’re also joined by Cllr Aled Davies, who is also standing on the regional list, but this time in Mid & West Wales.
Aled is also a farmer, as well as the County Councillor for Llanrhaeadr Ym Mochnant & Llansilin and the Joint Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group on Powys County Council.
As a prominent local politician, Aled is all too well aware of the sweeping cuts that Welsh Labour has delivered to rural authorities and the impact that that has had on local public service delivery.
And last but certainly by no means least, I’m delighted that my colleague and good friend, Russell George, will be closing this afternoon’s session.
Russ is a fantastic Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire and is Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs at the Senedd.
Throughout this Assembly election and beyond, my colleagues and I will continue to campaign for the rural-proofing of Government policies to ensure that the voice of our rural communities is heard loud and clear.
Now I’ve made it quite clear, since I was elected back in 2007, that the Welsh Government should recognise that a one-size fits all approach to governing Wales is simply unacceptable.
What works for the people of Cardiff, Caerphilly and Cwmbran, doesn’t necessarily work for the people of Conway, Cilgerran and Crickhowell.
Sadly, this important point continues to fall on deaf ears on this Welsh Labour Government.
Friends, I’m sure many of you in this room face the same challenges that I do living in a rural areas – challenging transport links – which are blighted by the slightest changes in weather – substandard broadband coverage – and problems accessing vital health services, whether that be specialist services at a hospital or even just an NHS dentist.
Well just because we live in rural areas it does not mean that we must simply do with what we’ve got - we should not be treated like second-class citizens.
The Welsh Labour Government must see past the Cardiff Bay bubble – and start delivering for the people of rural Wales.
Let us remember that if it wasn’t for rural Wales, tourism figures would be worse than they are and agricultural produce would be low.
Labour Ministers rely on rural Wales to deliver for the rest of the country…but the irony is the Welsh Government continues to turn its back on it!
In my own constituency, the biggest challenge facing local communities is the continued threat to our health services.
As a Conservative I, of course, believe in local health services for local people.
That’s why Stephen Crabb, Angela Burns, Simon Hart and I have been pressing the Labour Government to retain vital services at Withybush hospital.
The decision by the Health Minister to close the Special Care Baby Unit and the decision to downgrade paediatric services by the local Health Board are appalling and will have a knock on effect on other services and put lives at risk.
We in West Wales already have to travel further afield for specialist treatment and we accept that – but to force us to travel further afield for life saving services is totally unacceptable.
For us in Pembrokeshire it’s absolutely dangerous – and I say dangerous because we’ve seen the A40 between Haverfordwest and Carmarthen closed several times this year due to accidents.
So travelling from Pembrokeshire to Carmarthen in those circumstances in an emergency situation would be impossible.
Welsh Labour has a record of centralising and downgrading our health services not just in west Wales, but in North Wales too - and their reckless decision-making will have a knock on effect on other services and put lives at risk.
Friends, we accept that living in a rural area means that we already have to travel further afield for specialist treatment and we accept that – but to force us to travel further afield for life saving services is totally unacceptable.
No-one should be forced to travel further afield for life-saving treatment. It’s dangerous. And it’s life threatening!
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s not just access to health services that is the only problem for people living in rural Wales.
My colleagues and I have passionately lobbied for better rural connectivity across Wales – an issue felt by many right across the Country.
Whether it’s mobile phone coverage or broadband speed, rural premises are still facing significant challenges in obtaining the services they so desperately need.
In this day and age, a successful economy is dependent on a fast and efficient broadband service and in many areas – including parts of my own constituency, rural businesses are being held back.
This does nothing to help our businesses flourish and compete in the global race.
Substandard mobile coverage can also be detrimental to businesses – and can be dangerous for people living in rural areas that are in need of medical treatment.
That’s why we need to see a Welsh Conservative government in Cardiff working with the UK Government to deliver a better deal for rural businesses.
Conference Rural Wales has the potential to flourish as a driver for economic growth – but it needs support, not neglect.
Businesses need to see…
investment in our infrastructure…
investment in our connectivity…
Friends…businesses need to see investment in our rural communities.
But it’s not just businesses that are being neglected by this tired socialist Government…our children and young people are too.
Recently we’ve seen some pretty controversial plans for school reorganisation in places like Powys.
And I can tell you that it’s not just Powys that is facing controversial school reforms.
But our message is absolutely clear: if a school is successful then it should be allowed to remain open.
Schools are not just places in which our children are taught; they are an important part of our communities.
Ladies and gentlemen, more consideration must be given to the local community when reorganising schools in Wales…
More consideration must be given to the impact on the Welsh language when reorganising schools in Wales…
…and more consideration must be given to the effect of any closures on the standards of education in the area.
Now it would be remiss of me to open a panel on rural affairs without mentioning the important role of the agricultural industry.
Times have been tough for our farmers.
Whether it’s bovine tb, commodity markets, or delayed payments from the Basic Payment Scheme, these are all matters of huge concern.
We know that here in Wales, Labour is already making record-breaking cuts to the rural affairs budget.
Underinvestment in this portfolio will just heap more and more pressure on farmers’ right across the country.
Conference, this is the legacy of Welsh Labour.
We produce the most incredible food and drink here in Wales – food and drink which is celebrated at County Shows, food festivals and events throughout the calendar year.
And yet whilst Labour Ministers rely on rural Wales to deliver for the rest of the country… the irony is the Welsh Government continues to turn its back on it.
That’s why it’s time for a Welsh Government that listens to the voice of rural Wales.
We’ve just seen Welsh Labour publish this year’s local government settlement – and surprise surprise - rural councils will suffer the most for another year in row, whilst Labour led authorities are the winners yet again.
My own local council faces a 2.8% cut - whilst Cardiff, for example faces a cut of just 0.1% - that is a scandal!
Friends, let us remember that this is not just an anxious settlement for councils but also for hardworking families, who may see their Council Tax bills rise as a result of the this Welsh Labour Government.
Conference, local people will bear the brunt of Welsh Labour’s contempt for rural Wales.
That’s why I’m proud that Welsh Conservatives in government will reform the funding formula to provide a fairer deal for rural Wales.
I’m proud that Welsh Conservatives in government will continue to promote a diverse policy platform which better prioritises the distinct needs of rural Wales; and ensures that policies better consider the unique needs of these communities.
And conference, I’m proud that Welsh Conservatives in government will see the investment that rural Wales so desperately needs.
Friends, it’s even more important than ever that the Conservative voice is heard in rural Wales.
Of course, canvassing sparsely populated areas presents a unique set of challenges – but it’s certainly good for your fitness levels, our panel can tell you!
But if we want to see real change in our rural communities, we need to go out there and make it happen.
This May, voters have a clear choice between a tribal Labour party with no desire to support our rural communities.
Or Welsh Conservatives, who under the leadership of Andrew RT Davies, a man himself of rural Wales, will deliver the changes needed to stimulate our rural economy and showcase the best of rural Wales.
So let’s get out there and deliver for rural Wales.