Below is the text of the speech made by the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, on 30th November 2010 at the Trade Union Congress special conference.
Thank you Sian. It is a real pleasure to be here and to be speaking alongside Brendan. I am grateful to the Wales TUC for calling this special conference. The timing could not be more appropriate.
There is no doubt that public services in Wales are facing the biggest challenge since Devolution, and even further back.
We have grown used to talking about Margaret Thatcher and the 1980s as the toughest period for public spending and services in recent times. We may be seeing the emergence of a rival which history will regard as equally devastating in its impact.
It’s clear that in Wales we’re facing our biggest challenge since devolution began.
I have talked recently about feeling two simple emotions: disappointment and determination. I would have liked a better budget settlement, and I would have liked an announcement on the future of the Defence Academy at St Athan, a superfast broadband pilot area and other investments that had been on the horizon.
I would have welcomed some clarity yesterday on the electrification of the rail line between London and Swansea. But they have not come to pass and we must press on.
Past experience has shown what happens when financial pressures are translated into all-round cuts in services – with those in greatest need often taking the biggest hit.
So despite the disappointments, my government is resolute and determined to push on to protect the vulnerable – and when Jane takes you through the draft budget you will see we have made every effort to be responsible, to protect frontline jobs, to think about the long term and to take tough decisions.
Whatever the doom mongers might tell you, I think it is a good time to be in Wales. Our government is modern and progressive – we are living up to the rhetoric of fairness.
Following the draft budget, many commentators have said so: ‘indignant, but honest and progressive seems to be the prevailing view’.
Wherever possible we have tried to think carefully and sensibly about how we can protect the public service and the economy in Wales; and how we can mitigate some of the worst impacts of the welfare cuts that the coalition has laid at our door.
We have been seen through our draft budget to grasp the nettle to protect frontline staff and to continue serving people in their communities, not from the ivory tower.
Pride in Welsh public service workforce
I am incredibly proud of the Welsh public service workforce.
We have an incredible heritage of Welsh workers and their communities making a huge difference to the lives of others in our country – and the thread from the great struggles of the past runs through to today.
Men and women who might have played their part in other industries in years gone by, now bind our communities together as refuse workers or ambulance drivers or paramedics or environmental health inspectors.
I met many of them in the Summer when I went on my tour of Wales, meeting people delivering and using services in local communities. I wanted to demonstrate my commitment as First Minister to “seeing it as it is” from those who know best – and what I heard was of enormous value.
The refuse collectors in Torfaen had the smartest take on local government reorganisation I’ve heard, and the extra care facilities in Gwent – and particularly the Gwent Frailty project – really struck me with the way that both specialised and generic staff were working hand in hand really effectively for the people using the service.
The projects where services understand people’s needs in detail and design those services around them seem to be the best – the most efficient and the most effective.
At the frontline, people really do come first. Sometimes I worry that in the back office we’re making it too hard for them. I heard too much about duplicating assessments for the sake of bureaucracy, too many fixes in the system (though some of the advocacy services I saw in housing services were quite brilliant) and too much about the balance of workers time still shifting towards paperwork rather than care.
We must do better across the whole system to support the common endeavours of our frontline workers to do the very best possible job.
When I visited the Save a 1000 Lives campaign in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, preventing harm to patients so effectively every single day, I saw that improvement happens when the frontline workforce identifies and implements the right solutions.
Public Service is sometimes presented as if it sits apart from the economy and prosperity in Wales. This is not the case. It plays a critical role as part of the Welsh economy.
Alongside the private and third sectors, public servants are vital to the delivery of our commitment to economic renewal. One of my criticisms of the Chancellor is that his fiscal and public services policy was almost completely detached from any strategy for economic development and jobs.
The two have to be complementary, which is why our budget includes both a strong commitment to public service and fiscal stimulus measures to help jobs and business.
The UK coalition government thinks that there are too many public service jobs in Wales and too few private sector jobs – well I think there’s room for both – our economy needs both.
There are some 32,000 non-devolved civil servants in Wales to our 6,000, some 182,000 Local Government staff and some 84,000 NHS Wales staff.
We will need to keep a watchful eye on our public sector workers as pressures increase, and endeavour to influence decisions taken about the future wherever we can.
Passion for Public Service
The other thing that I was reminded of as I met frontline workers and service users over the summer was the simple, invigorating passion that people in public service have for their jobs.
I was at the Public Services Summit yesterday with the 250 leaders and staff from across the Welsh Public Service and I challenged them to work collectively to manage down every last overhead and inefficiency to mitigate the worst impacts of the CSR.
I was also able to remind them of the importance of public service – not just for its own sake but because it underpins the economy through skills development, training and infrastructure. It transforms life chances through education; and it prevents high cost economic and social failure like those lives lost to abuse or prison or welfare dependence.
This is why the Assembly Government’s commitment and distinctive approach to public service delivery is so important.
It is a model that has from the beginning of devolution kept the workforce and the people of Wales right at the heart of the matter.
From Making the Connections, through Beecham to the 5 year strategic framework in NHS Wales. More recently, in the Social Service Commission which is about to report, Local Government’s ‘What’s Best Delivered Where?’, and Education’s ‘Frontline Resources Review’.
We are thinking hard about the challenges of the future and what that means for people and what it means for the workforce.
My Cabinet team are absolutely committed to finding the models of public service that will work for the future – fairly, efficiently and effectively – despite the inevitable challenges we face.
Professionalism in handling turbulent times
So we are now in a period when workforce matters are likely to come to a head. We have already seen some of the first engagements play out quite publicly.
In Local Government we have already seen some hard engagements, particularly in Neath Port Talbot and Rhonda Cynon Taf focused mainly on driving through change in local Terms and Conditions.
I appreciate that this is a very tough time and I know that negotiations must happen, but I wanted to stress today that fairness in managing our public services matters. Respect and honest engagement should be the hallmarks of our discussions around workforce issues, not the waving of redundancy notices to secure revised terms and conditions.
We all know each other pretty well and we know we must depend on each other to deliver for the people of Wales.
There will be an inevitable impact on employment – but I have made it clear that I expect every avenue to be explored before any compulsory redundancies.
Efficiency and Innovation will make a viable contribution if we all give our best.
I am doing my bit. Most of you will know that I do not have a formal role in UK negotiations, but I am passionate about engagement and dialogue with social partners – it has always been a core part of my approach to politics.
To this end I have built on the partnership councils that exist within WAG and have brought together the Workforce Partnership Council, which I chair and which brings public service employers and unions together on the basis of mutual respect.
It is not negotiating machinery but it does provide a forum for dialogue and communication which will be critical in the times ahead. And it is not a talking shop.
I have already commissioned from the partnership a national training programme to underpin better working relations. It is a partnership unique to Wales, and it reflects a real commitment to effective workforce engagement.
Alongside this, the Efficiency & Innovation Board is:
exploring proposals for a Career Transition Unit to support staff who may need to change career, receive training and move into a new field during the coming months or years;
and it is keeping track of workforce changes and developments.
At yesterday’s Public Services Summit I set an expectation that our Public Service Leaders should be good and fair employers in the difficult times ahead.
Today I am asking for your support and flexibility as we take on the greatest of challenges as one Public Service in Wales.
In Wales, helped by our scale and the road we have already travelled together, we share a vision for Public Service.
We saw this distinctive approach in the way that public services and social partners came together to lead Wales out of the recession and it is something which stands us in good stead to take on the challenge for public services.
In England there is a sense that social partners and the workforce are somehow the problem, rather than the solution. I see things very differently.