by Hannah Blythyn
This is a short tale of two cities – London and Cardiff – and the ever expanding political gulf between the two. First we go to London, home to the UK Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition government. A coalition that is presiding over swingeing cuts – to public sector jobs, pay and pensions, to local services, to the tax credits that many families rely on to make ends meet and much, much more. A government that has hiked up tuition fees to astronomical levels and destroyed the NHS in England as we know it. A Conservative led administration – with the Liberal Democrats complicit in coalition – hell bent on rolling back employment rights on unfair dismissal and access to tribunals and chipping away at the health and safety legislation that protects people from injury or worse in the workplace.
Lest we forget, as unemployment across the UK reaches record highs one of the first acts of the UK coalition in the heady honeymoon days was to axe the Future Jobs Fund. Then this month they announced a freeze in the minimum wage for workers aged 18-21 years old.
They say that there is no alternative to the road they are travelling and the agenda of austerity. But just a couple of hours away (on the not yet electrified West Coast mainline) we arrive in Cardiff and the base of the Welsh Labour government. This is a government that has been consistent in its principle to keep privatisation out of the NHS, proud to declare “The NHS made in Wales, is safe in Wales”. The same government that unlike their UK counterparts, has refused to raise university tuition fees to £9k a year for Welsh domiciled students and almost immediately after getting elected last year set about bringing in Jobs Growth Wales. Jobs Growth Wales is a £75 million scheme to create 4,000 jobs a year across Wales for unemployed young people aged 16 to 24. Participants are paid at or above the minimum wage for at least 25 hours a week, not simply supporting young people into work but helping Welsh businesses to expand and having a positive knock on effect on the economy as a whole.
This builds on the earlier Welsh government initiatives such as Pro-Act and Re-Act to help employees and employers in the private sector when the recession started to kick in. The Welsh Government may not have responsibility for employment rights but it places great emphasis on social partnership with the trade unions and is demonstrating a commitment to the social responsibility of employers.
It goes without saying, that in the current economic climate there remain challenges in Wales but devolved politics is demonstrating that it does not have to be the worst of times as the UK coalition would have you believe.
The Welsh Government’s commitment to investing in the next generation and supporting people into decent work, despite existing economic constraints and a dramatically diminished budget from the UK government, is an actual alternative to the austerity and cuts agenda of the UK coalition. Going one step beyond, it makes clear the policy options out there for a future UK Labour administration and flies the flag for more positive and active labour market polices
On that note, I’ll leave the final word to the most senior elected Labour politician in the UK and the Welsh First Minister’s take on the UK government’s mis-handing of the fuel non-strike: http://www.itv.com/news/wales/update/2012-03-29/calm-down-first-minister-tells-uk-government/