Rhodri ‘Proud’ Of Public Services Record

Rhodri Morgan today said he was happy to put his record on public services to voters thanks to lower hospital waiting times. The First Minister was pressed on the Assembly Government’s handling of schools and the NHS when he faced AMs for his last question time before the election.

He said he was “very proud” of his record on the health service when opposition leaders accused him of failing to deliver after eight years of Labour rule in Cardiff Bay.

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said schools’ budgets were under “terrible pressure” and universities in the rest of the UK got more money than those in Wales. He claimed health service bodies were saddled with debt, more people were on waiting lists and an ongoing hospital shake-up was being “botched”.

But Mr Morgan hit back, and said the standards to which children were being taught had “improved substantially”. Waiting times had been “revolutionised” and the NHS was “well on the way” to meeting its eight-month waiting time target by the end of this month. It was on course to hit a total 26-week target by the end of 2009, he said.

Mr Morgan said: “Yes it’s true, we have been as successful in health as we have been in education because we have been improving access to NHS treatment and NHS consultation in far shorter times than has ever been known in the Welsh health service before.

“I think the record on health is one I shall be very proud to put to the people of Wales because they know it. They know it when they are waiting for hospital treatment. They used to know what it was like to be waiting years and now they are waiting months.”

Mr Jones said: “Your ability to spin is greater than your ability to deliver, First Minister. You’ve obviously failed in education and you’ve failed in health. What I don’t quite understand is that when you came into power, Tony Blair said that education was the main priority. Why hasn’t it been your main priority?”

Mr Morgan faced questions about rising council tax levels from Tory Assembly leader Nick Bourne. Voters faced the choice of lower council tax under Labour or increased bills under the Conservatives, the First Minister said.

Band D council tax was £300 less in Wales than in England, Mr Morgan said. He said: “When the Tories are in power, whenever they get the opportunity, they put council tax up without worrying about its effect on anybody in Wales.

“You simply believe in doing it as William Hague obviously did 10 years ago when he increased it by 18%. So there we are. We have to see what the people of Wales think when they are given the opportunity to vote between the high council tax Tory Party and the low council tax Labour Party.”

Opposition parties recently voted down the Assembly Government’s attempt to cap the North Wales Police Authority’s budget and block a rise in North Wales households’ police precept.

Mr Bourne said band D tax had more than doubled since 1999 and Wales’s recent revaluation programme had been “disastrous”. “I’m very happy to stand by our record of supporting the police and if the First Minister isn’t then let him go to the electorate with that message,” Mr Bourne said. “I think they will get a very clear message from that.”