by Dan Heard
Welsh Labour’s assembly election campaign got underway last week, with first blood as it were drawn up in North Wales, where First Minister Carwyn Jones outlined what he described as six key policy areas and pledges which their manifesto will aim to deliver on before the upcoming Assembly elections in May. Mr Jones was speaking after being given a tour of the Airbus UK plant in Broughton, Denbighshire, a place that he called a ‘beacon for Wales’. His comments come only weeks after the controversy surrounding the potential loss of over a thousand jobs at the Tata Steel plant in Port Talbot first erupted, though the policies that Mr Jones said would be covered in the manifesto did not relate to that particular bit of business. The six polices are a promise of an additional ten weeks of free childcare for working parents (something which, again, has caused much controversy and debate in recent times), tax cuts for small businesses in Wales, quality, useful apprenticeships for one hundred thousand young workers, and a new treatment fund to combat life-threatening illnesses.
A further one hundred million pounds would also, according to the outlined pledges, set aside to improve school standards and also towards doubling the capital limit for those in and about to enter residential care. Mr Jones also made clear his feelings on Britain’s position within the European Union, urging the country to remain within the EU, and opposing the ‘out’ campaigners that have dominated domestic headlines in recent days and weeks. Businesses like Airbus, (with, again, no mention of the Tata situation) would be drastically affected by leaving, ahead of the possibility of a referendum later this year. Before the pledges were even announced, Labour drew a backlash from Welsh Conservative Party leader Andrew RT Davies, who said that the proposed apprenticeship scheme was nothing if not “fantasy economics” on Mr Jones’s part, the First Minister responded that costs had been properly totalled. “We are talking about £200m on the apprenticeships, over the course of five years, bearing in mind of course that includes the current scheme that pays for apprentices aged between 16 and 24,”.
Despite the variety of these pledges, none of the six were aimed directly at dealing with issues important to students, despite the fact, as it was well publicised during last year’s General Election that the votes of students could prove decisive in several key constituencies throughout Wales. Here at Cardiff University, we even ran with the slogan “24,000 students, one constituency – you do the maths”. In response, Jenny Rathbone, Assembly Member for Cardiff Central gave an exclusive statement to Gair Rhydd on what she felt was the biggest issue for students- free childcare. “Thirty hours of free childcare forty eight weeks of the year is an amazingly important pledge, as students will quickly find out in just a few years’ time if they haven’t already.” She said. “At the moment unless you have other family members to help out or a very well paid job, it is almost impossible for both parents to keep working after having a baby. This interruption of, generally, women’s working lives until their children start school is the biggest reason why women still don’t have equal pay some forty years after the Equal Pay Act.”