Kirsty Williams Lib Dem conference speech in full

Read Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams' speech to the Lib Dem conference in full:

Conference, mining has left many scars on Wales. Though they run deep, they are recent scars. My father was the first generation in my family not to go down the pits.

Nevertheless, many of us thought we would never witness the kind of tragedy that we saw at the Gleision Colliery. So I start today by adding my tribute to the miners who lost their lives and to the amazing response of the community to the tragedy.

With three sets of elections in Wales in the space of three months, we have had a year as exhilarating, challenging, disappointing and uplifting as any I have seen.

We shared with you the disappointment of the AV referendum. But we campaigned hard and successfully to achieve an historic yes vote in the Welsh powers referendum in March.

In 1997, the vote to establish the National Assembly was won by such a narrow margin. This time, we achieved a substantial majority in favour of law making powers, meaning that, for the first time in over 600 years, laws that effect only Wales are made only in Wales.

And that means that the Welsh government now has far more power to make a difference.

Wales now has the way, if the government has the will, to drive a Welsh economic recovery and create local jobs. Allowing councils to fund regeneration projects from future business rate income.

Wales now has the way, if the government has the will, to improve public transport, creating Joint Transport Authorities and re-regulating buses.

Wales now has the way, to legislate to improve the training and quality of teaching and to create a health spending watch dog to root out waste in our NHS.

Wales now has the way, if only the Welsh government has the will.

So May's Assembly elections were the most important since the first Welsh election in 1999.

The elections were tough as they were elsewhere.

The media spent the entire election asking me about the scale of the likely disaster and predicting a wipeout for the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

I would love to have increased our representation at the Assembly and, of course, we suffered our disappointments. But there were successes too.

We held our North Wales list seat and won seats for the first time in Mid and West Wales and in South Wales Central. Areas like Merionyddshire, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire now have Liberal representation for the first time in sixty years.

The South Wales valleys now have a Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for the first time.

And Peter Black, heroically, held on to his South Wales West seat.

Though Peter, next time you're on the verge of re-election, please don't text me half-an-hour before hand to say you think you've lost!

Since 2000, it has been the same six Liberal Democrat Assembly Members that were returned in every election.

I would like to pay tribute to Mike German and Jenny Randerson, who did so much to build the Welsh Liberal Democrats and continue to do so in the House of Lords.

To Veronica German, a key part of the team long before serving as an Assembly Member who I know will continue to play such an important role.

To Eleanor Burnham, who flew the flag for the party in North Wales for so long.

And I would like to introduce to you the new team.

Some of you may have seen that Talgarth Mill was featured recently on the BBC's Village SOS. No one was more involved in that project than the ward councillor for Talgarth, now our Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, William Powell. With his roots in the rural community, he is well placed to speak for us on the environment agriculture and rural affairs.

Eluned Parrott is already making an impact as she takes on the business and enterprise portfolio. Eluned grew up delivering focus leaflets at her father's side. Back then, she was the only Eluned Siân Jenkins in the village – well in Wolverhampton. But she made the wise decision to come home to Wales as soon as she turned 18. And you are not getting her back!

Aled Roberts brings real expertise to his education portfolio from his time as the Leader of Wrexham Council overseeing dramatic improvements in GCSE attainment levels and, having spear-headed this year's successful National Eisteddfod. No one can question his commitment and passion for the Welsh language.

With Mark, Jenny and Roger at Westminster, we have a united team to stand up for the people of Wales.

There are always lessons to be learned after an election campaign. From our performance and that of our opponents.

And we may wish to take note of the performance of Plaid Cymru who were, like us, the junior party in a coalition.

Plaid formed a coalition with Labour, making progress on a referendum on further powers the key plank of their negotiations. The referendum was held and won.

Now devolution is dear to the hearts of Plaid supporters, as it is to Liberals, and on this 'core issue', Plaid could show that they had made a difference in government. Their reward was fewer votes and fewer seats.

Plaid's reason for being, may be devolution and protection of the Welsh language. But its message on the economy, for which they had ministerial responsibility, was unclear. And their line on schools was that their own coalition government had failed – but that it was all Labour's fault.

One day they were claiming to be the driving force in government, the next denying they were even a passenger.

What lessons can we Liberal Democrats learn from this?

For me it is clear. The smaller party in government has to be able to show it has made a difference. Not just on issues of concern to their core supporters but across government, and in particular on those issues that matter most to voters.

Our core voters may be satisfied by delivery on fringe issues. But fringe supporters will only take notice when we deliver on the core issues.

Having a great Liberal and radical story to tell on civil liberties and political reform is so important: I am as proud as anyone that it is our government that has ended child detention for asylum seekers.

That it is our government that is ploughing ahead with the unfinished business of Lords reform.

But we cannot forget that these issues will be a million miles away from the concerns of most voters at the next election.

So we must ensure that, in government, we are making a difference in the areas that matter to people most.

That is why Nick Clegg is insisting on doubling the funding of the pupil premium because he understands that is the way to transform the life chances of our poorest children.

That is why Vince Cable is insisting on the break-up of the banks – so our life savings are not recklessly gambled away on the money markets.

That is why Danny Alexander demands that reducing income tax for the lowest paid workers is prioritised over tax cuts for the rich.

Even in these tough times, especially in these tough times, it is when people see how hard we fight for our Liberal Democrat values that we win their respect.

The other lesson from the elections in Wales should not come as a revelation to Liberal Democrats.

That in areas where we knock on doors all year round and keep speaking to voters.

That is where we retain people's respect and their support.

Nye Bevan once described Tories as 'lower than vermin'.

Even I think that was a little harsh.

But whichever way you look at it, I'm no fan of the Tories.

The decision to form a coalition government was as tough for me as it was for many of you. The political consequences are sometimes difficult to stomach.

But I can tell you that there would have been difficult consequences from not going into a coalition too.

In Wales in 2007, our party was widely expected to be the partner of choice for a Labour party that had failed to win a majority. We didn't go into government. But that decision didn't reap any media plaudits or electoral dividends either.

So last year, we made the right decision to go into government at Westminster.

And we cannot fight election campaigns pretending that we are not in government. If the Lib Dem brand has become tarnished then disowning that brand isn't the answer.

We must continue to remind people that allowing the Conservatives to govern unhindered was no choice at all.

We must communicate what we are doing in government. We should proclaim our achievements.

In short, Liberal Democrats, it is time to, get up off our knees and be proud of the difference we are making and to keep on fighting, in government and on the doorstep.

Because, in case you've got short memories, I can tell you that being in opposition, unable to make that difference, that is a whole lot more frustrating!

Despite all the hype, Labour did not win a majority of votes or seats in Wales.

Those in the Labour Party who think that Wales is a model for a return to power in Westminster should take note.

But Labour are the largest party and with half the seats in the Assembly, Carwyn Jones, the first minister has promised a 'stable government', he said, 'with no trace of any political tribalism'.

Labour? No tribalism? Really? Now that is a makeover that even Gok Wan couldn't carry off!

You know it's funny, there are people worried that coalition with the Tories at Westminster is blurring our identity.

Some of the same people would fall over themselves for us to do a deal with Labour in Wales – as if that wouldn't do the same.

Here's my view:

A coalition with the Conservatives doesn't make us a party of the right.

A coalition with Labour wouldn't make us a party of the left.

No, our priority now is to advance the policies that we fought the election on.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats will be the strong, responsible voice of constructive opposition that Wales needs.

We will judge each issue on its merits, afraid neither to support the government nor to oppose it, where that is in the best interests of the people of Wales.

We know that the next few years are too important for point-scoring and petty party politics to bring the budget process into disrepute.

But I also know this. Welsh Liberal Democrats were not elected to the Assembly to turn our backs on the desperate need to improve education funding in Wales or to re-boot the Welsh economy and provide training and hope for those without work.

Conference, it is nothing short of a scandal that as the schools performance gap continues to grow, Labour still spends £600 less a year educating Welsh children than those living in England.

So let me make it clear.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats will not back any budget that does not make progress towards closing the funding gap with England – starting with the poorest children who need the extra help the most.

Nor will we vote for a budget that neglects the need to tackle unemployment and boost the economy by incentivising employers that take on new trainees.

Those were our priorities during the election. And they will be our priorities at the next budget.

What happens in Wales under Labour matters not just to people in Wales but to the rest of the UK too. Ed Miliband has gone out of his way to praise Labour’s administration in Cardiff. He said in June that he was:

"Incredibly proud of the job that Carwyn Jones is doing in Wales. He's leading the way, not just for Wales, but for the United Kingdom"

Leading the way?

When you wait longer for an ambulance in rural Wales than rural Scotland? When you wait six months for hospital treatment in Wales but sixteen weeks in England; despite Wales spending more money on the NHS?

Leading the way?

When the Welsh government decides Enterprise Zones are a good idea after all a full six months after they were announced in England?

Leading the way?

When Wales is now the poorest nation or region in the United Kingdom and that we are getting relatively poorer?

And this is the thing that irks me most about Labour. Labour uses the language of equality.

But the poor services they provide do poor people down.

If you fail to crack down on poor standards in schools, it isn't the well-off that suffer.

They play the system, they move house, they go private – whatever they need to get their kids the best education. And the poorest in our society, the people Labour profess to care about, put up with substandard services.

Changing that is what motivates me now, as it did me when I first joined this party.

A weak economy, underfunded schools and NHS that costs more but delivers less.

I simply don't believe the Welsh people should have to put up with Labour's miserable record.

Labour fought their election campaign saying that this Assembly would be all about delivery.

It begs the question, what on earth were the last twelve years about?

And with a record like that, I understand why some say, that politicians in Wales need to deliver, before they start asking for more power.

But Wales' devolution package is missing a critical element.

Unlike most families and businesses, the Welsh government has the luxury of spending money handed out by others.

Like the wayward teenager, left school, still living at home. Frittering money away but complaining that the regular handouts are too stingy. That is Labour's devolution.

The lack of ability to raise money breeds an irresponsibility about how that money is spent.

On each day of the election campaign, we highlighted a different example of the waste in the Welsh government.

From the £500,000 cost of a McKinsey report on the NHS that the government denied even existed to the £30 million treating minor ailments that could be better dealt with in community pharmacies. But little wonder there is such waste, when Wales, uniquely, has no power to borrow or raise money.

Birmingham council is allowed set taxes – but not the Welsh government.

Newport council is allowed to borrow to invest in capital projects – but not the Welsh government.

The Scottish government has the power to vary income tax rates – but not the Welsh government.

For over a decade, Labour refused to let go of the purse strings.

In contrast, Liberal Democrats have consistently supported greater financial powers. Not only will it will bring more accountability and responsibility to the Welsh government but a progressive government could use these powers to drive forward Wales' economic development, creating jobs and prosperity for people in Wales.

But this isn't about Wales whingeing for others to deliver.

It is about making a persuasive case with maximum support across Wales.

I am already working with the leaders of all parties in Wales to build a coalition of support that demands the respect of politicians in Westminster.

The coalition agreement included a firm commitment to develop a Scottish Calman-style process to devolve financial powers to the Welsh government.

But conference, do you think we can rely on a Conservative secretary of state to deliver?

The Conservative understanding of devolution is too shallow.

The secretary of state's accountability to the people of Wales too tenuous.

The Wales office's belief in giving away power too – well it's non-existent.

That is why we need Liberal Democrats in government to really push forward radical reform.

And I know that at every stage Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander are pushing the case for Wales. Well, Cheryl, somebody's got to do it.

And I know, that is what Liberal Democrats in the cabinet are doing week in week out.

In March, Vince came to Cardiff and told our conference about what he called the Kirsty Williams welcome.

Appparently, it starts with a big smile, followed by a kiss and then a right rollocking for what you haven't done for Wales.

Well Vince, I still have a few things on my list and I am not going to stop haranguing you from time to time but I know that the Liberal Democrats are fighting tooth and nail to make sure that we deliver for people in Wales.

That is why there is a future for training at St Athan.

That is why we will see the electrification of the South Wales mainline.

That is why an additional 50,000 Welsh workers no longer pay any income tax

And that is why it is worth being in government.

'On your side' is where this party has always been .

'In government' is a place we have rarely been but it is where we should always want to be.

In our communities, in Wales, in Westminster.

And it is where we can make being 'on your side' not just a conference slogan.

But a call to arms to make the difference for the people of our country.