Wales: Challenges ahead for ‘First Minister in waiting’

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jun 10 15:36:35 UTC 2007

*Challenges ahead for 'First Minister in waiting'*

Jun 9 2007


Western Mail

A week into the job, Carwyn Jones sets out his stall as Assembly Education
Minister to Senedd Correspondent David Williamson FOR more than half a
decade Carwyn Jones has been described as a First Minister-in-waiting. Now
as Education Minister he has the opportunity to show sceptics he can really
live up to the hype. Last week Rhodri Morgan moved the Bridgend AM from the
environment post and handed him a giant portfolio.

He is not only responsible for schools and higher education, but also
Welsh-language policy, sport and the arts. Speaking in his office
overlooking the Wales Millennium Centre, he said he felt a "mixture of
excitement and trepidation" when he was given his new job
description.Hesaid, "It's a big brief – there's no question about it,
but it's an area
I've a real interest in and its great to be able to get involved."

The springboard for Mr Jones's career in the Assembly was organising the
"Yes" campaign in the devolution referendum.

He believes the Labour Party in Wales needs to embrace its Welsh identity if
it is to recover at the polls.

He said, "We do need, as a party, to develop a sense of identity that we're
comfortable with which resonates with the majority of the people in Wales,
who are not in favour of independence, who are not nationalists, who are
nevertheless proud to be Welsh, and yet proud to be British as well. We
shouldn't be afraid of developing that sort of identity because it's quite
distinct from the identity that Plaid Cymru would have."

As a member of a Welsh-speaking family he understands the attractions of
Plaid and explored the party as a teenager. "When I was in the sixth form
the miners' strike was on and that had a great effect on me in terms of
shaping my politics," he said. "When I was 18 I joined the Labour Party, so
I've been a member now for 22 years." He responds to speculation he will
seek to lead the party when Mr Morgan steps down by saying, "You never know
what's round the corner." A key goal as Education Minister will be to
establish "parity of esteem" between vocational training and more academic

He understands how social pressures can drive young people away from careers
which may carry less prestige but bring more fulfilment. "I wanted to do an
economics degree but I was steered away from it," he said. "I was told, 'No,
don't do that. There's no job at the end of it. Do law.' So I drifted into
it, I have to say. "You know, it was OK and I enjoyed it as a degree, but I
used to read economics and politics textbooks in my spare time. That's how
much of an anorak am I." His time as the Minister for Environment was not
blighted by the public relations disasters suffered by his predecessor,
vegetarian Christine Gwyther.

However, in education he will be confronted with angry parents each time a
school is marked for closure. "We do face a difficulty," he admitted. "We
know the numbers of pupils in future will fall rapidly and there will be
many schools which may struggle. I'd like to see if we can do more to help
small schools in terms of using the buildings out of hours and out of term
time as community facilities, but we can't get away from a drop in pupil
numbers leading to questions being asked about some schools."

A further challenge is ensuring that school buildings are fit for purpose.
The obstacle here, he argued, was not insufficient funding but bureaucratic
inertia. He said, "The money's in place. If you look at my own local
authority, I have one school where the money was there four years ago and
the school still hasn't been started. We can provide the money but the local
authorities as the legal deliverers of education in their areas have to have
plans in place to make sure they can use that money."

Mr Jones is sceptical about the need for a new Welsh language Act. For the
language to survive, he believes people must choose to use it in their own
homes. "The census will pick up people as Welsh speakers but those people
may not actually speak Welsh to each other," he said. "I don't think an Act
or a Measure will help that in any way." While he is prepared to explore
ways in which new legislation could promote bilingualism, he is strongly
opposed to importing Canadian-style laws which force businesses in the
province of Quebec to provide services in French. "I can't imagine a
scenario more calculated to infuriate and annoy those who don't speak Welsh
than doing that," he said.

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