Julie James speech to Welsh Labour Conference 2017

Julie James, Welsh Government Minister for Skills and Science, speech to Welsh Labour Conference 2017

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Thank you, Chair.

Conference, as we've heard powerfully in this debate today, giving people the opportunity to gain new skills and find good quality work is one of the most powerful things we can do as a Labour government.

It was the very reason we were formed as a party over 100 years ago.

To win power for a purpose and change peoples lives for the better in government.

And make no mistake about it, I am exceptionally proud of what our Welsh Labour Government has done to fulfill that pledge over the last few years.

To support individuals in getting the qualifications they need to build a better their life for themselves and their families.

To support businesses in getting access to the people and skills they need to grow their firms.

To support communities in bringing jobs and new investment to their town.

When the tough times came, it was this Welsh Labour Government that stepped up to the plate.

When the financial crash hit in 2008 it was Welsh Labour, working with our trade union partners, that led the way with ProAct and ReAct to help those, who through no fault of their own, found themselves out of work or at risk of redundancy.

It was Welsh Labour, working with the Private Sector, that put together the amazing Jobs Growth Wales programme that has helped over 17,000 young people into good quality work and has become a model for youth employment support right across Europe.

And it has been Welsh Labour values that has shaped the essential skills programmes that have helped those furthest from the labour market get the vital literacy and numeracy skills to get an interview and find a job.

And those interventions have had tangible impacts on our economy.

A lower unemployment rate than England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A faster rate of employment growth than the UK average.

GVA growing faster in Wales since the financial crash than in the rest of the country.

But as important as our work has been in recent years in creating jobs and supplying people with the right skills, the Welsh economy of 2017 is very different to the one we saw in 2008 or 2011.

As a result of having more people in work, economic inactivity is now the most pressing issue facing many communities.

With firms now more likely now to be taking on young people than they were at the time of the crash, so our programmes need to adapt too.

Even for those that have found work, too many people find themselves trapped in entry level positions.

In-work poverty is now one of the biggest structural problems the Welsh economy faces and so individuals on low-incomes need more support to help them to progress into a more advanced role.

And so that is why our Welsh Labour Government has set out a radical and ambitious programme of reform to ensure more people get the skills they need for work.

To ensure businesses in Wales have the trained people they need to expand.

For those needing skills to get back into the labour market we are developing a new, all-age Employability Plan that will bring together all of our skills for work interventions into one single programme with a single point of contact through a new Employment Advice Service.

For those needing employment closer to where they live, a new, Better Jobs Closer to Home programme, developed in partnership with the Wales TUC, that can create jobs where they are needed most.

And for those wanting to progress into higher skilled work, a manifesto promise to create 100,000 high quality, all-age apprenticeships.

Conference, we aren’t following the Tory model in England of diluting the apprenticeship brand – our programmes are high quality and they will stay that way.

And we will create them in the areas where the economy and business needs them.

That’s why we are working in partnership with industry to create apprenticeships that our economy needs and that can help individuals progress into better paid jobs.

But we do have to remember that skills are just one part of the answer and that spreading prosperity has to be a cross-government effort.

That's why we’ve enabled over 620,000 premises in Wales to access to Superfast Broadband.

That's why we have invested over £100m in our SER Cymru programme since 2013 to support high quality science research across Wales.

And made available over £4m of skills and training funding in the last year as part of a wider £60m package of Welsh Government support to help save our steel industry in Wales.

And perhaps proudest of all, we’ve worked with our union partners since 1999 – many in this room – to invest over £15m in over 200 projects through the superb Wales Union Learning Fund, transforming the lives and careers of thousands of people along the way.


Conference, we all know that there are no silver bullet solutions to the issues impacting on our communities.

No back door route to prosperity.

Nor are there easy, off the shelf answers to the challenges many people face in accessing work.

However making sure people have the skills they need to access employment is one of the most important pieces of structural support that any government can put in place.

Conference, this is what fighting for social justice looks like.

This is what a Labour Government can do,

And this is what our Welsh Labour Government is doing to make a tangible difference to our communities up and down Wales.

Through our Programme for Government, Labour in Wales is setting out an ambitious agenda.

Better jobs closer to home.


Conference, to finish we have heard very powerfully the arguments put by Unison in relation to the school-term time contracts.

The Welsh Executive Committee is proposing to arrange a meeting between Welsh Labour Council Leaders and the relevant trade unions after the elections in May to consider the wide range of issues involved and the situation around term Time Contracts in relation to current negotiating arrangements.

The meeting will be asked to consider the issues around negotiating arrangements, equality and equitable pay and the outcome of these discussions will be considered at the Welsh Policy Forum in November 2017.

Thank you.


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