First Minister signals tough year ahead as NHS and Economic Crisis continues in Wales

The First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has set out the challenges his government and the people of Wales face in the year ahead. Speaking at his first press conference he painted a grim picture but also said that the Welsh Government were working hard to face the challenges ahead. He also echoed the apology of the head of NHS Wales.

Mr Drakeford said that it has been a busy year with a cost of living crisis and huge challenges for the NHS in Wales. He said that the government were looking at action to resolve disputes.

The First Minister set out some of the important work ahead including the next phase of providing free school meals for all primary children in Wales and the next phase of free childcare offer for two year olds.

There was also a mention of the governments strategy for innovation and he said that there was no better example that Wales’ first ever satellite which had been built in Wales, which was due for launch in Cornwall later tonight. There was mention of the net zero skills action plan with he said jobs for the future, which are bound up in a greener future for wales and the skills required.

The First Minister said that the March budget would be the most difficult budget since the start of devolution. He said that he anticipated progress on the social partnership bill. He said that there was a progressive government in Wales in stark contrast to ongoing attacks on workers rights by Westminster.

In education he said that Welsh Government were supporting schools to phase in the new curriculum, welsh history particularly relating to the BAME community. Climate and nature emergency have not gone away he said and this year would see further action to preserve and restore wales’ natural habitats. He said he was working wth Plaid Cymru to further stretch Welsh Government ambitions. Part of that he said was the clean air bill introduced in March with the ban on single use plastics being finalised later in the year.

The First Minister said that last year Wales was proud to welcome thousands of refugees from Hong Kong Afghanistan and Ukraine. He said that Wales would continue to provide a warm welcome to those who have made wales their home.

He said: “We know sacrifices families are having to make to make ends meet. This year biggest falls in disposable incomes since records began. Welsh government will do do all it can with targeted support where we can, free prescriptions free school meals. At the same time we will continue to put pressure on energy companies to reduce costs for those who have the least.”

The First Minister said that it was a scandal that people on pre paid meters have to pay before they use any energy at all. He said that he would put pressure on the UK government to provide protection.

It was the NHS, which received most of his attentions. He said that the Health service faced continuing difficulties. There was a combination of high levels of flu and a return of Covid, a rise in strep A and unprecedented levels of demand right across NHS services. The 27th December was the busiest day experienced in its year history with 550 people admitted to hospital alone.

Mr Drakeford echoed the apology of the CEO of NHS Wales to anyone who experienced a wait. He paid tribute to NHS and care staff for treating and looking after those who turned to health service for help.

Unions are holding a second day of strikes on Wednesday. The First Minister said that the UK Government was introducing draconian anti strike laws. He said that unlike UK Gov Welsh Labour does not believe the response to strikes was to bring forward restricted and backward laws.  He said: “We recognise and respect strength of feeling, we remain committed n social partnership with our trade unions to explore resolutions to disputes.”

He concluded by saying that the government had worked hard across the Christmas period to bring together three elements.

A one off non consolidated pay award

Discussions on ways to move forward on staff welfare reducing agency spend.

Working to restore confidence in pay review process.

In a stark warning he said that all indications pointed to this year being a tough one for families across Wales with the UK economy in recession and inflation in double figures.

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