Kirsty Williams' attack on Labour's record on public services

Kirsty Williams says Labour is Wales' weakest link

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The Welsh Lib Dem leader has accused the first minister of "taking cover behind the people he is meant to lead", following criticism of public services in Wales.

Carwyn Jones told the Wales Labour conference that Conservatives were engaging in a "war on Wales".

On Sunday, Kirsty Williams told her party's Welsh conference many of the criticisms were "based on truth".

She called Labour the "weight around our nation's neck".

In Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, David Cameron said the Welsh NHS was a "scandal", the latest in a series of fierce criticisms by Conservative MPs of the performance of the service.

In one of her strongest attacks on Mr Jones and Labour, Ms Williams insisted the "chickens have come home to roost" for a Welsh Labour government that had "enjoyed minimal UK media coverage" for years.

'Furious'

"Barely a day goes by when we don't see another exposé on Wales' public services," she told the conference in Newport.

"Yet it's not just sadness that I feel: it's anger too, I know that some of these stories may be motivated by a political agenda, but many are accurate and too often based on truth.

"Our health service struggles like never before, our schools remain underfunded and underperforming, our economy lags behind the rest of the UK."

Ms Williams told Liberal Democrats she was "furious" about the recent portrayal of Wales.

"Last week, Carwyn Jones said these criticisms weren't a war on Welsh Labour, or the Welsh government, but a war on Wales as an entire nation.

"How dare he take cover behind the people he is meant to lead, what kind of leader does that?", she asked.

'Too scared'
Jenny Willott AM Jenny Willot said there were more women on leading firms' boards

"Labour is holding us back, Labour - the weight around our nation's neck."

She told the conference the "war on Wales" row was not a real war, that "in truth the Tory Party and the Labour Party are hand in glove".

For years the two parties had "conspired" to insist politics has been about a "false choice", she argued, "between Labour domination or unbridled Tory rule".

"It is only the Welsh Liberal Democrats that can provide a true alternative," she said.

The Welsh Lib Dem leader said that just as her party was making a difference in government at Westminster, Liberal Democrats were doing likewise in Wales in opposition.

Describing her pride that schools in Wales would receive £918 for every pupil receiving free school meals, as a result of Lib Dem negotiations to pass the Labour Welsh government's budget, she said her party would continue to fight for "high quality childcare".

And Ms Williams promised the "biggest campaign we have ever had in Wales" for a new law to set a minimum ratio of nurses to patients in the Welsh NHS.

The leader also told party activists that only the Liberal Democrats offered a "positive choice" in next month's European elections.

She said Labour was "too scared" to have a voice on Europe, David Cameron's Conservatives "pander to Euro-sceptics and UKIP" while Plaid Cymru "cannot credibly call for Welsh independence yet proclaim they stand for Europe".

'Nationalism'

Ms Williams characterised Plaid Cymru and UKIP as having "many similarities".

"They are two separatist parties that could take us out of the EU, their dream of independence could threaten thousands of jobs."

She said Plaid might "sneer" at UKIP but "you don't fight little England nationalism by trumping it with Welsh nationalism".

In the opening speech of the day, UK Women and Equalities Minister and Cardiff Central MP Jenny Willott told party activists to "be proud" of what the party had achieved in government.

Ms Willott said there had been "real success" ensuring more female representation on the boards of Britain's leading firms.

She said the coalition had a target to get the proportion of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies up to 25% by next year.

"When we started the work in 2011, it was 12.5%, so the target is to double the proportion of women."

On Saturday. Nick Clegg committed his party to devolving new powers to Wales, including policing, youth justice and big energy projects.

The Liberal Democrat leader told the conference the plans, recommended by the Silk Commission, will be the "blueprint" for its election manifesto.

He also accused Carwyn Jones of trying "to reinvent history" about rail electrification funding in the south Wales valleys.

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