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Tuesday, June 15, 1999 Published at 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK

UK Politics

First secretary addresses state of nation

First Secretary Alun Michael gave State of the Nation speech

Welsh First Secretary Alun Michael has used his own experience of working with young unemployed people to make his first State of the Nation speech.

Mr Michael outlined priorities for the National Assembly for Wales in the coming year, including plans for the NHS in Wales, education issues and reducing long-term unemployment - an issue he himself worked closely on before becoming an MP in the 1970s.

In a broad speech, the first secretary talked about working in partnership with local authorities, addressing social and economic inequalities and bringing together the whole of Wales in a practical way.

Other priorities will include better training provision and providing value for money from an assembly with a budget of 7.5bn transferred from the Welsh Office.

[ image: Mike German, called speech
Mike German, called speech "woolly"
He stressed the need for all parties to work together on consensus issues to sort out spending priorities.

"I believe the challenge is to work together for Wales," said Mr Michael.

"Let us not be daunted"

"We have to make difficult choices. With the NHS, we have to make sure resources reach people they are meant to help.

"Let us not underestimate the size of the task ahead, but let us not be daunted either."

Dafydd Wigley, leader of Plaid Cymru, echoed the need for setting out key priorities, including tackling areas of high unemployment in the south Wales Valleys and west Wales.

That meant making the most of resources, such as Objective One, from the European Union, he said.

"We have areas of very low economic activity," he said. "As far as GDP is concerned in Wales, it is the lowest of any region in the UK." Mr Wigley said the assembly must set the economy at the top of its list.

He went on to highlight education issues such as a Welsh baccalaureate and re-vamping schools inspection.

On health, he called for action to sort out the NHS in Wales. "We are facing a totally unnecessary crisis from the failure of governments to manage money," he said.

'A wish list'

Rod Richards, Conservative leader, criticised the first secretary's speech as "one of the worst I have heard in a long time".

"For him to stand there for a quarter of an hour reading out a wish list does not set a very good example."

He called on the first secretary not to mislead the country with statistics which did not measure up.

Mike German, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Mr Michael's speech was "woolly" and lacked a vision for Wales.

"It does not present the state of the nation, it does not even give the state of the assembly," he said.

"What are the challenges we want to see in the state of the nation? We need ... a clear programme of action with specific targets."

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