Page last updated at 06:41 GMT, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Education challenge to new leader

By Adrian Browne
BBC Wales political reporter

Carwyn Jones AM
Carwyn Jones had a sweeping victory over his two rivals

An education expert has urged new Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones to tackle the "legacy" that a third of young people in Wales seem "born to fail".

Prof David Egan said improving education for the young disadvantaged was a major challenge facing Mr Jones.

The day after Mr Jones' election victory, Prof Egan is among a number of voices encouraging him to take a fresh look at Wales' problems.

Mr Jones is due to be also confirmed as first minister next week.

The Bridgend AM, 42, clinched a convincing win in the two-month contest to replace Rhodri Morgan.

Mr Jones took 52% of the vote in the first ballot, beating Health Minister Edwina Hart and Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney AM Huw Lewis.

The new leader has been challenged to put his rivals into his cabinet, but said it was too early to name names. He said he hoped to announce his cabinet at the end of next week.

In the meantime, BBC Wales asked experts in a number of key areas what they hoped for from the new leader.

EDUCATION - Prof David Egan, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff

Prof Egan said the legacy of educational under-performance had "gone on for a long, long time" and was by no means just an issue in Wales.

"It's not so much the kind of comparisons that strike me about this, it's the enduring nature of this," he said.

"We just seem to be a country where a third of our young people are born to fail.

"It's a very, very horrible, hard thing to say.

We have this stubborn kind of education low performance from our most disadvantaged youngsters
Prof David Egan

"When you look at all the indicators you find that we've got a problem with the bottom third and (of) that bottom third almost all can be aligned with those who come from the third of youngsters who live in official child poverty," Prof Egan added.

He warned enduring problems such as poor health and high crime levels were a direct consequence.

"The legacy that we have for society, as we move into the second decade of devolution, is that we have this stubborn kind of education low performance from our most disadvantaged youngsters and it is from them, and in their communities, that we see all the other kind of problems that we face."

Prof Egan said another key issue for the next first minister would be the funding of education in general.

"Whether it be schools, further education colleges or universities, we haven't been funding as well as we might in terms of the priorities within the Welsh assembly budget.

"But it's a difficult time, obviously, in the middle of a recession, with cuts in the budget, to be thinking about how that's going to be achieved.

"So it was interesting that Carwyn Jones, certainly, has committed himself during the campaign to a kind of staged increase in real terms in educational funding," Prof Egan added.

HEALTH - Prof Siobhan McLelland, University of Glamorgan

Prof McLelland, a health economist, said funding would also be "the most fundamental challenge" for the NHS under Mr Jones, after an "unprecedented, almost, period of growth" in funding under Rhodri Morgan.

"The difficult decisions we've seen successive health ministers, but particularly Edwina Hart, struggle with, for example over funding new cancer drugs, or new sorts of interventions, personal care services for the elderly, all these sorts of things, are going to become harder and harder," she said.

"It'll be taking decisions about, in some ways, what not to provide as opposed to providing new services and having money to do new things.

We know before the last assembly elections when they [Labour] tried to change the way in which hospital services were configured, they lost assembly seats off the back of it
Prof Siobhan McLelland

"And in health it's so emotive, because we are talking about life and death, we're talking about sickness and health.

"We're talking about a run-up now to assembly elections, and we know before the last assembly elections when they [Labour] tried to change the way in which hospital services were configured, they lost assembly seats off the back of it."

Prof McLelland said Mr Jones could look forward to "a really challenging next couple of years and, if they are in power after that, that will only continue, really".

She added that she did not think "we've had good value for money" for all the extra resources ploughed into the health service over the last decade, and the new first minister needed to ensure as much as money as possible went "directly to patient care" and not bureaucracy.

BUSINESS - Dr Jonathan Deacon, University of Newport Business School

Dr Deacon said assembly government schemes such as ProAct and ReAct to help firms and individuals through the recession "need to be continued and probably pursued with some greater vigour"

He said he was encouraged by the Deputy First Minister and Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones's suggestion that there should be more focus on nurturing firms at home and hoped this policy would be pursued under the new first minister.

"We need to think about developing indigenous companies over and above attempting to attract in inward investment because, as we have seen, inward investors are quick to leave, don't embed their profits and so on in the local community," he said.

"It's less headline...it's less prestigious perhaps in a way, because you haven't got the 500 jobs at one dollop coming but, of course, longer term it's exactly where we need to be.

We need to be developing the business infrastructure and the business community for the next generation in Wales
Dr Jonathan Deacon

"We need to be developing the business infrastructure and the business community for the next generation in Wales.

"I think that's critical, absolutely critical."

Dr Deacon said research and development also needed attention.

"We need to really think about how we integrate the ideas generation from the universities into business, making it a much smoother pathway than it currently is.

"I think we've got to think also about how we develop the next generation of owner-manager entrepreneurs, in a much more engaged way than we currently are," he added.

Of course, politics will be crucial to whether or not Mr Jones makes progress on the above issues.

POLITICS - Darran Hill, consultant

Darran Hill said Mr Jones would be constrained by existing commitments for a year and a half.

"There is an assembly election in May 2011 and there is also a government programme in place until that election.

"So really what they've been fighting out isn't the ideas they're going to start implementing a week today, it's the ideas they're going to be in a position to implement from May 2011.

Mr Hill said it was clear the economy was by far and away the key issue for the public.

"The recession is the number one issue, as it affects people across Wales and quite rightly they've raised those concerns with candidates and it'll probably influence the way they vote," he said.

He said there was also work for the new leader to do following the disagreement between the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition partners over the timing of a referendum on further assembly powers.

In terms of the coalition, the key thing to do is to establish a relationship of trust and trust is based on communication
Darran Hill

"I think in terms of the coalition, the key thing to do is to establish a relationship of trust and trust is based on communication.

"The problem with last week was that communication broke down between Labour and Plaid Cymru and within Labour as well."

Mr Hill advised Mr Jones to "make sure that their communication channels are clear, and direct and are trustworthy."

Mr Hill also echoed former Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy's call for Mr Jones to ensure both Edwina Hart and Huw Lewis have a seat in the new cabinet, after a "very talented, a very driven leadership contest".

He said the new man at the helm of Welsh Labour, and due to take over the assembly government next week, would be "missing a trick if they didn't utilise the two other candidates to full degree in terms of building up the collective strength of Labour within the Welsh Assembly Government".




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