The Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats (Kirsty Williams):First Minister, I questioned you earlier this year about the Public Accounts Committee report on Communities First. The report set out clearly that Communities First had failed to deliver good value for money and that your Government’s management of the programme was largely to blame. It is neither the first nor the last report of its kind. You told me at the time that you would study the report carefully to see what changes, if any, needed to be made to the programme. What is the result of that investigation?
The First Minister: This matter is being taken forward by the Minister for Social Justice and Local Government. There have been some difficulties in some Communities First partnerships; that much is well known and public. What is important is that those problems are dealt with, and they have been dealt with. The entire scheme should not be damned because of those difficulties. It has been most successful in raising confidence and capacity in so many Welsh communities that were damaged by the economic policies of the 1980s.
Kirsty Williams: With all due respect, in your previous reply, you undertook to look personally at the report and return with the results following your investigation. I am not surprised that you are unable to answer this afternoon. You have ignored the Public Accounts Committee report, and now the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that your flagship project has led to only marginal improvement. Nine months ago, when I asked you about Communities First, you could not tell me how many jobs the programme had created. Can you tell me now?
The First Minister: Communities First is a programme designed to create confidence and capacity. It is not a job creation scheme. If it were, you would no doubt accuse us of creating a simple job creation scheme. The reality is that the Lib Dems just do not like Communities First. They do not like anything that helps to build capacity and confidence in so many of our deprived communities, and that is all because of the position in which they have put themselves, in which they are trying to be even more right wing than the Tories. We have seen that again in the Chamber this afternoon.
Kirsty Williams: What the Liberal Democrats did not like was to see expectation in our most deprived communities being raised when, to great fanfare, you launched the Communities First project. I noted your answer expressing what you think Communities First is about. That totally contradicts what was said at the launch of the programme. The Minister at the time said that the goals of Communities First were to make long-term improvements to the lives of people in Wales’s less well-off communities. You said that your goal was to have better educational skills training, for more job opportunities, to improve health and wellbeing, and to make communities safer and more secure. That is what you said when you launched Communities First. Now you are saying that it was never meant to achieve any of those things, particularly job creation. Why have you failed to deliver on what you promised to those communities?
The First Minister: Selective deafness seems to have taken hold this afternoon. I said that it was not intended as some large job creation scheme. You would have accused us of creating a bureaucracy had we done that. Communities First has been very successful in all of the ways that it has developed communities in Wales. Go to Caia Park in Wrexham and speak to the people there, or to the other Communities First partnerships around Wales, where a tremendous amount of work has been done to lift communities out of the economic mire and the difficulties that they inherited from the 1980s as a result of economic policies that your party is now so keen to support.
Kirsty Williams: First Minister, you cannot rewrite history. When you launched Communities First, you promised those communities more job opportunities, yet now you tell us that it was never intended to deliver them. There have been numerous reports on Communities First. The Wales Audit Office warned you at the very beginning that it would not work, nor deliver its objectives, unless you made significant changes. The Public Accounts Committee told you that Communities First had not delivered good value for the significant amount of public money that had been put into the scheme, and now the Joseph Rowntree Foundation states that your programme is delivering only marginal improvements. Are you seriously satisfied that spending £214 million delivers only marginal improvements? Will you now commit to bringing your Government’s evaluation of Communities First forward, before the election in May, so that the people of Wales can pass judgment on its record?
The First Minister: Now we see the truth, do we not? When the budget is published next week, Communities First will be the first thing to be attacked; it will all be about taking away any hope that communities have of building their futures, their confidence and capacity. That will all be at the behest of the Liberal Democrats and the Tories here, who want to do as much as they can to destroy those communities once again, just as they did in the 1980s.
Kirsty Williams: You promised those communities better education and health outcomes and better job opportunities, and you have spent £214 million of Welsh taxpayers’ money failing to deliver on those promises. Do not lecture me on my attitude towards those poorest communities; I am interested in seeing those communities improve. Your Government has failed to improve them and has failed to deliver on the promises that you made to them.
The First Minister: God forbid that I should lecture Kirsty; she is much better at lecturing than I am. Yet again, we see an attack on Communities First, and an attack on any scheme that seeks to deliver equality for individuals and communities in our society, all because the two parties opposite want to cut as much money as possible. This Government will stand up for our communities, which suffered so much in the 1980s and 1990s, and will build them into vibrant communities once again, despite the attacks that have been made by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
I think Kirsty won that little spat 3 - 0 and got Carwyn riled in the process (very apparent on TV last night!)