Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Welsh budget announced

It’s that time of year again. No not leaves dropping but the dropping of spread sheets containing the Welsh Government’s spending priorities over the next  year. 

It’s called the Welsh budget. But unlike the Westminster Chancellor there won’t be a red box and of course there won’t be any tax increases ‘cos they don’t have the powers. So Jane Hutt, the finance minister  announced what she’s to spend her almost £15bn budget on.

The important word in the last sentence is “almost” for the budget this year has been cut to £14.95. That in ordinary language is £50 million less to spend

So how did the government decide to prioritise. She declared that her aim was to boost economic growth, create jobs, and invest in schools and hospitals and protecting universal benefits. Well they always do don't they.

The jury is out as to whether these measures will match up to the rhetoric.

In her draft Budget for 2013-14 there  will be £175m in the next two years there will be a capital investment programme over the next two years. This includes:
  • £65m for improving transport – including £40m for the Brynmawr to Tredegar section of the A465 Heads of the Valley Dualling Programme and £25m for improvements to the A55 Conwy Tunnel;
  • £30m for hospitals – comprising £18m to support the redevelopment of Morriston Hospital, Swansea and £12m for adult mental health facilities in Llandough Hospital, Cardiff and Glanrhyd Hospital, Bridgend;
  • £25m for schools & colleges – including £15m in 2013-14 to accelerate a number of schemes under the 21st Century Schools programme;
  • An additional £10m in 2014-15 for high-speed broadband to ensure universal access by 2015.  This builds on the additional £10m we are allocating in 2013-14 for Next Generation Broadband Wales from the Centrally Retained Capital Fund;
  • an additional £13m for capital investment in Flying Start.
  • £12m to expand the Welsh Housing Partnership;
  • £10m domestic energy efficiency;
  • an additional £10m to support a programme of vital flood and coastal defence improvements across Wales.

On going projects that will be  funded if the budget is passed will be: 
  • Continued protection for the health budget – with plans for the second year of the three year funding package of £288m for the NHS that we announced in last year’s Budget up to 2014-15;
  • our commitment to grow the social services budget in the Revenue Support Grant – which by 2014-15 will be £35m higher each year than in 2010-11;
  • £20m revenue funding, which forms part of the additional allocation of £55m we announced in last year’s Budget, in support of our Five for a Fairer Future commitment to double the number children benefittng from Flying Start – bringing our total additional investment for Flying Start over the three years 2012-13 to 2014-15 to £74m;
  • Protecting funding for schools – which means that we will have invested an extra £185m in schools since 2010-11;
  • Maintaining our commitment to the Pupil Deprivation Grant – with funding worth £36.8m in 2013-14, an increase of £4.7m on 2012-13.  
  • Maintaining Universal Benefits – free prescriptions, free concessionary bus travel, free school milk and breakfasts and free swimming - which provide a vital shield for the people of Wales and help to mitigate the impact of the actions being taken by the UK Government, such as Welfare Reform.

This is all fine and dandy but with 30 of 60 seats, Labour must do a deal with another party to get their budget approved.

Last year it was the Liberal Democrats that cut the deal. They secured extra money from the government for deprived school children. 

The question is who’ll cut the deal this year.

Well, no one can accuse the opposition of originality. They’ve all placed the same demands as last year. Conservatives want more spending on the NHS. They claim that local health boards are on their uppers and can’t make ends meet. So need more cash.

Plaid Cymru are still peddling help for the economy, especially the “build for Wales scheme.” 

And surprise, surprise  the Liberal Democrats' having got a deal on helping kids from a deprived background are pushing the same case again this year. They take the view that why should they change a winning formula. They hope it will clinch things this year too. And of course, the draft budget shows that the government will continue with this policy. So it looks like the Liberal Democrats have a deal. 

The final vote is expected in the Senedd in December. So plenty of time for the parties to strut their stuff.

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