We have heard a lot from Carwyn Jones and his ministers about what they do not want to hear in today’s Budget speech by the Chancellor. Regional pay for public sector workers tops the list, although it’s unlikely that George Osborne is quite ready to announce that DVLA workers in Swansea will have their pay frozen until it matches local private sector salaries. The Treasury’s inquiry into the pay of civil servants in the less prosperous parts of the UK has not reported yet.
But what does the Welsh Government want to hear from George Osborne? 'Shovel-ready' are the magic words ministers are hoping for. It's a new piece of jargon that we are going to have to get used to. It mostly means construction projects where there are no planning or other obstacles to starting work straightaway but a lack of money is causing a delay. It can cover roads, schools, hospitals, social housing and even broadband connection.
The Welsh government claims that it is the kind of public spending the Chancellor should prioritise to stop the economy slipping back into recession. A new construction contract has an instant effect of creating new jobs and putting money into people’s pockets.They argue that it might be extra public expenditure but it’s good public expenditure.
The Finance Minister, Jane Hutt, met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, several weeks ago and followed it up with a letter highlighting ‘shovel-ready’ schemes, including a £350-million improvement to the Heads of the Valleys Road and a £109-million upgrade at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
It’s quite likely that the Chancellor will announce some more money for such schemes and Wales will get automatically get its share under the Treasury’s formula. Expect to hear the Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan praising a valuable boost to the Welsh economy and Jane Hutt wishing it had been more.
In the longer term, the Welsh Government has to decide how it will respond to the UK Government’s plans for more private sector involvement in road schemes.Talks are already underway between the two governments about whether the tolls on the Severn Bridges could help to pay for motorway improvements around Newport once the construction costs of the second Severn crossing have been paid off.