The Welsh Government's spending plans have been given the final go-ahead by Assembly Members. Since Labour has exactly half of the seats in the Assembly, it was only able to pass next year's budget after reaching a deal with Plaid Cymru. Plaid AMs abstained.
The Welsh Finance Minister has unveiled new plans to raise the cash to pay for new schools buildings and a major road project. Speaking as AMs vote on next year's budget, Jane Hutt said that the Welsh Government would harness local councils' borrowing powers to raise £200m for building new schools.
She said it would mean the 21st Century Schools scheme would be delivered two years early. The minister also announced plans to raise money from private sources to finish the dualling of the A465 Heads of the Valleys road.
Government sources say that would involve a non-profit making 'mechanism' rather than controversial PFI style schemes.
The Welsh Government's spending plans have been given the thumbs up by Assembly Members. Carwyn Jones managed to get his draft budget passed despite not having a majority of votes in the Senedd by reaching a deal with Plaid Cymru which will see at least £40m spent on apprenticeships.
Plaid AMs abstained in today's vote on the draft plans. Welsh Liberal Democrats voted against the budget this year despite supporting it last year when they did their own deal with Labour. The final vote comes on December 4th.
Welsh Liberal Democrats say they'll vote against the Welsh Government's spending plans because there's not enough money earmarked to help poorer pupils. The party's stance comes despite a government commitment to continue with the pupil deprivation grant, agreed as part of last year's budget deal.
The Welsh Government is also pledging to look at another Lib Dem proposal - a fund for new medical treatments. Lib Dem finance spokesman Peter Black says that's welcome, but not enough to win his party's votes.
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood tells ITV Wales why she she's agreed not to oppose the Welsh Government's spending plans and answers critics who say she's settled for a 'cheap deal.'
The Welsh Liberal Democrats won't back the Welsh Government's budget despite a Labour commitment to continue with a schools' spending plan the two parties agreed last year. The party says talks failed because Labour wouldn't agree to a 'substantial increase' in funding for the poorest pupils.
Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams said:
I have always maintained that the Welsh Liberal Democrats would not back a budget that does not make progress towards closing the funding gap with England - starting with the poorest children who need the extra help the most. For too long, social background has been a deciding factor in a child's achievement and future prospects, whether it be in health, occupation or further higher education.
The budget negotiations with the Welsh Government were positive and constructive but Labour could not agree to the substantial increase in the funding for the poorest children in our society. This budget will mean that the funding gap between English and Welsh children will increase and I am very concerned that Wales will fall further behind.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats worked hard to push for a fund to allow Welsh patients to access treatments that are not available routinely through the NHS. This fund is not about medicines or a specific illness – it is about the right treatment for the right person at the right time whether that is new forms of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, treatment for dementia sufferers or those suffering from mental health issues. We are heartened that the Welsh Government seems to be willing to take our idea forward.
Plaid Cymru sources have confirmed that the party's Assembly Members will abstain when the Welsh Government's budget is voted on in the Senedd. Last year's deal saw the Liberal Democrats voting FOR the spending plans but Plaid has only agreed NOT to oppose them.
And although the spending agreed is for two years, Plaid is not committed to abstain next year. Explaining the position, a Plaid source said, ' We don't necessarily support everything in the budget.'
The budget deal reached between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru has been criticised by Welsh Conservatives as a 'cheap deal that hails the return of an old and ineffective tage team.' That's a barbed reference to the fact that the two parties were previously in coalition government together.
The party's Shadow Finance Minister Paul Davies said:
Plaid has been bought for far less than anyone expected in what is effectively a second-rate trade-off.
The government will decide on exactly how this money is spent, not Plaid. We’re in for more of the same lazy Labour – easily spending very little to get votes.
This is nowhere near enough for the economy. We’re still missing crucial details on enterprise zones, solid decisions on business rates relief, and improvements to inward investment.
Our NHS will still face record-breaking cuts, immense pressure on frontline services, and hospital downgrades. That’s unacceptable and unnecessary.
Meanwhile Opposition leader Andrew RT Davies said,
The creation of apprenticeships is just one part of a much wider economic problem.
There is a great deal more that could be achieved with the right action and ambition.
I suspect Plaid’s internal struggles have pushed its leader into a cut-rate deal, dictated not by her, but on the whim of others.
A Welsh Government source tells me that reaching a budget deal with Plaid Cymru 'in no way means we're dissing the Lib Dems; quite the opposite.' The party put forward proposals for a health technologies fund during negotiations.
The source said: 'We want to recognise publicly that they put forward good ideas and we want to take it forward.' The Welsh Government will also continue and increase the pupil deprivation grant agreed with the Lib Dems last year.
But I'm also told neither move is dependent on the Lib Dems supporting the budget.
The First Minister Carwyn Jones and Plaid Cymru's Leader, Leanne Wood have issued a joint statement confirming their deal on the Welsh Government's budget for 2013/14.
As a result of the global economic situation, Wales is facing challenges that have not been felt for several generations. One of the biggest challenges we face, is ensuring that Wales’ young people are provided with opportunities to equip themselves with the right skills to ensure they can maximise their employment prospects in the future. In recognition of this challenge, the Welsh Labour Government and Plaid Cymru have today reached agreement on making sure a Budget for the coming financial year can be set.
We have agreed that an additional £20 million will be be put into supporting apprenticeships in Wales, targeted especially at those in the 16-24 age group. Opportunities to supplement Welsh Government resources with the maximum amount of EU funding will be sought. We will also ensure a further £20 million will be included in the indicative figures for 2014-15 for apprenticeship schemes. The exact schemes that the money will support will be determined by the Welsh Labour Government, in consultation with Plaid Cymru.
– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM and Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood AM
In addition, we have today also agreed that in support of research in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, £10 million of capital will be allocated over the next two years in support of the creation of a science park led by Bangor University, in collaboration with Aberystwyth University. It is intended that the park will also attract EU and private sector investment. Today’s agreement means that a Budget for the coming financial year can now be set on behalf of the people of Wales.