Finance Minister Jane Hutt has announced the draft Welsh budget for 2013/14. She said boosting the economy, creating jobs, investing in schools and hospitals and protecting universal benefits are at the heart of her proposals. There is an additional £175 million investment over the next two years.
£40 million on improving the Heads of the Valleys Road between Brynmawr and Tredegar
£25 million for improvements to the A55 Conwy Tunnel
£30 million for hospital improvements
£25 million for schools and colleges
£10 million on high speed broadband
£13 million on facilities for the 'Flying Start' programme for disadvantaged children
£12 million on social housing
£10 million on energy-efficient homes
£10 million on flood and coastal defence improvements
The plans have been criticised by the Welsh Conservatives for giving the health service 'the toughest funding settlement in the UK.' The department is due to receive an increase of just 0.2% next year which, when inflation and rising costs in the health service are taken into account is effectively a cut of 2.3%. Shadow Finance Minister Paul Davies said:
But in the Senedd, Jane Hutt gave that accusation short shrift.
The Welsh Government needs the votes of another party to pass its budget. Last year the Liberal Democrats negotiated a deal which led to over £36m of spending on schools aimed at benefitting the poorest pupils. What Jane Hutt is proposing would see that increased by £5m next year. That's not enough for the Welsh Lib Dems. Finance Spokesman Peter Black said:
The party's leader Kirsty Williams has already held preliminary talks with the Finance Minister. I asked her if, during those talks, she'd be holding out for the sort of extension to the 'Pupil Premium' policy announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last week. That will see more money for pupils leaving primary school without the expected skills in Maths and English. Kirsty Williams refused to be drawn on that.
Plaid Cymru's finance spokesman, Ieuan Wyn Jones criticised what he said was the Welsh Government's failure to do more to boost the economy:
The final budget plans have to passed by December. Negotiations about any changes to them have already begun.