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:
It’s Groundhog Day for our National Health Service. Snubbed again and still facing the toughest funding settlement in the UK. Hospital downgrades and closures threaten communities the length and breadth of Wales as a result of Labour’s record-breaking cuts. Lessons have not been learned and the plight of frontline health workers has not been heeded. The First Minister has admitted our health boards probably won’t break even and bail-outs will be required again, yet there is no additional investment in this Draft Budget. Chaos and confusion reign.
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:
In its current form, the Welsh Liberal Democrats cannot support the draft budget as we don’t believe it goes far enough to tackle the problem of making sure that children from deprived backgrounds get the fair start in life they deserve. We are pleased that the government has honoured its commitment to continue the pupil premium funding for this and future years at the existing level of £450 per pupil. This reflects the agreement negotiated with the Labour government by the Welsh Liberal Democrats last year.
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:
This is the second budget which delivers significant cuts to key services. Against this background of cuts we believe that the Welsh Government should be doing more to invest in the Welsh economy by using innovative schemes such as Build4Wales to invest in schools, roads and hospitals. We also want to see the Welsh Government doing more to target youth unemployment, which has increased dramatically over recent years. We don’t want another lost generation as happened in the 1980s under Thatcher.**
The final budget plans have to passed by December. Negotiations about any changes to them have already begun.