Budget: What to watch out for

Photo: PA, Hannah McKay

There should be some extra money for the Welsh Government when the Chancellor unveils his budget later, but it's not clear if there'll be any news on big projects like the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.

Philip Hammond will set out his spending plans for the first time since becoming Chancellor. It'll also be the last spring budget before it moves to a single, annual autumn event later this year.

He's expected to announce more money for the health service and social care in England and more funding to increase the number of free schools in England. Both moves will lead to extra money for the Welsh Government but it isn't obliged to spend it on health and education.

The Chancellor is also likely to announce money to help small businesses cope with increased business rates as a result of a recent revaluation.

The Welsh Government has already announced a £10m relief scheme on this side of the border.

There have been hints that there could be news of a UK Government programme to boost the Swansea area, but mixed messages about whether or not it will be included in today's announcements.

The Swansea Bay City Region City Deal could be worth £1.3bn for the area.

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns held a meeting recently along with former cabinet minister Lord Heseltine to scrutinise the area's bid.

Sources close to the Chancellor told me that a decision is near but couldn't say whether or not it would be included in the budget.

Separately, there are many hoping for more news on plans for a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay. They may still be waiting once the dust settles later.

In the north, there are plans similar to a city deal known as a 'North Wales Growth Deal.' Again, it's not clear if there'll be any steps forward announced or not.

The Labour MP Carolyn Harris is hoping for movement from the government following her campaign to abolish charges for children's funerals.

She's met the Chancellor and argues that the amount involved, estimated at £10m, wouldn't trouble the Treasury but would ease some of the pain of parents at one of the most difficult times.

'End unnecessary cuts'

Mark Drakeford calls for the go ahead for infrastructure projects Credit: PA, Tim Ireland

The Welsh Finance Secretary has written to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to call for the budget to be used 'as an opportunity to sign the Swansea Bay City Deal and to 'confirm the electrification of the Great Western mainline to Swansea will be delivered immediately after electrification to Cardiff is completed in 2018.'

In his letter, Mark Drakeford said,

I remain very concerned about the impact of further cuts to public spending and the UK Government’s intention to press ahead with £3.5bn of cuts in 2019-20.

Our budget is already substantially lower in real terms than it was in 2010 as a result of the UK Government’s years of austerity – additional cuts on top of those we are already facing could mean a further £175m reduction to our budget.

These cuts are unnecessary and counter-productive – now is the time for the UK Government to end its damaging policy of austerity and provide a much-needed fiscal stimulus to boost economic confidence and support vital public services.

– Mark Drakeford AM, Finance Secretary

Other parties have also helpfully offered their suggestions. The Liberal Democrats want to see £4bn spent on schools in England, which they say would result in extra funding of £226m for Wales.

Plaid Cymru is calling for the Chancellor to 'abandon the failed austerity experiment' and commit to infrastructure projects in Wales.

Wales has waited far too long for Westminster to deliver on major infrastructure projects. Successive Westminster governments have focused on extortionate infrastructure projects in England such as HS2 and Crossrail while Wales is still waiting for one inch of electrified rail.

The Chancellor must come forward with a commitment to deliver on the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and full electrification of all of Wales’ main railway lines. These projects are modest compared to the commitments in England but they are crucial to jobs and wages in Wales.

– Dai Llloyd AM, Plaid Cymru

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