Welsh Government 'not consulted' over budget raid for Ukraine military aid
The announcement of extra military help for Ukraine has sparked anger from the Welsh Government which says it was given no choice about having its budget cut to help pay for it.
The Prime Minister has announced that the UK will provide another £1 billion of military support to Ukraine.
£95m of that money comes from the budgets of Welsh and Scottish Governments even though decisions on defence policy and spending are not devolved.
The UK Government says the £1bn will pay for “sophisticated air defence systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles, innovative new electronic warfare equipment and thousands of pieces of vital kit for Ukrainian soldiers.”
According to the UK Government, the £1 billion total comes from underspends in each of its departments and “£95 million in contributions from the Scottish and Welsh Governments’ budgets – recognising the wide importance of tackling Russian aggression.”
However I’m told that the devolved governments were informed by the UK Treasury that the contributions would be taken from their budgets with no previous consultation.
The UK Government disputes that claim.
A spokesperson said, “To say the Welsh Government was not consulted on this matter is incorrect – they were consulted and agreed to make a contribution.
“Following discussions last week with the Chief Secretary, the finance ministers in the Welsh and Scottish Governments agreed to make a contribution as part of the funding being provided to maximise the international effort to support Ukraine, following Russia’s unprovoked, illegal invasion.”
Officials say "devolved governments were given the opportunity to offer an upfront contribution rather than take a reduction in the block grant via the Barnett formula later in the year, as per usual arrangements" and that the Scottish Government offered a contribution of £65m while the Welsh Government offered £30m, reflecting their different financial settlements.
In its version of events, the Welsh Government says it decided not to contest the raid on its budget because it wants to see military support to Ukraine continue.
Welsh Finance minister Rebecca Evans said: “We are committed to supporting Ukraine and its people as the war continues.
“It is right the UK should continue to provide much-needed military support and we will continue to provide humanitarian support to the many people from Ukraine who arrive in Wales every day seeking safety and sanctuary from the horrors of this conflict.
“What is not right is using money that should be for investment in devolved areas, like health and education, to fund a non-devolved spending area – military aid and defence.
“We have accepted this outcome because of our ongoing commitment to support Ukrainian people and to avoid future budgetary uncertainty, but funding for these areas should rightly be met by the UK Government.”
That position was echoed by Plaid Cymru which said the budget raid was another example of how the UK Government "heavily undermined" devolution.
The party's finance spokesperson Llyr Gruffydd said, “It is right that we continue to provide Ukraine and its people with the humanitarian and military support they need as the war continues.
“However, money that is there to be invested in areas that Wales has powers over – health, education, transport – shouldn't be used to fund a non-devolved spending area and we hope that, in a week where we have seen devolution heavily undermined, that this case isn't precedent setting from the UK Government.”
Announcing the new funding, Boris Johnson said “UK weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine’s defences against this onslaught. And we will continue to stand squarely behind the Ukrainian people to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine.”
The latest row comes at the same time as differences over defence spending between the Prime Minister, army chiefs and his own defence minister spilled out into the open.
On Tuesday a senior government source acknowledged that the possibility of inflation rising to 11% this year could mean Boris Johnson’s UK Government would be forced to abandon its commitment to increase spending on defence by 0.5% above inflation.
"The manifesto was written before £400 billion had to be spent locking people up for their own safety because of the global pandemic," the source said.
"There is a reality check on things that were offered in a different age which is the only reasonable thing that we can expect."
The new head of the Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders, said planned cuts to the size of the British Army would be “perverse”.
Meanwhile the UK Government’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “For too long defence has lived on a diet of smoke and mirrors, hollowed-out formations and fantasy savings when in the last few years threats from states have started to increase.
“It is now time to signal that the peace dividend is over and investment needs to continue to grow before it becomes too late to address the resurgent threat and the lessons learned in Ukraine. It is time to mobilise, be ready and be relevant.”
The Prime Minister said on Tuesday that the pledge would be kept over the course of a parliamentary term, in other words four or five years.
He said: “We have been running way ahead of that target for a while now.
“We are confident that we will meet that – you don’t look at inflation as a single data point, you look at it over the life of the parliament and I’m confident we will meet that.”