Senedd Members to vote on Welsh Government budget plan with focus on NHS and education
Senedd Members will vote on Welsh Government spending plans later with calls for more money for the NHS and education.
The draft budget was published in December. Today’s vote marks a midway point before the final proposals are put in place and voted on in March.
It’s an opportunity for opposition parties to try to change the plans. Ahead of today’s debate there have been across-the-board calls for more spending on the NHS and an attempt by Plaid Cymru to increase Welsh rates of income tax to fund a bigger pay rise for health workers.
When it was published, the Welsh Government described the draft budget as a spending plan which “protects public services and the most vulnerable in the face of a perfect storm of financial pressures.”
It includes an extra £165m for frontline NHS services and £227m for councils including on schools. There’s an extra £28m for the education budget and £60m supporting the war in Ukraine.
The Conservatives want to see more spending on clearing hospital backlogs by introducing what they call “care hotels” and surgical hubs; support for “microbusiness” and “future-proofing” business here in Wales; freezing council tax and spending on efforts to bring empty properties back into use as homes.
The party says that increases in health and education spending amount to cuts in real terms (taking into account the effect of inflation) equivalent to £340m for health and social services and £300m for education.
Shadow Finance Minister, Peter Fox MS said: “Only in Labour run Wales do we see cuts to the Welsh NHS. They did it before in 2012 and they’re doing it again in 2023. Why are Labour not prioritising the Welsh NHS at time when it needs it most?
“The Welsh Government receives £1.20 for every £1 spent in England, yet Labour have consistently failed to address the people’s priorities. Waiting lists are the longest in the UK, the Welsh economy is being throttled and our children’s futures are being held back.
“The people of Wales are some of the most innovative, hardworking and aspirational people in the world. Our potential needs to be unlocked by a Welsh Government that makes the right political choices.
“Our action plan brings fresh ideas to address the longstanding issues we have had to endure under Labour, to help bill payers, entrepreneurs, young people and those on NHS waiting lists. We will deliver on the people’s priorities.”
The Liberal Democrats want to see an increase in funding for NHS Dentistry, a greater commitment towards capital funding for insulation programmes; and adequate funding for Natural Resources Wales.
Plaid Cymru is tabling an amendment to try to increase Welsh rates of income tax in order to fund an 8% pay rise for NHS workers.
It is proposing that Welsh rates of income tax should go up by 1p at the basic rate, 2p at the higher rate and 3p for the additional rate.
Party leader, Adam Price, says that “An unprecedented crisis calls for genuine solutions” and says the proposed increase would raise £317m to add to the Welsh Government budget. He says that money would pay for:
“A fairer pay increase of 8% next year for NHS workers, the first real terms pay rise in more than a decade”
A minimum wage of £12 an hour for care workers
“Addressing public sector pay pressures and a package of financial support for those in greatest need”
But speaking as he published the amendment, Adam Price said, “An unprecedented crisis calls for genuine solutions.
“Fair Pay for nurses will mean fair play for patients and what signal a real investment in our NHS, putting in place for the future the extra cash that would allow us to provide more financial support to those in greatest need, such as extending free school meals to secondary schools to help families, supporting people struggling to pay their mortgages or increasing the educational maintenance allowance that aims to help young people continue their education.
“While Westminster short changes us at every turn, the Welsh Government is not powerless. We have these powers at our disposal, it's time to use them.”
The amendment will almost certainly be defeated. A Welsh Government spokesperson said that “Now is not the right time to raise the basic rate of income tax as it would hurt many who are already struggling with rising inflation and higher energy bills.
“Increasing the higher and additional rates of income tax in the way Plaid Cymru are proposing would only raise £75m – the bulk of the revenue raised under these proposals would come from basic rate tax payers in Wales.”
However the Welsh Government has also been criticised by the cross-party Finance Committee for refusing to look into the impact of varying rates “which suggests that the Welsh Government had not seriously considered changing tax rates for the next financial year.”
The committee made another criticism too, of what it says is “a lack of clarity” about where more or less money is being spent.
The committee’s chair, Peredur Owen Griffiths said that, “We understand that the funding decisions facing the Welsh Government are extraordinarily tough, but we were surprised and worried at the lack of candour in the Draft Budget.
“This is not the right way to deal with our Committee and the Senedd generally, and undermines legitimate democratic scrutiny.
“The Draft Budget’s lack of detail – exacerbated by inflation and poor communication between Welsh and UK governments – is worrying, and it was surprising to learn that the Finance Minister had not made a proper assessment of changing the tax rates which suggests that it was never a serious consideration.”
The committee has also asked the Welsh Government to rethink some of its plans, calling on it to introduce more measures to support people’s living costs.