2017-2018 WELSH BUDGET ANALYSIS | POLITICS FEATURE
Health, Wellbeing and Sport are the areas set to benefit the most from the recent published Welsh budget, with a total of 240m ringfenced for the Welsh NHS, while central services and administration is set to face a significant 8.4% decrease in spending to £368m. Environment and Rural Affairs will similarly see a significant 4.8% decrease to £368m.
The move to decrease spending on the environment and the impact off this decision on areas such as community flood management has drawn criticisms of hypocrisy from UKIP AM Mark Reckless, who claims Welsh Labour criticised previous calls by his party to cut the budget for climate change completely. Capital spending for flood risk management and water will fall over two years from £30.4m in 2016-17 to £17m by 2018-19.
In response to the increase in the NHS budget Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe has raised concerns that public services could in her words “fall off a cliff” unless greater emphasis is put on preventive health measures, due to issues such as increasing levels of diabetes among the population. This concern is shared by the Welsh Local Government Association who have stated that if the NHS continues to consume an ever-increasing proportion of the Welsh budget, due to rising demand, services that help people stay healthy could lose out.
Steve Thomas, chief executive of the Welsh Local Government Association told the BBC; “If we carry on the same route, especially if austerity continues and deepens in this next period, the public sector will be schools and hospitals and very little else.”
In order to pass the budget, Labour have struck an agreement with Plaid Cymru, covering £119m worth of new spending – including a promise of £30m extra funding for higher and further education and a £5m to boost the Welsh language. Such a deal is necessary for Labour after it failed to secure a majority in the assembly election earlier this year. Further commitments in the budget include £111m for apprenticeships and traineeships while local government has been given a real-terms cut in its day-to-day spending, but a large increase in the amount of capital funds available for one-off projects, though the Schools Challenge Cymru scheme is one project which is set to be discontinued. Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford also promised £10m for a pilot scheme to provide 30 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds
Yet, despite an increase in total spending by 2.7% to £14.95bn and reassurances by the UK government that the Welsh Government’s allocation is to increase by £370m over the next four years compared to what had been set out in the spending review, Mr Drakeford warned AMs of “further cuts to come” from UK government decisions.
Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies meanwhile dismissed the Labour-Plaid Cymru deal as “groundhog day again”, telling BBC Radio Wales that “the nationalists are rowing in behind Labour and propping them up for another 12 months of failure”.
In contrast, commentating on the deal, Plaid Cymru finance spokesman Adam Price stated that his party had secured “tangible improvements to the lives of people in Wales” by finding “common ground” with Labour.
words MAX DEAN