Posted: Wed 6th Mar 2024

Senedd approves Welsh Budget amid service cut fears

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

The Senedd backed the Welsh Government’s spending plans for 2024-25 despite concerns about “extreme” cuts to public services.

Rebecca Evans told the chamber an extra £190m has been allocated in the final budget for the 12 months from April since draft plans were published late last year.

Wales’ finance minister said the extra funding has been allocated to areas where pressures are most severe, with £14.4m for councils to spend on social care and schools.

Ms Evans said the Welsh Government has reversed a £10.5m cut to the social care workforce grant and restored £5m to the children and communities grant.

She told MSs an extra £10m will be made available for apprenticeship and employability programmes in case Tata closes the blast furnaces in Port Talbot.

Ms Evans warned that full details of consequential funding from the UK Government came late in the financial year.

‘Fundamentally wrong’

She said: “Such late notification has resulted in us being forced to make choices in our draft budget that could have been averted.”

Ms Evans added: “There is something fundamentally wrong with a UK funding arrangement that allows this to happen.”

Peredur Owen Griffiths, Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister, who chairs the finance committee, sympathised with the Welsh Government’s position.

He said: “It’s highly regrettable that we are voting on a final budget today, a day before a major fiscal event at Westminster.

“We have long called for the Treasury to treat the Senedd with respect when it comes to the timing of its fiscal events and it’s clear that this issue persists.”

‘Underfunding’

Peter Fox, the Conservatives’ shadow minister, argued the budget fails to address the issues faced by families and businesses in Wales.

He warned: “The Welsh Government’s continuous blaming of everyone else except themselves for their poor record is holding the country back.”

Mr Fox described the budget as a missed opportunity to address systemic issues in the NHS and he accused Plaid Cymru of propping up the Welsh Government.

He said: “Our Welsh NHS is a case in point.

“After this budget, it will still be under mounting pressure, which it is not prepared for, as a direct result of decades of underfunding by successive Labour governments here.”

‘Political handbrake’

Rhun ap Iorwerth criticised the “austerity-driven” UK Government, accusing Westminster of short-changing Wales and pulling the political handbrake on the nation’s ambitions.

Plaid Cymru’s leader urged Labour to commit to fair funding should it form the next UK Government, saying: “The silence on that is still deafening.”

He added: “We will be back in the same position year on year, unless there is a change of attitude from the UK Government and a real commitment to fair funding for Wales.”

Mr Iorwerth focused on the “utterly unsustainable” trajectory of spending on health and care, which makes up more than 50% of the Welsh budget.

Warning of the risk of entrenching a vicious circle, he said: “The £425m in additional funding for frontline services will barely scratch the surface….

“The shift of money away from so many preventative programmes is another worry.”

‘Extreme cuts’

Mike Hedges raised concerns that only an hour of Senedd time was set aside to discuss the final Welsh budget on March 5.

“I have attended council budget meetings significantly longer than this,” said the Labour MS, who urged the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru to produce alternative budgets.

Gareth Davies, a Conservative who represents Vale of Clwyd, criticised a £56m cash-terms cut to education after Wales’ poor performance in international Pisa tests.

He raised warnings from the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru that 90% of schools in Wales will have to make cuts.

Mr Davies said: “I received a letter last week from school leaders across the county warning of extreme cuts that they are being forced to make.

“This will mean children in Denbighshire will lose their pastoral care, wellbeing support, behaviour support, mental health support, learning support and extracurricular activities.”

‘Stark and painful’

Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems’ leader in Wales, said funding is being spread far too thinly.

Ms Dodds warned that the budget fails to provide the additional financial support that schools need to meet £177m of inflationary pressures.

She also raised concerns about the disproportionate impact of a £62m cut to rural affairs.

Rhianon Passmore, a Labour backbencher who represents Islwyn, said the 2024-25 budget round presented the most stark and painful choices since the dawn of devolution.

“Put simply, we do not have enough to meet the needs of the people of Wales,” she said.

Culture cuts

Heledd Fychan, a Plaid Cymru MS who represents South Wales Central, focused on cuts to the culture budget, warning that the future of Wales’ national collections is at risk.

She raised concerns about potential job losses at the National Library, Arts Council, Amgueddfa Cymru and the wider sector.

Ms Fychan said: “What we’ve seen is cut after cut being made and I’m very much concerned about the future of the national collections.“

The motion on the final budget was approved 28-15, with the Conservatives voting against. 

Plaid Cymru abstained in line with its cooperation agreement with the Welsh Government.

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

 

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