Don’t panic, don’t panic’ the memorable words of Corporal Jones in the televison series ’˜Dad’s Army.’ These words were only used in a frightening and dangerous situation were panic was a tempting response to the given situation.
And who could blame Jane Hutt if panic was her response to the financial situation she faces as part of her new portfolio as Minister of Finance and Business in Carwyn Jones’s new government.
Certainly we all have cause to worry. Why?
According to Chancellor Alaister Darling, Britains economy is worst than he forecasted. In April, at the time of the budget, he estimated that the economy would contract by about 3.5%, but now his revised figure is nearer 4.75%. It is not often a politician admits that the situation is worse than he originally thought. But the Chancellor admitted that the economy was in a bad way and the recessesion deeper than he had thought. As a consequence the country faces massive cuts in its public services.
The full extent of the cuts in public expenditure amount to about a fifth of the budget of the Westminster government. Some economists put the figure at £36 billion over the next three years.
When will we feel the pinch? After the next general election. Now there’s a surprise!
If the Chancellor is going to meet his own target of getting the national debt under control by 2017-18 he will have to raise an additional £76 billion. A sum equivalent to £2,400 for each family in Britain.
Where does this all leave Wales? Well, in all truth, on its backside.
There is a saying that if the USA sneezes the rest of the world gets pneumonia. It is certainly true that when England has cuts, things are a whole lot worse in Wales.
Cuts of the size been contemplated are equivalent to all the additional expenditure since 1997 being undone by 2018.Where, then, is Jane Hutt going to wield her sharp knife? We have already seen an about turn on student tuition fees. Where or what next? Free prescriptions; free school breakfasts; free bus travel for the elderly; additional Child Trust fund payments for deprived children. All these have been introduced by the Assembly government since its establishment. Will they last in the new world of scarce resources? Where exactly will the cuts fall in Wales?
It is incumbent on the Coalition government to come clean on this at start a national debate on priorites in lean times. An open and honest debate we deserve no less from our politicians. What about it, Jane?