Labour and the Liberal Democrats have signed a two-year deal to pass the Welsh government budget. This will see the government get its way over financial matters up until the Assembly elections in May 2016.
Details of the full £15.1bn budget, which is down from this year’s £15.3bn sees an extra £425m over two years going to bridge the gap in the health budget. But this increase will mean cuts in other areas, indeed some budgets have already being cut during the cause of the current year. Local government, the economy, as well as the Communities programme all experience substantial cuts.
The details are as follows:
An additional £225m next year to the Welsh NHS responding to the Nuffield Challenge;
Protecting schools funding by 1% above changes to the Welsh budget overall, meaning an additional £106m will have been provided to schools over this Spending Review period;
Allocating an additional £12m to continue the Schools Challenge Cymru for next year;
A two year agreement with the Welsh Liberal Democrats which will see the Pupil Deprivation Grant (PDG) rise from £918 to £1,050 in 2015-16 and then again to £1,150 in 2016-17 and extending the PDG to nursery aged children in both years; and
A new Youth Concessionary Fares scheme for 16-17 year olds starting in September 2015
Continued investment in a range of employment programmes, including funding through Jobs Growth Wales to create 16,000 job opportunities by March 2016.
Continuing our investment in our road and rail networks with £245m in 2015-16.
Protecting funding for Flying Start, doubling the number of children benefitting to 36,000;
Maintaining funding to provide an additional 500 community support officers;
Maintaining support for Universal Benefits – free school breakfasts and school milk, free prescriptions, free swimming and concessionary fares;
As part of the Draft Budget, the Minister also announced over £100m of Capital investments in support of the Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan – including £11m for immediate investment.
£37m over this year and next to provide further investment in housing – expanding the Affordable Housing Land Scheme, Houses into Homes Scheme, Home Improvement Loans and the Town Centre Loans Scheme;
Allocating £2m towards the Gypsy and Traveller Sites Programme;
Investing £5m in the first phase of the Green Growth Wales Scheme; and
As part of the Budget Agreement with the Welsh Liberal Democrats, this includes £40m of investment in transport infrastructure to enable early delivery of key infrastructure assets. This includes an additional £30m to ensure the Cardiff Eastern Bay Link Road starts construction next year.
The Conservatives talked about the increase health budget “as too little, too late.” Plaid Cymru wanted more details of where the cuts had fallen. Their spokesperson Alun Ffred Jones pointed out that local council budgets had again being cut as had the supporting people budget.
The cuts have hit some sectors particularly hard. Further education see a hit of nearly £30 million pounds. End of life care in the hospices of Wales sees a cut of £5m. Health protection and Immunisation sees nearly a £3m fall in its budget. Local Government is £83 million down, this on top of last years swinging cuts to council budgets. The various initiatives to tackle poverty and deprivation and support of vulnerable people receive the axe, there is an overall budget reduction of over £11 million to the department’s budget.
Anyone hoping for improvement any time soon should be aware that both the main Westminster parties are talking about more austerity. In other words more cuts to our already hard pressed services here in Wales are on the way. Public services are on a downward spiral.
The family is alive and well in modern Wales. What quite constitutes a family might differ but the tales of doom and gloom portrayed in the right wing tabloids are far from being the case in Wales.
Families come in all sizes and shapes, as a programme I worked on all summer will show. (Real Families with Steve Evans 22.35 BBC 1 Wales tonight)
One thing that became clear to me whilst working on the programme was how great a financial strain many families are under.
How must these hard pressed families feel when the hear Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor get up and say that child benefit will only be increased by 1% until 2017 in the event of a Labour government.
A gesture by Ed Balls to convince the nation that he’s determined to reduce the economic deficit. But in his attempt at convincing about his economic competence Ball risks alienating ordinary families up and down the land.
Labour have not been slow in attacking the government’s austerity measures but the brunt of these measures have been particularly unfair to households with children and especially poor children.
Child benefit is £20.50 per week for the first child and £13.55 for the second and subsequent children. Gordon Brown rescued child benefits after the Thatcher and Major governments had eroded the benefits as part of his child poverty strategy. But, true to form, as soon as the coalition came to power in 2010, it froze the benefit for four years and said it would be increased by 1% rather than in line with inflation for three subsequent years. Families are getting around £6 less per week than they did in 2010 as a result.
Now Ball announces he’s to continue the coalitions work. Now there will be no relief for poor families until after 2017.
Families with children have seen their disposable income fall since 2009-10. Living standards of families with children have fallen because price inflation has exceeded income growth in every year for the last six years, in part because of the freeze in child benefit.
The Welsh Government has made it a priority to eliminate child poverty by 2020. This looks like another target that will be missed. Carwyn Jones’s own colleagues in Westminster are making his laudable ambition almost impossible to realise.
For Labour to produce an unjust, shortsighted policy goes in someway to explain why large numbers feel that the parties in Westminster are all the same. Who can deny that in this policy area they are certainly singing from the same hymn sheet?
Green, yellow, amber and red are backed by government. No not some new sophisticated traffic system but a system introduced into schools. The colour code replaces the school banding system. From January, the best performing schools will be rated green, followed by yellow, amber and red, for those needing “significant improvement”.the new scheme will use data over a three period rather than just the one that’s current in use . Initially the top 25% of schools will be in the green zone, but if all schools do well they could in theory all move up to that section.
No more “sticking plaster” approaches to further devolution in the UK was Carwyn Jones’s response to the Scottish referendum result. He wants a coherent response with more powers for Wales starting with the full implementation of all of the Silk Commission’s recommendations. He even advocated Home rule to his party’s conference. All the parties in the Assembly were agreed that the proposed lockstep rule, limiting income tax powers should be changed. Although it is widely expected that Welsh Secretary is sympathetic to this and is likely to conceded on the matter. Plaid Cymru called for Wales to be treated equally with Scotland when new powers were being devolved to the two nations.
According to a poll conducted by ICM for BBC Wales those wanting Welsh independence have dropped to 3% and that’s since the results of Scotland were known. But at the same time more people want Wales to have considerably more powers than they have at present (49%). Little wonder Carwyn Jones is calling for home rule. If a politician sees a bandwagon their natural inclination is to jump on board. Incidentally, the same survey saw a decline in the numbers that want the Assembly scrapped with only 12% wanting it abolished.
Nigel Farage, ahead of the UKIP annual conference claims his party is emerging as the main opposition to Labour in Wales. The latest BBC poll shows support for the party has doubled from 7% to 14% since March and came second to Labour in the European elections. There will be more such claims from their Doncaster conference, which is held on the racecourse. A reminder perhaps that many a punter’s prediction can end in tears.
A word to the wise, if you are worried about your health buy a house near a hospital. Why? Well it’s a bit of a lottery wherever you’d receive an ambulance in time to save your life. Last month the Welsh Ambulance Service again missed its target of reaching 65% of life-threatening incidents in eight minutes. In August, 56.9% of ambulances met the eight-minute-target, down from 61.8% in the same month last year. Despite the Health Minister demanding “urgent improvements” in June seems that things are getting worse rather than better.
Two certainties in life – death and taxes. On the latter the Welsh Government for the first time in 700 years intend to collect and manage its own taxes. Powers over business rates, stamp duty land tax and landfill tax are coming their way. So Jane Hutt the Finance Minister announced the creation of a Welsh Revenue Authority to make sure that there are no tax dodgers in Wales. The new taxes, due to begin in 2018, will be the first to be set and raised in Wales since the 13th Century.
Another Welsh MP has decided to throw in the towel. Dai Havard is to step down as Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney at the next election. He reasons that given the debate over further devolution and any constitutional change, it would “best” for a new representative to become directly involved from the start. The former union official, 64, also says that he reaches retirement age soon. Elected in 2001, he had a majority of over 4,000 from the last election. It will be interesting whether the Labour party insists on an all-women short list here given the ructions caused in the neighbouring constituency of Cynon Valley.
The last Labour conference before the general election was a lacklustre affair. The leader spoke for eighty minutes without notes but forgot to mention the deficit and immigration and was roundly condemned for such omissions by the right wing press, now there’s a surprise. See http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/09/a-ten-year-plan/.
No great surprises that Nicola Sturgeon launched a bid to replace Alex Salmond as SNP leader and first minister of Scotland. In making her announcement said she was “more convinced than ever” that Scotland would one day be independent. Mr Salmond announced he was stepping down in the wake of Scots rejecting independence in last Thursday’s referendum. Meanwhile, the SNP now claims to be the third largest party in the UK, after the party said its membership stood at more than 50,000, which it said overtook the figure for the Liberal Democrats UK-wide, reported to be 43,451.
BBC/ICM poll Wales Con 23%(-1) Lab 38%(-4) LD 7%(-2) Plaid 13%(-1) UKIP 14% (+7)
YouGov/Sun Con 33% Lab 35% LD 7% UKIP 14% Green 5%
Ashcroft Con 27%(-6) Lab 33%(nc) LD 9%(nc) UKIP 17% (+3) Green 6%(nc)
YouGov/Sun Con 33% Lab 35% LD 7% UKIP 14% Green 5%
Populus Con 33% Lab 37% LD 9% UKIP 12%
YouGov/Sunday Times Con 31% Lab 36% LD 7% UKIP 16% Green 5%