By Kirsty Williams
Kirsty Williams AM is the Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Throughout the summer we have seen a period of phoney war, as Labour and Plaid Cymru rail against the Westminster government and ‘cuts’ that hadn’t yet been announced, talking up the fear of a ‘double dip’ recession. Labour spent the summer in denial about the mess they created and both Labour and Plaid Cymru are in denial about the measures needed to get us out of that mess.
Two things have now changed.
Firstly, we have a CSR announcement. I do not pretend that some of the cuts in public services will be painful and Welsh people understand that the pain can’t be stopped at the Severn Bridge. However, the CSR settlement is better news for Wales than many were predicting and certainly a better settlement than the Welsh Assembly Government was planning for.
The settlement means that for the Welsh Government, revenue expenditure will be down by less than 2 per cent in real terms each year, less than they were planning for. Overall, the budget will be reduced by 12 per cent over four years; the Government were planning for 16.5 per cent over three years. Despite the obvious glee with which ministers have been playing the victim card, Wales has a better settlement than the UK overall.
Secondly, we saw the growth figures for the last quarter. The economy grew by 0.8 per cent, twice the rate that many economists predicted. We must all be encouraged by the news which suggests that a private sector led recovery can help avoid the threat of a double dip recession.
These are difficult times for families, businesses and for government. We all need to do more with less. But we must not lose the self-confidence and optimism that Wales can come out of these tough times and build a stronger economy and a fairer society. Everything we do in Wales must build toward those goals.
We need to create a new beginning for the Welsh economy, where profits and ideas benefit the communities where they were developed. It is by giving power back to our entrepreneurs who can create the jobs and prosperity Wales needs that we can transform living standards. We need radical measures to ensure that Wales competes in a global marketplace and to encourage our own home grown business.
And of course attention now shifts to how the Welsh Government will make the savings needed in its budget, in a way that minimises the impact in Wales.
The Government needs to be absolutely ruthless in cutting waste in government, in scrapping policies and investment that don’t deliver targeted results, ensuring each and every scheme delivers value for money for the taxpayer. This should be accompanied by prioritisation; the Government must be focused on protecting essential services and rooting out unnecessary spending.
We now have certainty on public spending and some hopeful signs on the economy. We can start planning to ensure that the cuts the Welsh Government makes are carried out fairly, with minimum impact on front line services. We must make the right decisions to help the Welsh economy to grow.
That is the job of the Welsh Government, they need to move on quickly from the blame game or it is Welsh people who will suffer.