Carwyn Jones is preparing the ground for the cuts his government is bound to make following the comprehensive spending review.
It will take £500,000 out of the Assembly Government’s budget next year, which he argues is more like £900,000 once inflation is taken into account.
In a speech at Cardiff University this evening, the First Minister says that he and cabinet colleagues have long been planning for this budget, due to be published on November 17.
“We have confirmed our commitment to keep our job-creating capital investment programmes this year”, he says –no mention of next year though. He adds that their clear priorities are NHS Wales, education, social services and local government.
But there’s no overall guarantee for the NHS budget, rather the Assembly Government will “drive integration and make better use of the skills of the workforce”. As for the other priorities:
“The Commission on Social Services, which is due to report very shortly, will chart a more sustainable future for care of the vulnerable; the Front-line Resources Review in Education announced earlier this year will shift resources from administration to the classroom; and we are now reviewing which local government services are best delivered locally, regionally and nationally”
Not surprisingly he warns that jobs will be lost, even if he can’t bring himself to put it quite so baldly, saying instead that “there are tough decisions ahead and these will inevitably impact on staff”.
He’s rather more explicit when he spells out that none of the so-called ‘freebies’ of which Welsh Labour is so proud will be lost:
“We remain committed to maintaining progressive universal entitlements – including the successful concessionary fares scheme, free prescriptions, free swimming and free breakfasts and milk for primary school children.
“We are committed to ensuring that our budgetary decisions do not disproportionately impact on our least-advantaged My Government has already set out our priorities. They are based on the principle of chwarae teg, fair play for all our people”.
It’s also worth noting the different levels of pledges to protect services. The First Minister talks of advancing our National Health Service, which doesn’t actually rule out budget cuts; ensuring decent resources for housing in Wales, which could still mean some cuts; but prioritising the money available “to develop the talents of our nation – from the Foundation Phase which fosters an early love of learning, Learning Pathways for young people, and our strong emphasis on skills and lifelong learning in later life”.
Welsh teachers and schoolchildren can be very glad that it is less than a year since Carwyn Jones won the Welsh Labour leadership with a pledge to increase schools’ share of the overall budget.