Adrian Masters looks ahead to the publication of the Welsh Assembly Government’s draft budget and what it means for Wales
‘Apprehensive.’ That was the answer the Deputy Minister for Children, Huw Lewis, gave when I asked him how he was feeling ahead of the publication tomorrow of the Assembly Government’s draft budget. ‘Anyone who works in the public realm would be apprehensive about spending in the future,’ he added.
I had been asking him about the possible effect of spending cuts on the Heads of the Valleys dualling scheme , but he refused to speculate on that or any other details before publication which is expected at 3pm tomorrow.
I’d thought that project might be a target for delay or cutbacks simply because the one thing we know for certain before tomorrow is that capital spending (in other words spending on long-term projects like buildings or transport) is going to see the biggest reduction.
It’ll be cut by 41% over the next four years with the majority of that cut next year. Not only that but, as part of its response to the recession, ministers have already spent part of the capital budget for the next two years.
In an early sign of the political position that you can expect the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition to take after tomorrow, Mr Lewis said that ministers are ‘not simply going to throw up our hands and say we are victims of a bully’ (exactly what the Assembly Government’s critics say it HAS been doing since the UK government’s spending review).
Well no longer, according to Huw Lewis. He said tomorrow will show that ‘we are not passive victims. We have devolution, we have the Assembly government and we have the option of a referendum next year to enhance our power.’
On the other side of the political divide, the Welsh Conservatives have already made their position clear.
They think the health budget alone should be protected from cuts. I asked their leader Nick Bourne if he agreed with estimates made by his opponents that ringfencing health would mean cuts of 20-25% on every other budget.
Yes, he said. And he acknowledged that not protecting health would mean reductions would be more in the order of 11% to each department.
He won’t say, though, where the 20% cuts would come although he insists that his party has ‘done the work’ of identifying potential savings.
The Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, Kirsty Williams, is also refusing to spell out where her party would make cuts if they were making the budget decisions.
What she has said is that she and her colleagues have identified ‘additional waste and capacity’ in Assembly Government spending.
Expect her to keep the focus on the way ministers have spent the money they’ve had over the last ten years.
So the battle lines are drawn. Bring on the budget.