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Politics, Welsh Government

Welsh Budget latest / Sharp End preview

Well it seems at least one of the things I said earlier this week about the behind-the-scenes talks on the Welsh budget was wrong: the opposition parties certainly have been working together.

It’s not quite a return of the rainbow coalition which almost happened after the 2007 but what I expect to happen this afternoon is certainly one of the most significant moves in Cardiff Bay politics for a long time.

I understand the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats will table a joint amendment to the draft budget which will be debated next week.

I’m told it sets out the budget priorities of each of the three parties, allowing them to vote for something and not simply vote against the draft budget.

I’m also told that it comes as a reaction against what several sources describe as unhappiness or frustration with the ‘immobility’ of the Welsh Government.

Now it’s not going to change the budget. In the short term, even if the votes next Tuesday are split it won’t be carried because the Presiding Officer would be obliged to vote against the amendment.

And anyway, the final budget doesn’t have to be voted on until the end of the year.

But nevertheless it’s a significant sign that the opposition parties have been able to put aside their political differences and – probably more importantly – their personal differences in order to act together to put pressure on Carwyn Jones.

The First Minister meanwhile has been giving me his view of the budget talks.

Carwyn Jones said that yes, talks are progressing and taking place with ‘more than one party.’ When I asked him if they were close to a deal, he said, ‘There’s promise but a lot of work to do yet.’

Some sources have complained that Labour had been reluctant to alter its spending plans significantly and had hoped to achieve that by opening up discussions on the £38.5m Wales has received as a knock-on effect of the English council tax free.

But Carwyn Jones says he understands he’s in no position to keep his budget intact, telling me

I understand if other parties are going to agree or abstain, they will want to show they’ve had an influence on spending. I understand that

and that he

wanted to give the other parties the opportunity to discuss that pot of money, but there will be other areas; I understand that.

But he said he wants to reach agreement as soon as possible, hoping that it won’t ‘go to the wire’ so that that £38.5m can be released as soon as possible.

You can see my interview with the First Minister in tonight’s Sharp End.

I’ve also been putting to him some of the criticism levelled at him by the opposition parties, particularly Plaid, about his handling of the economy.

And also I’ve been asking him whether or not there’s a split in Welsh Labour over the future of the way we choose our Assembly members.

My guests for tonight’s programme are the Conservative AM Nick Ramsay, Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood and the health economist, Siobhan McLelland.

As well as discussing the budget talks and Carwyn Jones’ handling of the economy, we’ll also be looking at the prospect of major change in our network of hospitals.

Esyllt Carr reports on the Welsh Government’s plans to introduce an opt-out system for organ donation.

Join me for tonight’s hour-long edition of Sharp End 1035pm ITV1 Wales.

UPDATE 1520pm

The joint opposition amendment has now been tabled. This is the text:

The National Assembly for Wales…

Declines to support the draft budget of the Welsh Government for 2012-13, laid in the Table Office on 4 October 2011 by the Minister for Finance, on the grounds that it does not adequately address:

a) The financial pressures faced by the National Health Service;

b) The worsening economic crisis;

c) The financial pressures faced by schools to meet the needs of disadvantaged children; and

d) The financial pressures on capital projects.

UPDATE 1530

Here’s what the Liberal Democrats have to say about their reasons for joining with the other two opposition parties:

Peter Black, Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Finance Minister said:
We have agreed to table a joint amendment to Labour’s draft budget because we don’t feel that this is the right budget for Wales.

Labour’s priorities are all out of synch with the needs of the people of Wales and this budget will do nothing for our economy, our schools and our NHS. Their plan to deal with the current and deepening economic crisis is lightweight and does little to inspire confidence in our business sector.

We want a budget that will work for the people of Wales and the Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to talk and listen to other parties so that we can deliver what is in the best interest of Wales.

UPDATE 1600

Welsh Government statement:

We are not surprised that the other parties have various and different positions on these matters.

We want to deliver a Budget for the people of Wales and we will continue to discuss matters responsibly with the other parties.

UPDATE 1635

The Conservative Shadow Minister for Finance, Paul Davies AM, said:

Labour’s draft budget simply does not address the needs of the people of Wales.

Its’ priorities are distorted and do not deal with the demands of the National Health Service, the economy or our schools. No-one expects a ‘magic pot’ from the First Minister – but it’s absolutely crucial that these areas are properly addressed. His initial plans do not accomplish that.

We are committed to working with the other parties in the interests of obtaining a budget that helps and supports communities the length and breadth of our country.

We will continue to do what is required to meet the needs of the people of Wales.

UPDATE 1735

Plaid Leader Ieuan Wyn Jones AM said:

“Plaid Cymru is determined to continue to push this Labour government to take action to help our ailing economy.

“I’ve made it clear that we cannot support the budget in its current form, but I look forward to continued talks with the government in order to find a way forward that adequately addresses current shortcomings.”

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About Adrian Masters

By day, Political Editor at ITV Wales. By night, obsessed with music and books.

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