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Posts Tagged ‘Welsh Assembly Government budget’

At Welsh Labour’s special policy conference which was held at the weekend, the party launched its own Yes campaign for next year’s powers referendum. One of the main messages used to win over doubters within Labour was that the UK government would only look at reforming the way Wales is funded – the notorious Barnett formula – once a Yes vote had been secured.

But using that tactic has become a lot more difficult today after the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, effectively ruled out any change to the formula even after the referendum.

Questioned repeatedly on this by AMs on the Finance Committee, Mr Alexander said ‘At a time when our most pressing priority is to sort out the deficit, this is not the time to start opening up debate on reform of the Barnett formula.’

What, asked Plaid’s Janet Ryder, even if there’s a Yes vote? Once again the reply was that all of (the UK government’s ) attention had to be devoted to the problem of getting the public finances under control, not opening up discussion on a funding formula.

Some of the committee members noted that Mr Alexander is a Scot representing a marginal Scottish constituency and that any change would hit funding to Scotland.

But the Chief Secretary stuck to his insistence that getting out of the deficit came first.

A few other snippets. Plaid’s Chris Franks claimed that all the big spending projects seemed to start or end in London. In response Danny Alexander listed other projects outside of London, but which were all in England.

‘You’ll mention Wales in a minute,’ Chris Franks interrupted.

And get ready to hear a lot about End of Year Flexibility. It’s a technical bit of financial jargon but former finance minister Andrew Davies knows a thing or two about that. He struck home a fair few times, accusing the Treasury of seizing for itself money that had been voted by parliament to go to Wales.

Tense and heated in some parts then, but when I grabbed a word with Danny Alexander on his departure he still said he’d found it a ‘positive discussion.’

 

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The dust is beginning to settle on yesterday’s draft budget from the Assembly Government, but a lot of that dust is still obscuring the details of spending cuts. In tonight’s Sharp End, we’ll try to sweep up some of that dust for you. I’ll be interviewing the First Minister Carwyn Jones and my guests in the studio are the Conservative AM/MP Alun Cairns and Plaid Cymru’s economics guru Eurfyl ap Gwilym.

Meanwhile Lynne Courteney’s report focusses on Blaenau Gwent. Is there a more interesting Welsh constituency in political terms? It’s been a Labour safe seat, lost by Labour, held by an Independent and won back (at Westminster) by Labour. Now the cancer drugs campaigner Jayne Sullivan is going to try to win it as an independent although Labour in the shape of AM Alun Davies has been doing its best to win it back.

Lynne’s report also features performances from some amazingly talented youngsters at the  inauguration show for Blaenau Gwent’s Youth Mayor which was held earlier this week.  I’ve been priveleged to be invited to present the chains of office each year for the last five years. This year’s show was no exception in terms of astonishing talent and enthusiasm.

Join me on Sharp End just after 11pm on ITV1 Wales. Even if you don’t fancy the politics, watch out for the singing and dancing!

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I won’t even attempt to give you a comprehensive round-up of the Welsh Assembly Government’s Draft Budget: you can get that from Gareth Hughes here. Instead here are a few random notes and snippets from an intense day.

* The fact that the Higher Education budget has been cut by nearly £37bn is surely a sign that higher tuition fees are now inevitable. If so, what sort of level will they be set at? Rumour has it that the plan was to set Welsh tuition fees at somewhere between the current £3k and England’s £9k, maybe at around £5k. Is that still likely or possible?

* Ministers already have a pretty good idea which individual programmes they’ll be cutting; we’ll all know by Christmas.

* Was the reason that Wales hasn’t followed Scotland’s idea of a pay freeze for higher earners in the public sector because all the pay settlements that the Assembly Government can influence have already been agreed meaning a new pay freeze would have affected practically nobody?

* RIP SCIF. I may be the only one who cares about this: the Assembly Government’s SCIF programme is dead and buried. SCIF was a pot of £400m of capital funding available to ‘innovative, cross-cutting and strategic capital projects.’ Amongst these projects were schools in Wrexham, Newport and Blaenavon; a scheme to build 400 affordable homes across Wales; another to transform the Heads of the Valleys into a low carbon region; a pan-Wales network of anaerobic digestors; rail investment, part of the Heads of the Valleys dualling scheme;  flood and coastal defences. Finance minister Jane Hutt said all the projects which had won SCIF funding would continue to be invested in. But the move which would have delivered “a step change in the Assembly Government’s approach to planning and delivering capital investment strategically” is over.

 

 

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