FINANCE MINISTER Rebecca Evans unveiled the Welsh Government’s draft Budget with plans to invest more than £8bn for the Welsh NHS alongside ambitious projects to help combat climate change.
In the first Budget following the declaration of a climate emergency in Wales, there is significant new funding for low carbon transport and housing and support to restore Wales’ natural environment. This budget also protects major ongoing funding for renewable energy, the development of zero-carbon technologies and access to nature.
The 2020-21 draft Budget will see the Welsh NHS receive an inflation-busting increase of £342m next year, alongside an almost £200m boost for local government.
Core funding for local authorities will grow to almost £4.5bn, boosting resources for schools, social care and other local services.
There will also be additional funding to tackle poverty, including extra support for disadvantaged pupils, and investment for town centre regeneration in a budget that delivers real-term increases for all Welsh Government departments.
This Budget also confirms that Welsh rates of income tax will be unchanged for next year, maintaining the pledge not to raise tax rates this Assembly term. It also focuses on longer-term, preventative measures to promote the wellbeing of future generations.
The UK government’s September 2019 spending round provided funding allocations for one year only. Following this announcement, like-for-like funding for Wales next year will be £300m lower compared with 2010-11.
Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “This draft Budget delivers on our promises to the people of Wales and invests for the future of our planet.
“Despite a decade of austerity, we have consistently prioritised our NHS. Our plans will confirm a £37bn investment in the Welsh NHS since 2016.
“As we take on the climate emergency, I am protecting our existing investment and delivering a new £140m package with support for low carbon transport and a National Forest for Wales.
“Funding increases for other vital public services, such as schools and local government have also been secured in this year’s Budget. Ministers have also worked across government to focus on long-term, preventative measures such as mental health investment in line with the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
“Even though our like for like funding remains below 2010 levels, this Budget strives for a greener, equal and prosperous Wales.”
Responding for the Conservatives, Darren Millar AM tore into the Draft Budget 2020-21.
Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday (Jan 7), he said it was “…an opportunity the Finance Minister has missed…”, and full of policies that are “…tried, tested, and failed”.
From the M4 Relief Road, to Cardiff Airport, and from health and education to the economy, Mr Millar said that the Finance Minister had a golden opportunity to invest in the people’s priorities, drive a more dynamic economy, and build on the opportunities for Wales outside the European Union.
“But,” he began, “where there was the opportunity to be imaginative you’ve opted for the mundane. Where there was the opportunity to rise to the challenge and be ambitious for our economy, you sat back. Where there was the opportunity to be radical you’ve stuck to the tried, tested and failed.”
Mr Millar continued his passionate critique of the Draft Budget, calling the lack of investment in Welsh roads – including the M4 Relief Road rejected by the Welsh Labour Government following a £144-million investigation – “… one of the biggest barriers to growth and investment in South Wales” and calling for investment in the A55 and A40.
“But ironically, when we look at where the Welsh Government is investing in transport – it’s actually in the most polluting form – air travel.
“This year, we’ve seen a further £4.8 million for the state-owned Cardiff Airport, on top of a loan above £21m announced in October.”
Just last week, pre-tax losses at the airport trebled from the previous year to some £18.5m, far more than the modest £1m loss during the airport’s last full year in private ownership in 2012.
Specifically on the environment, Mr Millar – who represents Clywd West – said: “This was proclaimed as a ‘green’ budget, but the reality is that the Welsh Government’s response to its climate change emergency declaration has been slow, vague and uncosted. We need to see more investment in cleaner technology in line with the drive to phase out diesel and petrol vehicles.
“Many Welsh counties have the poorest network of electric vehicle charging stations in Britain. Why isn’t this budget doing more to invest in these? It’s a missed opportunity to invest in clean technology and encourage consumers to make greener choices.”
Speaking later, Mr Millar said: “There are elements of this Draft Budget I have welcomed, as have my Welsh Conservative colleagues, but overall its one failed opportunity after another from a failing Welsh Labour Government.”
Plaid Cymru shadow minister for the economy and finance Rhun ap Iorwerth AM said: “This is a budget that delivers only in its lack of ambition.
“Twenty years of Labour rule in Wales has shown us that more money for our NHS doesn’t in itself mean better services. What we need to see from this Labour government is a strategic plan on how this extra funding will be spent on preventative measures instead of the continued mismanagement of our NHS and health boards that are still in special measures. Meanwhile, local government is still not being given the level of funding it so desperately needs to deliver crucial front line public services.
“The £140m package for low carbon transport is not nearly ambitious enough and such a small package in the face of such a colossal global climate crisis shows that this Labour government isn’t taking the issue seriously enough.”
Rhun ap Iorwerth added: “To compound the problem of Labour mismanagement, the truth is, that the Welsh Government’s budget will be tied to the priorities of whatever government is sitting in Westminster, and we know that UK Governments – of whichever colour – care little about addressing Wales’ needs.”
WG rejects UK’s EU Withdrawal Bill
ON MONDAY, January 20, the Welsh Government published its assessment of the UK government’s Political Declaration, which accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and its priorities for our future trade, and broader relationship with the EU.
The assessment argues that, while the Welsh Government accepts that we will now leave the EU, changes to the direction of travel indicated in the Political Declaration are necessary to better protect the economic, social and environmental interests of Wales and the whole UK.
Counsel General and Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles said: “The UK government will soon begin negotiations with the EU on a permanent long-term agreement. This agreement is of vital importance to Wales. It will determine the basis of our future trade, and our broader relationship with the EU, for decades to come. The stakes could not be higher.
“The evidence is clear that the further the UK moves away from economic integration with the EU the greater the economic damage. The EU has been and will continue to be our most important trading partner and many businesses depend on integrated supply chains across the EU, which require frictionless trade.
“Given the overwhelming importance of the EU to our economy, the UK must prioritise continued barrier-free access to these markets over trade arrangements with other countries.
“We will continue to challenge an approach to the negotiations which prioritises the ‘freedom’ of the UK to diverge from EU regulatory standards above the well-being of the people of Wales. Such an approach would be deeply flawed and could result in lost jobs and lost investment in Wales. We need an agreement with the EU which reflects the interests of Wales and the United Kingdom.
“The UK government claims it wants to maintain high standards and we will hold them to their word. We will, therefore, oppose any agenda of deregulation, which will damage consumers’ interests in the long run.
“We reject a vision of Britain where the economy is based on a low-wage, low job security, low regulation model, which would lead to growing inequality. We need a strong, innovative outward-looking UK economy underpinned by mutual respect for the responsibilities of all governments of the Union.”
The Counsel General also stressed that the Welsh Government, like many other observers and the EU negotiators themselves did not believe it possible to achieve the right agreement in only a few months of negotiations.
He said: “We will continue to argue that the UK government should not close the door on an extension beyond the arbitrary deadline of December 2020. The priority must be achieving the best deal, not the quickest one”.
The Minister’s statement got short shrift from Conservative leader in the Senedd, Paul Davies, who responded: “Wales voted to LEAVE the EU. It’s as simple as that. Rather than engaging in political posturing, the Welsh Labour Government should respect the Welsh people’s wishes and get behind the withdrawal bill.”
Mr Davies’ remark received a tart response from former Welsh Government Cabinet Minister, Alun Davies, who enquired via Twitter: “So you would give any elected government a carte blanche to deliver its programme? And you’re a leader of the opposition?!”
Voting age lowered in Wales
A BILL to introduce a new name and lower voting age for Senedd elections became law last week.
The Bill which will introduce a new name for the National Assembly and extend voting rights to 16 and 17-year-olds in the Welsh General Election become an Act of the Assembly on Wednesday, January 15, when it received Royal Assent.
After Royal Assent the Bill was officially transferred to the National Assembly’s Chief Executive and Clerk, Manon Antoniazzi by the First Minister, Mark Drakeford.
The handing over of the Bill to the Assembly Clerk in the Senedd Siambr marked a historic step which saw the Bill become an Act.
Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales, Elin Jones AM, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Assembly, Manon Antoniazzi and First Minister, Mark Drakeford.
Llywydd of the Assembly, Elin Jones AM, announced the status of the new Senedd and Election (Wales) Act at the start of the day’s Plenary meeting.
However, the contents of the Act – which introduces a new name Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament and extends the voting franchise to foreign nationals and 16 and 17-year-olds – will not come into force until early May 2020.
Elin Jones AM, Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales says; “I am honoured to mark this significant chapter in the story of our Assembly with the passing of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill into an Act of the Assembly.
“In May we will have a new name, which will reflect our status as a mature legislature, and we will see the biggest extension to the franchise since 1969 – notably giving 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the Welsh General Election for the first time in 2021.
“It is a moment of great pride to watch our Assembly evolve in order to continue to be at its best to serve the people of Wales.”
Tackling hidden homelessness
A MAJOR new campaign to tackle hidden homelessness by raising awareness that “homelessness doesn’t always live on the streets” has been launched by the Welsh Government.
The campaign aims to bring to light the problem of hidden homelessness and is targeted at young people who may be at risk of or already experiencing homelessness. The campaign also advises the public on what to do if they’re concerned about someone they know.
Research suggests people overwhelmingly connect homelessness with rough sleeping only – which is not the case for most young people experiencing homelessness.
Even if someone has a roof over their head, they can still be homeless. They could be sofa surfing at a friends’ place or staying somewhere temporarily like a hostel, night shelter or bed & breakfast. It might be they are living in very poor conditions or somewhere that’s not suitable for them or their family.
To help identify people who could be homeless, there are several signs that people can look out for:
• They may be having difficulties with their relationships with their parents and close family members;
• They may be reluctant to go home – spending lots of their time outside; in public places that offer shelter and connection to wifi – for example, train stations and cafes; staying late at their education setting or jobs;
• They may be keeping belongings with them and have problems with keeping clothes clean;
• They might be asking for help with money and using food banks;
• They may have lost their job;
• They may be experiencing physical or mental health problems.
Those experiencing hidden homelessness are more likely to be at risk of exploitation, particularly young people. For example, they might be targeted by people who want to pressurise them into sex or unwaged labour in exchange for a roof over their head.
The campaign is designed to ensure that young people get the help and support they need as soon as possible, preventing homelessness from happening in the first place.
Launching the initiative Housing Minister Julie James, said: “Many people think homelessness is only about rough sleeping – it is not. Many young people experiencing, or at risk of homelessness don’t recognise themselves as homeless.
“If you don’t have a place to call home it is likely that you are experiencing ‘hidden homelessness’.
“We know young people often don’t know where to seek advice and support – so that’s why we’re launching this new campaign.
“So if you think you’re experiencing hidden homelessness or you’re at risk of it then get help now. It’s never too late or too early to get help.”
The Welsh Government funds Shelter Cymru to provide independent housing advice and support. The service also links people to partner organisations who can provide support services based on the needs of individuals.
Shelter Cymru Director Jon Puzey said: “We know the earlier and more often someone experiences homelessness, the more likely they are to develop complex issues that might mean they become homeless repeatedly throughout their adult life. That’s why it’s so important that we make it a priority to prevent youth homelessness.
“It’s fantastic that the Welsh Government is taking this so seriously and helping us to reach more young people. With this joint campaign, we are making sure that young people know that Shelter Cymru is here to help them.”
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