Budget will protect services, businesses and the most vulnerable – finance minister
Wales’s finance minister has told the Senedd her spending plans will protect public services, businesses and the most vulnerable in society.
Rebecca Evans MS made a statement during a debate in the Siambr on the Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2022-23, which sets out how the country’s £23 billion pot of money will be spread across the public sector.
The Labour administration has claimed the value of its budget from the UK Government has been reduced due to high inflation and that power to significantly improve services lays in the hands of Westminster.
Welsh Conservative members accused Welsh government ministers of not delivering on the priorities of the people, while Plaid Cymru called for an income tax hike to fund public services.
Ms Evans said: “This has been a year where we have seen the ongoing impact of inflation, three prime ministers, three chancellors, and the shocking mismanagement of public finances by the UK Government.
“We received an autumn statement by the latest Chancellor which fell far short of the interventions needed to meet the challenges that we face.”
Ms Evans said the Welsh Government’s main priorities as set out in the budget are protecting frontline public services, continuing to help those most affected by the cost-of-living crisis and supporting the economy through the recession.
A further £165 million has been allocated for NHS Wales, £70 million to deliver the real living wage for social care workers, £18.8 million for the Discretionary Assistance Fund, and an additional £227 to local governments, and £319 million in direct funding for non-domestic rates relief.
On recent strikes, the minister called the UK Government’s autumn a “missed opportunity to give hardworking public sector workers a pay rise and prevent widespread disruptive industrial action”.
“But I am pleased that in recent days, we have made progress in our discussions with trade union partners, which resulted in the current round of health strikes largely being paused,” Ms Evans added.
“Hard choices have been required to find the money for the cost of this pay offer for this year. We have drawn down everything that we can from the Wales reserve and are seeking underspend from across government to put this offer together.
“Using this money to increase pay now means that we face even more difficult choices in the future. But we are confident that it’s the right thing to do.”
The Welsh Conservatives accused the Welsh Government of making a real-terms cut to health, social care and education budgets.
Peter Fox MS said: “We need ministers here in this place in Wales to start dealing properly with the huge challenges this country is facing and stop looking for other other people to blame.”
He claimed millions of pounds were being diverted to “pet projects” such as increasing the size of the Senedd, universal basic income (UBI) pilots, and the rollout of 20mph zones in residential areas.
Instead he said money should be spent on delivering “people’s priorities”, such as paying for hotels to clear hospital bed blocking, creating a fund to support microbusinesses, and freezing council tax in local authority areas which have large financial reserves.
Ms Evans reiterated the Labour government’s position that “now is not the time” to increase income tax, as proposed in an amendment tabled by Plaid Cymru, and that to do so “would impact the lowest paid workers in Wales”.
Plaid want to raise the basic rate in Wales pay by 1p, the higher rate of tax by 2p, and the additional rate by 3p to raise funds for public services.
Leader Adam Price said during the debate: “There’s no doubt that the Welsh Government lacks the money it needs to do what is necessary to build the kind of decent society that we want to see.
“The choice we face is whether to use the powers that we do have, or simply accept the financial envelope essentially passed to us from Westminster.
“Unless we do something radical, it is going to collapse. That’s the stark truth.
“Money alone, we know, is not the answer. But without it, there is no way out of this crisis.
“And the people that will end up paying the highest price will be precisely those on the lowest incomes.”
The chairman of the finance committee, Peredur Owen Griffiths MS, said he recognised the difficulties faced by the Government in preparing the draft budget but added that unprecedented pressures had been “exacerbated by poor communication between the Welsh and UK governments, which is not reflective of an effective working relationship”.
A report by the cross-party committee found the budget lacked enough support to prevent households falling into hardship.
Mr Griffiths also claimed there was a “lack of clarity and candour” from ministers about where cuts have been made.
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