Plaid Cymru shows how a real opposition secures its priorities
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM
During the budget debate, Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas reached into his pocket, and offered the Conservatives one shining penny.
This was a penny more than they have ever gained for what they consider to be their priorities, in the entire 18 years of devolution. In comparison, Plaid Cymru has secured £500m for its manifesto commitments since the assembly election.
A clear risk with political negotiation is that you don’t get credit for what you’ve won. The risk of not being given the plaudits is a perfectly valid argument for not entering into negotiation in the first place.
Over recent weeks Plaid Cymru and Welsh Government negotiating teams have been carefully looking at areas on which there could be agreement ahead of the Budget. The main ‘body’of the budget isn’t up for negotiation in such talks. This is Labour’s budget, and Plaid Cymru has no interest in endorsing it. It is the both the privilege and danger for a Government that it must take responsibility for its own budgetary decisions.
But where we as a robust opposition party can make real gains as the budget process plays out, it is our responsibility to explore those possibilities. I could point to a number of aspects of the pre-budget agreement reached that highlight the positive outcomes of this approach.
In recent weeks, I have met a number of organisations on Anglesey involved in tackling homelessness. The Wallich, Digartref Mon and Gorwel do great work on already tight budgets (with funding secured due to previous Plaid budget negotiations). A further cut in funding they receive through the Supporting People programme would have had dire consequences. The sector had been told to prepare for 10-15% cuts.
I could have opposed any pre-budget agreement with the Labour Government, and then attacked them for cutting the Supporting People budget. But I wasn’t prepared to do that if we could actually get the job done.
To play those games would be Tory-style opposition – sideline shouting, with no gains and no influence. In the budget debate I reminded the Assembly that the Welsh Conservative leader had accused Plaid Cymru of ‘selling out for a bag of chips’. I told him that “his bag of chips is a roof over the head of a homeless person; his bag of chips is support to help a vulnerable young person try to get his or her life on track.” He wouldn’t understand that Plaid Cymru’s actions reached out to those who are desperate for a helping hand.
It shouldn’t have taken a Plaid Cymru negotiating team to secure this funding, but it did. And I’m glad Government agreed. Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford argued it had not been inevitable that there would have been a cut.
Really? We were in the bizarre situation in recent weeks and months where Labour members were asking Plaid Cymru to negotiate with the Labour Government for the protection of Supporting People funding, precisely because the writing was so clearly on the wall!
What matters now, of course, is that we have security for this important programme. Labour backbenchers will argue that the money was safe anyway, as they are gleefully celebrating on social media that it is they that secured funding to move towards the scrapping of Cleddau Bridge tolls, even though it was brought to the table by Plaid negotiators.
The Finance Secretary said there was nothing in the agreement that Labour “didn’t want to do”. Perhaps. These were negotiations, after all, an exploration of where agreement can be reached. But there’s a big difference between wanting to do something and actually doing it.
What’s important now is that on Supporting People, along with a long list of other initiatives, the money is secured, thanks to Plaid Cymru priortising it. This brings Plaid Cymru budget gains for our priorities to over £500 million since the election –
Who gets the credit? We’ll work hard to highlight where we’ve made a real difference – holding Labour to account as an effective opposition, whilst making real gains for those who need it most.