By Melissa Moore
Labour Assembly Ministers have announced details of the Welsh Government’s £15 billion annual budget for 2017/18 following a deal struck with Plaid Cymru.
The budget was welcomed for its increased spending on health services and infrastructure but doubts have already arisen as to whether these increases are enough and if continued cuts to local government are warranted.
Lacking a majority in the Senedd, First Minister Carwyn Jones of the Labour Party needed the support of Plaid Cymru Assembly Members to ensure the draft budget could be passed. A £119 million deal was struck between the two parties as part of the negotiations; a deal that Plaid argue has secured funding for further investment in the NHS, Welsh language initiatives and the arts.
Health services have come out on top in the 2017/18 budget with an extra £240 million allocation for the NHS, which includes an additional £20 million for mental health.
Infrastructure will also see additional financial support for future large scale projects, comprising £900 million for the long awaited M4 Relief Road, £300 million for the Metro Project and £300 million for road improvements across the country.
Figures show that whilst the health budget has increased 2.5% in real terms and infrastructure has increased 8.6%; local government will undergo continued cuts with council budgets down 1.5%.
Communities and education see further austerity measures taking place after it is has been announced Communities First, Teach First and the Schools Challenge Cymru project (which provided £20 million a year for deprived secondary schools) will be axed.
The Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford, who outlined the plans in the Senedd yesterday, remarked “We continue to face ongoing cuts to our Budget as a result of decisions made by the UK Government … This is also a Budget which has been developed against the backdrop of the outcome of the EU Referendum and the uncertain future of vital European funding streams. Our plans have been shaped by these unprecedented challenges.”
The deal, which was struck during talks between Mr Drakeford and Plaid Cymru AM Adam Price, has undergone scrutiny by Welsh Conservative AMs. Welsh Tory Leader Andrew RT Davies dismissed the deal as “groundhog day” on BBC Radio Wales and argued that, “The nationalists are rowing in behind Labour and propping them up for another 12 months of failure.”
Plaid Cymru opposed entering into a coalition with Labour, which has led some Welsh Conservatives to argue what role Plaid Cymru has to play as a party of the opposition following this deal. A spokesperson for the Welsh Conservatives commented, “It is no surprise once again Plaid Cymru have chosen to flout their responsibilities as a party of the opposition by seeking the solace of their Labour comfort blanket.”
The details of the budget will continue to be scrutinised over the next few weeks and following the resignation of Plaid Cymru AM Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, it will be of interest to see how the balance of power in the Welsh Assembly continues to develop.