By Charlotte King
On October 29th, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the final Budget before the UK formally leaves the EU. However, the measures announced for the new Welsh Budget have seen ministers clashing head-on. Will these new measures lead to more opportunities to make real changes, or do the terms outlining the payments restrict the freedom of the Welsh Government?
Philip Hammond claims this new Budget will lead us towards the end of austerity, announcing that £550m will be granted to the Welsh Government between now and 2020, with an additional £120m available to fund the North Wales Growth Deal, a “crucial infrastructure project” designed to boost the economy”. However, some are arguing that the budget for North Wales “fell short” of what was expected, and no real changes will be instigated with that amount of money. Although, Ian Price, director of CBI Wales, believes that whilst £120m may be “lower than expected” it will “kickstart” the region’s economy.
Other announcements include that for those who are earning National Living Wage their pay will be rising to £8.21 an hour, giving them an extra £690 a year. What’s more, the work allowance for individuals with children and disabilities will be raised by £1,000 under the new Budget.
The 2018 Budget for Wales has received a lot of positive responses, and people are hopeful it will give ministers more freedom to build homes and remove the borrowing cap on housing, making it easier for people to climb onto the property ladder.
However, it appears that opinions on the Budget differ on either side of the M4, and speaking of which, ministers have clashed over whether any money will be spent on the controversial M4 relief road. Westminster announced that Welsh ministers will receive an extra £300m in borrowing power if they commit to this scheme.
Welsh Labour AM Mark Drakeford believes that this means the Welsh Government is not being given the freedom to spend the budget how it wishes, and states that the UK Government should not be telling AM’s how to spend extra money. However, Alun Cairns, Secretary of State for Wales, agrees with the UK Government that this is a “vital project”.
Overall, Drakeford believes that the new Budget shows no sign of austerity coming to an end, and until the Brexit negotiations are finalised, Hammond is simply “treading water”. Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru, seconds Drakeford’s comments, stating it is a “fantasy budget” wherein “infrastructure projects in our nation [are being] scrapped for the sake of feeding the overheating economy of south east England”.
On the other hand, Cairns believes that overall the Budget is a “significant uplift”, and “shows the scale of ambition the UK Government has for Wales”. “This money will ensure the Welsh Government has more means to grow the economy, attract investment, maintain its public services and support hard-working people across Wales”.
It seems there are rising tensions regarding how the new Welsh Budget will be spent, and some fear the Brexit negotiations mean the figures are speculative. Only time will tell if they budget is restricting the Welsh Government or liberating it, but Hammond believes that Westminster is sending a “clear message to the people of Wales – your hard work is paying off”.