Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Welsh Budget 2013-14

Finance Minister Jane Hutt's (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) Welsh Government budget for the coming year passed the Senedd earlier by 25 votes to 18.

Here's a summary of the total spending allocations (combined revenue and capital spending plans) and their change compared to the plans in the 2012-13 supplementary budget from June this year.

Main Expenditure Group (Total spending) Budget 2013-14 Change from 2012-13 Supplementary Budget
Health & Social Services £6,430million -£115million
Local Government & Communities £5,204million +£57million
Education & Skills £2,048million +£15million
Housing, Regeneration & Heritage £488.2million -£38.9million
Central Services & Administration £350.2million -£10.8million
Environment & Sustainability £326.8million -£13.7million
Business, Enterprise, Technology & Science £315.3million -£1.3million

In the final budget narrative, Jane Hutt notes:

  • An extra £175million in capital spending over the next two years to support "strategically important projects" as outlined in the Welsh Infrastructure Plan.
  • The above includes an extra £16million towards housing on public sector land (up to 1,800 new homes) and an extra £30million to the Wales Economic Growth Fund over the next two years.
  • Allocating £6million in extra funding from reserves towards Business Rate Relief schemes in Enterprise Zones.
  • The establishment of an Advisory Group to see how the proposed budget impacts equalities.
  • A continuation of the Pupil Deprivation Grant from last year's deal between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. This has been increased by £4.7million.

It's also been announced today that there'll be an extra £200million for capital spending on schools - funded via local borrowing - while up to £300million will be raised via a not-for-profit mechanism (which sounds suspiciously like the "pie in the sky" and "uncosted" Build for Wales idea mooted by Plaid Cymru in 2011 and roundly criticised by opposition parties) to complete the A465 duelling.
This budget passed because of a deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru abstained from the vote, but they got:

  • £20million in 2013-14 and £20million in 2014-15 to create new apprenticeships. This could be topped up to £60million via European and private sector funding. It's estimated this could create between 8,000 and 10,500 apprenticeships.
  • £10million over the next two years towards a new joint science park facility for Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities. It's been hinted/rumoured that this might be based on Anglesey.

Last year, Plaid criticised the Liberal Democrats for "selling themselves cheaply". I said it seemed as if Kirsty Williams sold herself short as well. But is there that much of a difference between the two deals?

Plaid's deal might be a bit more "concrete" in terms of outcomes than the Pupil Premium – which seems, on the surface, a bit like throwing money at a problem - and the science park is a commitment to a specific project. So, I'd say Plaid (and Labour, as an expansion of apprenticeships would reduce unemployment) have marginally got a better deal, but it isn't some fantastic game changer.

The only difference between this year and last year really are the sums of money involved and Plaid being a bit more practical - which is welcome to see. But there's no need to go overboard hailing the deal's virtues just yet.

As for the budget as a whole, the overall impression is "steady as she goes." The total budget is down by ~£108million, but the figures I've given appear more dramatic because I used the supplementary budget (which I believe is a more accurate measure of what's actually spent) as the comparison, not last year's final budget. If I'd used 2012-13's final budget instead, then the figure would still be a cut, but a smaller one – probably around the £50million mark, which matches the cut to the block grant.

Regardless of which budget is used, there's another obvious cut to the health and social services budget as a whole (NHS spending itself is largely protected), which the Conservatives in particular – I'd imagine – are going to use as a stick beat the Welsh Government with.

There are ongoing worries there. This isn't the first year concerns have been raised regarding NHS efficiency savings. In fact, this year's obligatory Darren Millar (Con, Clwyd West) outburst matches last year's almost word for word. The only difference is that this year's spending gap is bigger, and it's getting worse. I think time's starting to run out for the Welsh Government and Local Health Boards to get a grip of the issue. As an ordinary member of the public, with family members who use NHS services regularly, I'll say this – we're starting to notice it.

There's an overall (real terms) 8.7% cut in capital budgets, so Jane Hutt's been a bit more careful about where that money's gone, focusing on getting return on that investment – and Plaid played a role in directing it.

But judging by Labour's shopping list in the Infrastructure Plan, borrowing powers couldn't come soon enough. It could make the difference, for example, between Newport waiting years for M4 improvements or decades. We'll see if Gorgeous George has any early Christmas presents tomorrow, but I don't think we should be getting our hopes up somehow.


  1. I don't agree that Plaid got a better deal than the Lib Dems' deal last year.

    The Lib Dems got a whole new scheme (the pupil premium), which looks as if it is going to continue for years to come. The vast majority of the money in Plaid's deal appears to simply go into already existing Lab Govt schemes. The only thing of any real interest is the Bangor Uni scheme, which has likely only been agreed due to the insistence/threats of the uni's president (Elis-Thomas).

    Also interesting to note that Peter Black confirmed on Gareth Hughes' blog that the Lib Dems were offered significantly more money than Plaid ended up with - but chose to turn the Govt down. That doesn't take anything away from Plaid's deal per se, but does show how they could have got a lot more.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Anon.

    The evidence (from England) so far is that the pupil premium is hit and miss. I think it's a bit simplistic to throw money at education, when there are huge systemic problems there that need to be dealt with. It does look as though Leighton Andrews is getting around to it, it's just 10 years too late. Poverty might well be a detrimental factor in education performance, but I'm not sure that translates to school funding itself, more general economic and social poverty.

    It's a slow-burner. It could be a success. It could be another well-meant waste of money. Plaid actually get something concrete, but I did note that they shouldn't be exaggerating what they got.

    As for DET. It could've easily been Elin Jones or IWJ. If he did argue for it, then good for him. I don't see what's wrong with a science park idea - as long as it fulfills its potential.

  3. It "looks" good to get two different "things" for Plaid, and suits their narrative of fighting youth unemployment. They can also draw out the publicity as more people get apprenticeships (it will probably be a few thousand over the next two years). It may or may not be better in substance than the pupil premium but honestly, the pupil premium isn't making a difference in England. With these budget deals the emphasis is on what "looks" better, because we're talking about small sums of money being used to buy parties off.

    There's also the difference that the Lib Dems had to vote for last years budget, while Plaid gets to abstain.

  4. Owen,

    1st anon poster here, not the 2nd! :)

    Agreed about the Pupil Premium. I think it has the potential to make a huge difference, but time will tell.

    As for who got the deal, it's clear (IMO) that it was DET who got the deal. He afterall only recently said he would join Labour if it wasn't for his local party. He is in a position of power, Labour could have simply just done the deal with him - which I imagine is what he threatened.

    As you say, good on him. I also quite like the idea of the Science Park. But it doesn't reflect well on Plaid when their hand is forced to do a deal all on the demands of one man.

    As for 2nd Anon posting..... I strongly contest that "the pupil premium isn't making a difference in England".

    Yes I guess the "two things" idea works. Lib Dems again had their own idea implemented, alongside the Pupil Premium they also got the 1st time buyers mortgage scheme.

    I agree that both deals involve a very small amount of money. Incredibly so.

    As for the whole abstaining/voting for thing. There is no real difference.