- Posted by: Mike Hedges MS
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MIKE HEDGES MS WELCOMES WELSH GOVERNMENT DRAFT BUDGET
Speaking from his Morriston Office, Swansea East MS Mike Hedges said… ‘The challenges facing Welsh Government in setting a budget in the current circumstances are immense – and I think they have succeeded. They need to provide support to enable Wales to deal with and emerge from the Pandemic in the best position possible; they need to support future recovery, and it needs to support vital public services, all while focusing on laying long term goals of a greener and fairer Wales.
The extra funding available via the budget is going to aid the achievement of these goals and will set the conditions for long term recovery. I commend Rebecca Evans on the work she has done on this budget.’
Budget Speech 12 January
This budget achieves three things. Firstly, it provides the necessary funding to deal with the pandemic; secondly, it supports the economic recovery; and thirdly, it supports vital public services. The aim of this draft budget is to protect health and the economy, build a greener future and create a change for a more equal Wales.
The pandemic has speeded up trends that have been occurring over several years: increased homeworking; increased online meetings leading to reduced travel to work and meetings; and increased online retail. The pandemic has turbo-boosted these changes. On the economy, we need to be able to respond to the new world. If people are mainly working from home, then do we need to live within easy transport access to their workplaces? We need to become a place where people relocate to to work. This means we could attract higher paid employment and we could develop the economy into higher paid sectors. Our economy is weak in higher paid areas such as ICT, life sciences and professional services. This is an opportunity to develop these areas of our economy. If people are travelling less, do we need to improve road networks by widening roads and building bypasses? I cannot be the only one to have noticed that the regular traffic warnings of problems on the A470 and M4 have disappeared, except when accidents have occurred, since the pandemic began.
Building back better must mean that working from home continues, possibly with the occasional visit to a central point or regional point. Zoom and Teams for small meetings work, as we’ve all discovered, and I’m sure that that will continue. We need to make our foundational economy high-paid sectors, not local support sectors and low-paid sectors. If you look at Silicon Valley, we know what their foundational economy is. Remember the most effective economic development tool is educational attainment. Get our young people better qualified and then companies will come without having to give them a bribe.
On health, I welcome the increased expenditure of an extra £420 million for health and social services, which includes a £10 million boost to the social care grant now standing at £50 million. The first priority has to be to eliminate the spread of the virus. Vaccination has to be the way out of this. People will still need, of course, to follow the rules on distance, hand washing and masks. Post-pandemic and post-large-scale vaccination, we need to improve health outcomes. We know that life expectancy, for the first time since the second world war, had started to reduce pre-pandemic. We also know that several medical interventions have not taken place because of the pandemic. We know the deaths due to COVID, we know the number of deaths each year due to different medical conditions, which ones have reduced because there were no interventions? I think that that’s a key point. We always think that a medical intervention is bound to be good. An analysis could be done on where the failure to intervene has produced a better health outcome.
I, of course, welcome the £176 million for local government to support schools, social care and the wider local services that we rely on, and the extra £40 million for the housing support grant to end homelessness. Affordable social housing is growing to £200 million next year, stimulating jobs and training, while providing 3,500 additional new homes. On the environment, NRW desperately needs additional resources to carry out the pollution control previously provided by the Environment Agency. It’s failing to do what used to be done very effectively by the Environment Agency. Finally, the money that we spend on Commission services is money that we have not got available for services. I agree with the leader of the opposition that we need to reduce the cost of Commission services.
Rhun ap Iorwerth said about having an independent Wales. I have no problem with that. Will he produce, for us all to see, what a draft budget is for an independent Wales if we were having an independent Wales next year? Show us it. And can you please tell your supporters the difference between a budget and a statement of accounts? Some of them are absolutely bemused by the two. Really, this is probably as good as we are going to get with the money that we have got, and I look forward to supporting the budget in its final form at the end of our Finance Committee deliberations. Thank you.