- Posted by: Mike Hedges MS
- Category: Assembly Speeches
The budget needs to be put into the context of the policies being pursued at Westminster. As almost all the Welsh Government budget comes as a block grant, cuts in expenditure in England generate, via the Barnett formula, cuts in the Welsh block grant. What we have seen since the Conservatives came into office is a substantial real-terms cut in the Welsh budget. The Tories are committed to austerity, not as an economic policy but as an ideology. They want to reduce the public sector and what they cannot cut they seek to privatise
I intend to discuss the two largest lines in the Welsh Government budget: health and local government. To quote from the Finance Committee report,
‘If the trend of health service spending continues to be an increasing proportion of Welsh Government spend…the Committee is concerned that many non-statutory services will become unsustainable’.
If current trends continue, health will exceed 50 per cent of the budget well within the next Assembly term. I am now going to quote from page 16 of the Nuffield report in 2014, ‘The four health systems of the United Kingdom: how do they compare?’ That’s the Nuffield report that we don’t normally talk about. Across the four countries, there have been reductions in total patient admissions per hospital doctor and dentist between 1999-2000 and 2011-12. This is the inevitable outcome of the rates of increase in the number of hospital doctors exceeding the rates of increase in hospital admissions. Wales fell from just under 140 to approximately 90— a reduction of about a third. What the current figures are I do not know, but I would be amazed if they were anywhere near the 1999-2000 figures.
Health is of course about more than hospitals. There is primary care and lifestyle choices. Since health boards were created, the proportion of the health budget spent on primary care has reduced. Far too often in here—and I’m probably equally as guilty—‘For health, see hospitals’ seems to be the mantra. One of the biggest boosts to health has been the reduction in the number of people smoking. I remember a former Conservative health spokesperson saying, on the importance of getting people to stop smoking, that it would be the best thing that could possibly be done to improve health in Wales. I don’t know whether you remember that, Deputy Presiding Officer. Some of the biggest boosts for health: getting people to stop smoking; getting people to have a more active lifestyle; reducing obesity; improving diet; increasing physical activity—these will all improve health. Am I the only one who believes that reducing the number of sports facilities such as leisure centres will impact on health?
Turning to local government, I believe that social care within social services is under greater pressure than health. If discharge packages are not available, then patients remain in hospitals and we know how many people are blocking beds in English hospitals. In fact, in one area, one hospital has more than the total number for Wales. Disproportionate cuts have affected local government, but the Tories want to cut it further. What I find amazing here is that each Tory spokesperson has their own pet area, and they want to spend more money on it. So, you’ve got more money for housing, more money for education, a lot more money for health, and I’m not quite sure how you’re going to balance the books if you keep giving more money to everything. You want students to pay three times as much as they’re paying now, but apart from that, there seem to be no other areas of cuts. Apart from local government, because the Tories have always been very keen that the local government settlement should be cut and that additional money should be given to health; council tax should be frozen; local government should concentrate solely on statutory services; and, central expenditure by local education authorities should end. What this would mean is the closure of all parks, the closure of most libraries, the closure of all leisure centres, and an end to the school building programme.
Can I say that one of the best things that has been done by this Welsh Labour Government is getting schools being built again? I used to joke when I was a West Glamorgan county councillor that, at the rate we were replacing schools, we were expecting the average school to last about 700 years. That was the rate at which they were being replaced. There’s been substantial progress made now. I’ve seen it in my own constituency, the number of new schools that have been built, and it really has made a huge difference. I look across at Peter Black, who lives near Manselton school. The change from Manselton and Cwmbwrla schools to the new Burlais school has been a huge benefit to the whole of that community.
The thing that worries me most about the Conservative policy is the fact they want to end free home-to-school transport. They’ve said they’re going to take all the money off the local education authorities, which provide the free home-to-school transport. I think you need to think through what you’re going to do. Also, I’m very concerned that they’re going to end education in that school. Again, I’m not quite sure how they’re going to deal with children who are not in school. But, I’m sure they have a way—probably send them home and lock the door.
Can I talk about the local government budget? One of the things we need—. Instead of talking about giving more money to different authorities at this time of the year, what we should decide is a local government floor. We talk about a Barnett floor; we should decide on a local government floor. Then, when the calculation comes out, we know which local authorities need support.