(Title Image: Wales Online)
Yesterday, AMs unanimously passed draft plans for Assembly’s own running costs next year.
The Finance Committee had been critical of aspects of the Assembly Commission’s draft budget, particularly uncertainty surrounding the possible expansion of the Assembly buildings in Cardiff Bay and a £2.3million increase in funding.
Assembly Commissioner in charge of finance, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), told AMs that the £56.1million draft budget will help the Assembly meet challenges on scrutiny in the face of tax-varying powers, as well as specific problems such as Brexit and the creation of a Youth Parliament.
The Commission amended the budget in line with the Finance Committee’s recommendations regarding pre-planning costs for the estates expansion. If the Commission decides to press ahead with those plans, it will now have to make a formal request for funding in a supplementary budget.
Chair of the Finance Committee, Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales), believes any increase in the Commission’s budget should be in line with increases to the Welsh block grant; it was “hard to justify” an increase in the amount of money the Assembly spends on itself. The Commission agreed that this should be the case too, but not this year.
He remained concerned that “obligatory” services were still budgeted based partly on expected underspends on AM salaries, staff and expenses instead of being given certainty in the budget itself.
Following an intervention from Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East), the Commissioner accepted that the Assembly Commission should not be immune from austerity and needs to “make efficiencies where it possibly can make them”; the jump in this budget is mainly due to the extra responsibilities as mentioned.