(Pic: Turner Classic Movies)
There was a slightly limited number of questions for me to pick from this afternoon’s Local Government Questions as the microphones in the Senedd went down (for the second day in succession) leading to an hour-long adjournment.
By an large, they revolved around this year’s provisional local government settlement and the Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent), reaction to it.
Cuts & Complacency
Three questions relating to the council settlement grouped together.
Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) said Gwynedd was facing a £11million cut and this contradicts the Secretary’s desire for stronger local government. The Secretary repeated the government line that funding decisions were based on a pre-agreed formula.
Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) accused the Secretary of complacency and asked him to confirm that councils were “at the front of the queue” to receive money from the additional £550million announced for Wales in the UK budget. He also repeated the Conservative’s accusations of cronyism and favouritism towards Labour-led local authorities.
“Presiding Officer, the Member for Clwyd West is right, people aren’t stupid, and they’ll see through his shouting and his bluster. They’ll see the reality of what austerity has done, not just in local government, but to other parts of the public sector. And let me say this, he talks specifically about the local government settlement in Wales. When we made that announcement on 9th October, the University of Cambridge also published data on local government. What they showed was that in Wales and Scotland, local government had been protected by the governments in both those countries.”
– Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies
“A Staggering Insult”
Some of the harshest criticism came from Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy):
“Pre UK Government budget, there was strong condemnation from our local authority leaders and the WLGA itself about your lack of understanding about the essential money needed to support our social care, schools, housing and mental health support. Then, you compounded this problem by likening our council leaders to Oliver Twist, wanting more. Your comments were a staggering insult and a betrayal to those working in our hard-working, front-line services. They were offensive and frankly they should be withdrawn.”
– Janet Finch-Saunders AM
As you might expect, there was no withdrawal or apology from the Cabinet Secretary. Conservative council leaders in Wales have told him that they don’t want the Welsh Government to follow Conservative policies in England. It was time the Tories were “honest with people about the impact of austerity”.
Shadow Local Government Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) repeated comments from the WLGA’s chief executive that the current funding formula was “held together by duct tape and sticking plasters”. Would the Welsh Government undertake a review?
The Cabinet Secretary said the formula was up for review “year-on-year-on-year” with the involvement of Conservative council leaders. If they want a root-and-branch review then they can ask for one, yet haven’t so far.
Then things moved to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, who was clearly going for some sort of record:
“Clearly, Cabinet Secretary, you are well read, and a fan of Charles Dickens. So, if local government is Oliver Twist, does that make you Mr Bumble?”
“Just moving away slightly from—[Inaudible.]—wordplay, do you accept that local government has suffered in funding priorities, compared to other portfolios here? ‘Hard Times—For These Times’, as Dickens would say.”
“With the UK budget announcement last week, can local government have ‘Great Expectations’, or will they end up with ‘Little Dorrit’? “
– Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
Just before the mics cut out, the Secretary said that a statement on the final budget and how any additional money will be spent will be made in due course.