(Title Image: The i newspaper)
At Finance Questions this afternoon:
“So-called respect agenda”
With a draft Brexit deal being discussed in London as I post this, Steffan Lewis AM (Plaid, South Wales East) asked whether the Welsh Government had seen the text?
The Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West) confirmed that neither the Welsh or Scottish governments have seen the text.
“Of course, yet again, it’s disappointing that the so-called respect agenda, one that the Cabinet Secretary himself said that he hoped would begin as a result of the agreement between his Government and the UK Government on the Withdrawal Bill, and one that would see a shift in attitudes towards discussions with devolved administrations—. And, again, Wales seems to be treated with the same old contempt. Apparently, there are reports that the Government of Gibraltar have had sight of the text.”
– Steffan Lewis AM
There were points raised about rumours of what might be in the draft text, but it’s perhaps too soon to speculate and the Finance Secretary took that view as well. However, Steffan pressed the case for a second referendum due to the possible “bad consequences” for Wales arising from those rumours.
Mark Drakeford repeated his stance that if the UK Government can’t pass a deal in Westminster then there needs to be a new UK general election; if there is no general election, then a second referendum “must” happen.
No free money
Shadow Finance Secretary, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), took up the Tory cause de jure this month – local government finance and in particular whether councils were still at the front of the queue for a slice of the “additional £550million” due to Wales in the latest UK budget.
“Llywydd, the Member knows perfectly well that when he quotes that figure of £550 million, that is not free money—that is not money just available to be allocated. And £365 million of that was pre-announced back in July of this year, and it now turns out that, of that £365 million, UK Ministers have spent over half of it before a penny of it crosses the border to be allocated in Wales.”
– Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford
The Finance Secretary confirmed that councils were at the head of the queue, but the fact there was a queue is a sign the Welsh Government will be unable to meet every single Tory demand for additional spending without austerity ending beforehand.
Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) asked about Office of National Statistics projections showing a decline in the proportion of working age (16-64) people in Wales and the impact this might have on future Welsh budgets.
“The chief economist’s report, which accompanies the Welsh budget, highlights the risk to the Welsh tax base if the working-age population continues to decline in Wales, especially when compared to the forecast rise of this age group in England. The chief economist’s report goes on to say that this could mean £150 million a year less in the Welsh budget by the end of the next decade, and the problem of course grows in each year throughout that period.”
– Dawn Bowden AM
The Finance Secretary said there were many factors which affect population projections, but it was likely that a fall in working-age people will result in a decreased budget and smaller tax base.
He rebuffed a follow-up from Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W & S. Pembs.) demanding smaller tax burdens on businesses and individuals by saying that if there are fewer workers, even if all of them were in well-paid employment it would result in smaller tax take. The ratio of working people to the retired is a problem across the western world.