Welsh position unclear following “Brexit bungs” for England and Northern Ireland

(Title Image: BBC News)

Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s Finance Questions.

Brexit towns fund announcement “came out of nowhere”

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) asked about the recently-announced £1.6billion package for investment in English provincial towns. Were any Barnett consequentials for Wales expected? Was there the potential for any additional money for Wales from a port town fund and an additional £140million for Northern Ireland?

The Minister said the town fund announcement caused some confusion:

“This announcement came out of nowhere to us and we’re still trying to work through with the UK Government to what extent the funding is new money. I understand that around £1 million (sic, I think it was supposed to be billion) of that is potentially new money. So, I think we would be looking at consequentials of around the region of £50 million if our understanding is confirmed to be true. The other £600 million I understand would be for towns to bid in to, and we would be able to bid into that, or potentially have consequential funding from that but, unfortunately, it’s proving extremely difficult to get clarity from the UK Government.”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower)

The Minister confirmed there’ll be no new money for Wales from the port town fund, and while Wales will have expected £256million as a result of the Northern Irish announcement, nothing has yet been forthcoming. The Minister, however, rejected any suggestion the Welsh Government weren’t doing their best to fight Wales’ corner.

Public procurement “should benefit local communities”

Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) asked about the future of public procurement in light of the winding-up of the National Procurement Service.

The Minister said the Welsh Government were now operating a “smaller unit” and the number of contracts involved has been halved from 60 to 30, with a much greater regional focus.

Nick Ramsay asked how the Minister envisaged that regional model working? He cited the fact that in 2018, 22% of contracts worth £500,000+ went to non-Welsh companies. The Minister replied:

“We’ll be considering the observations that (Public Accounts Committee) has to make in terms of helping us shape our way forward…..The example of Preston has often been given as one that has been seen as particularly successful in terms of ensuring that procurement benefits the local community.”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans

Local Government “given best possible settlement”

Local government funding has been a popular topic for a number of AMs this year and both Lynne Neagle AM (Lab, Torfaen) and Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) tabled questions on it as local authorities set their council tax rates – Torfaen’s has increased by 5.9%, while Mick Antoniw argued for a change in policy on leisure centres to protect them:

“What I’m asking you, Minister, is to consider this: there is an opportunity, by removing the obligation in respect of council tax on local authority leisure centres, to actually put them on a level playing field with trusts. That would save, certainly in my council of Rhondda Cynon Taff, in the region of £800,000 a year.”
– Mick Antoniw AM

Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) suggested hypothecated grants be folded into councils’ revenue budgets to provide them with more flexibility – something the Minister was willing to take up with the local government finance group.

Opposition AMs were less kind. Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) dismissed the Welsh Government’s 5% council tax increase cap as a PR exercise, while Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) yet again accused the Welsh Government of favouritism.

The Minister told AMs:

“I think the brass neck on the Conservative benches is quite incredible this afternoon. If public spending had kept pace with growth in the economy, we would have an extra £4 billion to spend next year….there’s absolutely no truth whatsoever that there is any politics involved in the local government funding formula. The local government funding formula is developed in collaboration with local government.”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans

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