Plea for councils and schools to be at the front of the queue for extra cash

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Minister still discussing priority areas for extra cash

Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), referred to yesterday’s announcement on spending plans and, in particular, the additional £593million announced for Wales by the UK Treasury.

“School funding….has not kept pace with inflation between 2010 and 2011 and 2018 and 2019: gross budget expenditure on schools has actually seen a 2.9% real-terms cut terms cut….and school funding per pupil has widened to £645-per-pupil in 2017-18 (sic). How are you going to use the new funding allocation to address this?”
– Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM

The Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), said bilateral discussions were taking place with different Ministers. It was important to stress that education spending-per-head was 5% higher than in England.

She was sympathetic to the need for people in key frontline services to know what next year’s budget is going to be, but it was unfair to make announcements before the matter has been discussed further within the Welsh Government.

Local government cuts

Another echo from yesterday’s statement, Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) asked for assurances that local councils will be prioritised and won’t face a “cash flat” budget for 2020-21.

The Minister was non-committal, but understood the issue:

“I can certainly give the assurance that in the discussions that we’ve had….health remains a top priority, but we have all been clear that we want to give local government the best possible settlement. In terms of what more I can say about that, at the moment, without having further detailed discussions, I wouldn’t want to say too much more today.”
– Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans

That answer didn’t give Rhun much confidence, warning that Anglesey Council was facing a £6million cut and Bridgend Council was facing £35million of cuts with a potential 13% increase in council tax.

The Minister repeated the point that she couldn’t make any promises or announcements as things stand but will try to do so as soon as practically possible.

Spending on the over-60s

David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) asked what measures are being taken to ensure the next budget doesn’t reduce services to the over-60s. The decision to raise the free bus pass age to the state pension age added to the possible loss of free TV licences for the over-75s and changes to concessionary free swimming.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) raised the matter of bus pass renewal, which has resulted in problems since day one due to the Transport for Wales website failing to cope with visitors. There was also an issue about a lack of internet access amongst the elderly and paper applications being rejected; why weren’t bus passes automatically renewed?

The Minister said social care remained a top priority in terms of funding, but the other questions were mainly a matter for other government ministers. She added that there was no need to rush to apply to renew bus passes, but the new cards will be able to work as part of an integrated ticketing system, raising the possibility of them being used on other forms of public transport.

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