Nearly all of this afternoon’s unannounced questions to the First Minister revolved around Labour’s 2019 UK election manifesto – which was summarised earlier this week at State of Wales.
A taxing question
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.) focused on tax. When the First Minister confirmed that the Welsh Government won’t raise the rate of Welsh income tax for the remainder of the Senedd term, Paul Davies picked out some of the proposals at a UK level which he claimed would “bankrupt the country (UK)”.
“….another person who wasn’t afraid to say that everyone will have to pay more tax under a UK Labour Government was (Shadow Chancellor) John McDonnell, who finally admitted yesterday that many of the party’s policies will affect the entire population. And as you’ve just said, where a UK Labour Government leads, the Welsh Government will follow, and your own manifesto commits to asking for a little more from those with the broadest shoulders making sure that everyone pays what they owe. And we all know what that means, that means taxes going very high under the Labour Party.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM
The First Minister decided to put the record straight: yes, Labour intends to increase income tax for those earning more than £80,000-a-year but will end the “horror” of universal credit. Corporation tax will rise to 26%, but this will remain lower than Belgium, Australia, Canada, France and the United States. All Labour plans to do is move the UK towards the European mainstream after a decade of “Tory starvation of public services”.
What about Wales?
Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) picked up on a number of things in the Labour manifesto – no commitment to devolving policing, no firm commitments to reforming the Barnett Formula and, last but not least, a promised £100billion investment in Scotland compared to £3.4billion a year in additional funding for Wales.
“Your manifesto says that Scotland will receive at least £100 billion of additional resources over the two terms of a Labour Government – £10 billion will go to a new national transformation fund to build 120,000 new homes in Scotland; another £6 billion to retrofit existing homes; the new Scottish national investment bank will get £20 billion to fund a wide range of projects. Now, if Wales were to be funded on this scale, we should expect at least an additional £60 billion, but there’s no such explicit commitment in either your UK or Welsh manifestos. Why are you so detailed on Scotland, even in your Welsh manifesto, and so silent on Wales?”
– Adam Price AM
On policing, the First Minister said the Thomas Commission report will form the basis going forward and it was too early to draw any policies from it. He added that Barnett Formula reform is in the Labour manifesto and noted UK Labour’s promise to use the Welsh Government’s constitutional reform paper as the basis for reforming the UK.
On the Scottish funding question, the First Minister didn’t answer it directly. The promised £3.4billion in itself would go some way towards making up for years of budget cuts, while Labour is committed to some significant Welsh-based projects like the Swansea tidal lagoon and Wylfa Newydd.
What about housing?
One of the headline pledges in Labour’s manifesto is to construct 100,000 council houses a year in England, but what about Wales?
“First Minister, given you only built 57 council houses last year, people can judge the plausibility of that, or otherwise, for themselves. You have said that you are going to, and I quote your manifesto here in 2016: ‘We will deliver an extra 20,000 affordable homes in the next term’, yet that implies 4,000 a year. You’ve been averaging only 2,500 a year. Is it really plausible that you are going to overcome that deficit in the next two years?”
– Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East)
The First Minister had every confidence the 20,000 affordable homes target won’t only be met but exceeded by 2021. The figure on council houses is also set to change dramatically, with more than 1,100 built by 2021 in just three local authorities alone – Cardiff, Powys and Anglesey (though it needed to be closer to 5,600 to match pace with England).