(Title Image: Northern Powerhouse Developments)
Here’s a round-up of this afternoon’s questions to the Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower).
Minister trailing “really good budget”
The draft Welsh budget is – for the moment – due to be published on 16th December and Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) noted that as this is later than expected, would there be due consideration given to relieving some of the pressure on local government finances?
“It is clear that investing through local government can make significant savings, and can improve people’s quality of life. Investing in housing through local government can improve health, investment in social services can take pressure off the health service, and investment in sports facilities can also be very successful as a preventative tool in preventing obesity, and so on.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM
The Minister said she’s been working closely across budget and believes the draft “is a really good budget” with health set to be a top priority yet again. The focus in local government has been on preventative spending to stop small problems becoming big ones – one such example being social housing, where 93% of social housing is now up to quality standards and having a knock-on positive impact on health.
Rural areas not missing out on development cash
Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) asked for an update on rural spending plans in light of a seemingly big underspend on rural development:
“I understand that only 41% of Rural Development Plan (RDP) funds for the programme period have been spent up until the end of August 2019. Perhaps you can confirm or otherwise on that. Can you update us on any discussions you’ve had with the Minister for rural affairs about how we got into this situation and how the spending situation may be improved in future?”
– Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM
The Minister did acknowledge an underspend, but it wasn’t quite as low as 41% and was closer to 45%. It compares to 42% average across EU member states (RDP is an EU-funded programme). Just under £665million has been committed to projects until 2023, which represents around 80% of RDP funds. The 45% figure just represents what’s been spent already. It underlined how important EU funding is to rural communities.
Did the Welsh Government act as window dressing for Northern Powerhouse Developments?
Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) asked about the Welsh Government’s relations to the controversial developer, Gavin Woodhouse, who’s been linked to several business failures and the seemingly scrapped Afan Valley resort.
“….one way Ponzi schemes work is burnishing a positive reputation to persuade investors to part with their money. Do you accept that the Welsh Government’s public support for Mr Woodhouse played a part in burnishing his reputation? And does the Welsh Government feel any sense of reasonability to those who’ve lost money by investing in Welsh projects associated with Gavin Woodhouse?”
– Mark Reckless AM
The Finance Minister was categorical that no Welsh Government funding has been provided to Gavin Woodhouse. She rejected the picture he was trying to paint.