(Title Image: Wikipedia via Mariordo and Creative Commons Licence BY SA 2.0)
Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s questions to the Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower).
“Golden opportunity” missed to cut business taxes in draft budget
Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) asked how the draft Welsh budget will support businesses?
The Minister confirmed that business rate relief for the high street will be extended in 2020-21. However, Darren Millar said business rates remain high in Wales and a “golden opportunity” has been missed:
“….in spite of that relief that you are extending, we’ve still got the most punitive business rates regime in the whole UK. And, of course, in addition to having the highest business rates….we also have very high land transaction tax for non-commercial properties, and they will continue to be higher than Scotland or England for the foreseeable future. Why is it that you didn’t take the opportunity to have a look at reducing those taxes to promote investment and to promote business as the wealth creators in Wales in your budget, and will you reconsider that position before bringing the final budget to this Chamber?”
– Darren Millar AM
The Finance Minister said this was an incorrect assessment; a larger proportion of Welsh businesses are eligible for rate relief than in England. There was no indication either than land transaction tax was stimying business. Over 90% of non-residential/commercial property transactions in Wales pay the same or lower rate than English stamp duty.
Draft budget “lacking ambition towards climate objectives”
Criticising UK Government feet-dragging on publication of their own budget – now not due until March 11th – Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) turned attention to the draft Welsh budget and was equally critical, saying it lacked innovation and failed to demonstrate meaningful actions when dealing with climate change.
“….look at the Wales infrastructure investment plan update for 2019. It shows an investment of £1.56 billion on roads compared with an investment of £818 million in sustainable transport, which suggests to me that elements of your budgeting could actually be undermining your net-zero carbon objectives.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM
Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) asked a similar question, wondering how the Welsh Government prioritised four specific areas – electric buses, housebuilding, active travel and a national forest – within the budget?
The Minister took opposition parties to task for scrutinising by press release and doing little to put forward alternative budgets themselves.
While there was a broad investment package in decarbonisation and biodiversity, she stressed it was often difficult to count the impact budgets have on carbon emissions – citing an example of emission reductions from investment in electric vehicle infrastructure being dependent on public electric vehicle uptake, but investment in public sector vehicles being easier to monitor as the government will know the emission impact from each vehicle replaced.
“Looking at the evidence, we don’t have to do all the empirical evidence-gathering ourselves – just looking for examples of good practice globally, in terms of what we know works, taking advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change in terms of what they would like to see Welsh Government focusing its efforts on in terms of decarbonisation, and lowering our carbon emissions across Wales.”
– Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans