Climate emergency the running theme as the Senedd’s committees report on the draft Welsh budget

(Title Image: Climate Change Commission for Wales)

The draft Welsh budget will be debated in the Senedd this afternoon (more from me tomorrow). Over the last week, some of the Senedd’s committees reported back on their conclusions regarding the budget.

The Culture Committee, as of posting, didn’t publish a report despite holding budget scrutiny sessions.

Finance Committee
Draft Welsh Budget 2020-21 (pdf)
Published: 29th January 2020

Key conclusions – “If you’re going to declare a climate emergency, treat it as an emergency.”

  • While welcoming the budget increase, the Committee would have liked the Welsh Government to have been more ambitious on climate change and are worried that big changes (i.e. public pensions) are being foisted on Wales without the accompanying finance from the UK Treasury.
  • A change in strategy is needed (i.e. new taxes, tax increases) if the Welsh Government wants to guarantee it will have additional funding in future years.
  • It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to properly measure the impact spending decisions have – positive and negative – on certain groups of people.
  • The declaration of a climate emergency doesn’t seem to have been reflected in the budget at all despite an overall increase in the amount of money spent directly on decarbonisation. The Committee was disappointed there wasn’t a more radical approach.
  • There are no signs yet of a cultural shift towards “preventative spending” (spending on certain services so people don’t end up reliant on more expensive services further down the line).
  • There’s more targeted spending to tackle specific problems relating to poverty (i.e. holiday hunger, period poverty) but it’s unclear if the draft budget would impact the root causes of poverty.
  • The Committee is disappointed there’s not more analysis on what impact different Brexit scenarios will have on the draft budget.

Economy & Infrastructure Committee (pdf) – “We need more details.”

  • Despite a commitment to decarbonisation, it’s unclear how money is being spent, and on what particular measures, to decarbonise transport.
  • There are concerns about a lack of transparency surrounding Transport for Wales’ budget and the subsidies TfW Rail receives.
  • Research and evidence relating to the economic impact of Cardiff Airport should be published.
  • The Welsh Government should commission a review of research and innovation, including public and privately-funded activities.

Communities Committee (pdf) – “Spend more on preventing homelessness.”

  • The Committee welcomes the “significant” local government settlement for 2020-21, but the relatively modest increase to local authority capital spending may impact decarbonisation efforts.
  • Information on grant schemes to make environmental improvements to homes should be easily accessible.
  • Spending on homelessness and homelessness prevention should be increased or the government’s ambitions are unlikely to be fully realised.
  • The Welsh Government should provide details on which Communities First projects received legacy funding and what was being done to support them to become self-sufficient.

Environment & Rural Affairs Committee (pdf) – “Stop arsing about on climate change.”

  • There’s little evidence of a transformative and radical budget concerning the climate emergency; a new carbon impact assessment should be published alongside future draft budgets.
  • It’s unacceptable for the Welsh Government to “continue to plead ignorance” about the cost and benefits of decarbonisation.
  • The Welsh Government has failed to meet its target of eradicating fuel poverty by 2018 and the Committee would like further information on how funding for schemes like Arbed will be better used in the future.
  • The Committee welcomed a decision to continue direct payments to farmers through to 2021 and the Minister should set out a timetable for a post-Brexit replacement.
  • More details are needed on the National Forest policy.

Health & Social Care Committee (pdf) – “Why are health boards still struggling to balance their books?”

  • The Committee welcomes the reported improvement in health board finances, with a total £50million deficit from two health boards (Betsi Cadwaladr, Hywel Dda) compared to £96million in 2018-19. However, the continued inability of health boards to manage their finances “remains a cause for concern”.
  • The Welsh Government needs to explain how the budget supports transformational change, particularly full integration of health and social care.
  • There remains a lack of parity between physical and mental health and details of the £700million ringfenced for mental health should be provided.
  • There has to be a greater commitment to spending on sport and exercise as part of an agenda to prevent health problems before they begin.

Children & Young People Committee (pdf) – “Schools should be front of the queue for any additional funding coming Wales’ way.”

  • The Committee welcomes the increased funding for local authorities, but concerns about school funding remain; the Welsh Government should prioritise schools for any additional money that they may receive as a result of spending changes on education in England.
  • The Committee is concerned that there are still no details or funding allocated for a specialist mother and baby mental health unit.
  • A new child poverty reduction strategy is needed.
  • All aspects of funding to roll-out the new National Curriculum should be kept under review.
  • The Welsh Government should explain why £12million needed to meet its commitments on degree-level apprenticeships isn’t included in the draft budget.
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