Will the Welsh budget be slashed?
“The London parties are planning slash and burn cuts to Wales’ budget and our public services”.
Elfyn Llwyd MP, Plaid Cymru, 31 March, 2010
Plaid Cymru’s UK parliamentary group leader, talking at a joint press conference with the Scottish National Party today, warned voters the ‘London parties’ had earmarked Wales for severe cuts to frontline services.
But in a pre-election campaign that has so far been notably devoid of precise numbers about where and when cuts will fall, where has Plaid Cymru got its ‘slash and burn’ predictions about Tory and Labour spending plans from?
The first basis of this claim is the budget report, published this month, which shows departmental expenditure for Wales will drop from £16bn in 2009/10, to £15.7bn in 2010/11.
To put this into context the same figures show Scotland’s budget will drop from £29.6bn to £29.4bn over the same period, while overall UK spending between the two periods is set to rise from £386.7bn to £393.4bn. It is perhaps also worth noting too that Wales’ funding next year is still up from the £14.5bn total in 2008/9, despite the planned cut.
So a significant cut for Wales, although it should be made clear this was contained in Alistair Darling’s budget, and cannot therefore be attributed to both so-called ‘London parties’.
Another foundation for this claim, FactCheck was told, was the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ (IFS) analysis of Darling’s budget, which was published the day after the chancellor’s speech last week.
The IFS report claimed some government departments could face cuts of up to 25 per cent, so Plaid Cymru has taken this as an indication of impending ‘slash and burn’.
The IFS forecast may prove to be true, it may not – it is just a prediction, as Darling himself was at pains to point out when confronted with the IFS figures. Again these are predictions based on a Labour budget, not both parties.
Plaid Cymru also points to a report by the Holtham Commission last year, which claimed the current method used by central government to set funding for Wales – the Barnett formula – meant the prinicpality was missing out on £300m annually.
This boils down to a semantic argument in a sense, as the Barnett formula has existed since the late 70s, therefore it might be a considered something of a stretch to use it to prove a ‘planned’ cut, when it is the continuation of a formula that has existed for 30 years.
The final plank of Plaid Cymru’s backing for this claim is a report by the Auditor General for Wales, Gillian Body, who claimed Wales could face funding cuts of £500m in the near future, as public services are squeezed.
This is broadly in line with numbers outlined by Darling in his budget . The auditor also noted that devolved services in Wales had enjoyed five years of booming spending in which funding rose by more than £3bn, well above inflation.
Plaid Cymru seem to be on safe ground when predicting cuts, when all the major parties – although they differ about timing – have acknowledged severe belt-tightening will be necessary.
However, it seems Plaid Cymru has lumped the Conservatives in with Labour when making this claim – Darling’s budget seems to have been replaced by the term ‘London parties’ – and they have ignored the funding increases which have preceded next year’s planned cut.