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MSs debate draft spending plans for 2024/25

the debating chamber at the senedd
The debating chamber at The Senedd Credit: Photo credit: Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament)

MSs debated draft 2024-25 spending plans after the Welsh Government announced a raft of cuts to public services.

Rebecca Evans said the Welsh Government’s 2024-25 settlement is worth up to £1.3bn less in real terms than when it was set in the 2021 spending review.

Wales’ finance minister told the Senedd: “In making this draft budget, we have had to take incredibly difficult decisions, and they are the most stark and painful since devolution.

“We have worked over many months to radically reshape our budget so that we can focus funding on the services that matter most to people.”

Ms Evans said the core settlement for councils, which funds schools and social services, will be protected and £450m more will be invested in the NHS.

She told MSs that the unprecedented pressure on budgets means ministers are considering whether to increase charges for NHS dental care, university tuition fees and domiciliary care.

Peter Fox, the Conservatives’ shadow finance minister, criticised the Welsh Government for choosing to release its draft budget during recess.

During a Senedd debate on Tuesday January 9, he said: “This approach stifles the opportunity for proper challenge, forcing a rushed approach to scrutiny.”

Mr Fox raised concerns about an “astounding” 8.8% cash cut to the mental health budget.

He said: “We have heard so many times in this chamber from ministers about the importance of mental health, so this simply doesn’t make sense.”

‘Huge pressure’

Mr Fox also accused ministers of neglecting social care, saying: “You cannot keep passing this huge pressure to councils to deal with.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth also raised concerns about a lack of opportunity to scrutinise the draft budget plans in the Senedd before Christmas.

The Plaid Cymru leader said: “A pattern has emerged over recent years of allowing timely scrutiny on government spending plans to happen through ministerial television interviews.”

Criticising an “outdated” funding formula which fails to take needs into account, he claimed that Keir Starmer seems to care little about underwriting a fair deal for Wales.

He said: “The black hole in this budget, more than any in the age of devolution, has exposed the damaging premium we pay for the supposed insurance policy offered by the union.”

‘Crisis’

Mike Hedges, a Labour backbencher, raised concerns about the portion of the health budget spent on primary care continuing to reduce.

The Swansea East MS said: “Patients cannot get an appointment to see their GP. They’re either too late or cannot get past the receptionist.

“The only place they can go and are guaranteed to see a doctor is A&E.”

Peredur Owen Griffiths, the Plaid Cymru Ms for South Wales East, who chairs the Senedd’s finance committee, warned that local government is in a state of existential crisis.

He said councils face a funding gap of £354m through the next financial year, which is predicted to increase to an “utterly sustainable” £750m by 2027.

‘Under siege’

Janet Finch-Saunders warned that Welsh culture is “under siege”, with Museum Wales, Cadw, Sport Wales and the National Library all facing budget cuts.

The Conservative MS for Aberconwy also raised concerns about an increase in homelessness support from £46m to £215m.

Calling for more homes to be built, she said: “It’s insane that in this day and age you’re prepared to throw money at keeping people in hotel rooms and B&Bs.”

Samuel Kurtz raised concerns that the rural affairs budget has seen a cut of £62m.

The Conservative said: “These wider cuts will have serious implications for the industry as we look towards the start of the sustainable farming scheme in January 2025.”

‘Emergencies’

Jane Dodds, the Lib Dem leader in Wales, raised alarm about plans to consider raising public service fees like dentistry charges.

She said: “Thousands are already struggling to access local NHS dentistry, and facing dental emergencies by paying substantial sums, or travelling long distances, or even attempting DIY treatment.”

Laura Anne Jones, the Conservatives’ shadow education minister, criticised cuts to the education budget which, she said, amounted to £140m in real terms.

She criticised Jeremy Miles, Wales’ education minister, over his Welsh Labour leadership pledge to invest more in education.

She told the chamber: “He promised to invest in education – he’s had years to do this, yet all we’ve seen are cuts to his portfolio.”

‘Same old story’

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s shadow rural affairs minister, welcomed protection in the draft budget for the £238m basic payment scheme for farmers.

But he raised concerns about cuts to the broader rural affairs budget and pointed out that farming costs have increased by 40%, eroding the real-term value of direct payments.

Mr Gruffydd said the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that Jeremy Hunt and Rachel Reeves’ plans appear remarkably similar, adding: “Labour, Tory, same old story.”

Alun Davies, a Labour backbencher, who represents Blaenau Gwent, accused opposition MSs of seeking to spend money that does not exist.

He said Wales is dealing with the consequences of “one of the most economically illiterate UK Governments in history”, claiming the Liz Truss budget cost the UK £30bn.

‘Hyper-austerity’

Mr Davies called for a new needs-based formula to redistribute funding in the UK and an independent budget office to prevent Westminster from “short-changing” Wales.

Adam Price said Wales is living through a time of hyper-austerity, with real-term public spending growing by 3% per person over the past 14 years.

The ex-Plaid Cymru leader said that’s the slowest rate of growth in modern Welsh history.

“We’re going backwards,” he warned. “And that’s why everything, from our town centres to public transport to the NHS, feel fragile, hollowed out, broken…

“Those working in our public services are exhausted and those who depend upon them are on the brink.”

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MSs debate draft spending plans for 2024/25