Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A Balanced Welsh Assembly Budget Response

I was pleased to see that Kirsty Williams' response to the Labour/Plaid draft Welsh Assembly budget today was a reasonable, measured one.

At the moment, the political debate nationally and in Wales, is rather loud, rather angry, and is some cases rather hypocritical.

The old Punch and Judy style politics of the old, despite the talk of a 'new politics', remains. That for me is down to the Labour Party who can not and will not accept blame for the economic mess that they bequeathed the country back in May. Until they accept responsibility (which of course they won't) then I will take anything that they say on the state of the economy with a whopping great pinch of salt.

Welsh Priorities
But here in Wales, they have got to set the spending priorities along with their Plaid Cymru coalition colleagues in the Welsh Assembly. They've done so today and they've been very reasonable I feel in spreading the pain across the various departments.

They have decided, quite rightly in my opinion, to not ring-fence any departments. The Welsh Conservatives are crying merry hell about this but it's pleasing to see that Labour and Plaid Cymru are in one with the Welsh Liberal Democrats on this. By not ring-fencing any department, it has given more flexibility. As Kirsty Williams said today: "It is encouraging that this year’s budget seems to be looking for the savings in administration and central bureaucracy that the Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for".

Her response has been measured but she has rightly stated where the Cardiff Bay coalition should have done better. She criticises the Labour/Plaid coalition on not bringing the Pupil Premium into place in a Wales where education spending, per pupil, is £530 lower than in England.

She also states that “Despite the drop in unemployment announced in today’s figures, the economic recovery is still fragile. In these circumstances, it beggars belief that the economy and transport department that should be driving the Welsh economic recovery has faced some of the biggest cuts".

I totally agree with Kirsty on this point particularly. What I am most concerned about from today's announcements are the significant cuts in capital and infrastructural spending. Without firm, economic building blocks, Wales' future will remain fragile. Here in west, rural Wales, it is a particular concern.

As Kirsty says, this is a missed opportunity. But as she concludes: “The Welsh Liberal Democrats will be seeking to work cooperatively with the government to address these concerns.” That's what people want - political parties working together and not heckling for the sake of scoring cheap political points. That's why the Coalition in London has been more popular than most would've expected. What isn't needed now is complaining that everything is 'London's fault'. We have been dealt a hand here in Wales and it is the Labour/Plaid Welsh Assembly Government's responsibility to decide how it spends the money it has been allocated.

With a constructive, open and workmanlike attitude, it is our responsibility in opposition as Welsh Liberal Democrats to state where we disagree and what we would do differently. I'm pleased to see Kirsty Williams doing this in such a way today.

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