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Cats and empty bags

Betsan Powys | 21:23 UK time, Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Deputy First Minister doesn't go in for hyperbole - it must be the measured country solicitor in him.

So when Ieuan Wyn Jones says that "going forward into the next decade, Welsh public services will be badly affected" by cuts to the block grant, you can be quite sure that he means it. Tonight he described those budget cuts as "pretty severe indeed ... not just next year but well, well into the next decade".

On that he's in agreement with Plaid economics guru Eurfyl ap Gwilym, the man who costed their 2007 assembly election manifesto. He anticipates that between 2011 - 2014 the money the Assembly Government will have to work with "will be about £600m less than it would have been looking back a year or two. There'll be a real cut of about 2.3% and to that of course we have to add inflation. So it'll be a reduction of about 4.4%".

And when that sort of aqueeze happens, it's inevitable that jobs will have to go.

His figures. His predictions. But what does Ieuan Wyn Jones makes of his suggestion that to govern with less ought to mean bye-bye to free-for-all policies?

The adviser says:

"This idea of universal services is attractive as long as it's affordable. But I think a crunch is going to come ... For instance take free prescriptions by and large the people who benefited from free prescriptions in Wales, the extension of free prescriptions, are people on middle and higher incomes. It could be argued why should you be spending public money there rather than targeting that money on people on very low incomes? Similarly we've got this issue of university tuition fees which I warned about several years ago. A large proportion of young people going to university are still those who come from middle income families. Is that where you're going to put your money rather than helping children from poorer families say with free school nurseries?

The party leader and Deputy First Minister says:

"I think that free prescriptions have to be in a particular category of a universal service that we believe is necessary for people, but there may well be other things that you have to look at ... but what I will say to the people of Wales is - we will be sensible in the way we approach it, but you have to understand that sometimes there are fundamental issues that you have signed up to as a party."

The Tories say Eurful ap Gwilym has "let the cat out of the bag" on impending cuts. It must have struck them that whoever is left holding the bag after the General Election will find that cat, or no cat, it's pretty empty.

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