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Cold baths

Betsan Powys | 15:41 UK time, Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Back from a break where I got an early feel for "efficiency savings in backroom technology". In other words there was no television. There was no computer either, no access to blogs, be they good, bad or plain ugly. Strangest of all was being cut off from the blogosphere only to read-all-about-it when the plain ugly amongst them hit the headlines a few days in.

So back yesterday to the sound of civil servants dusting down their calculators and preparing for some complex maths tomorrow that will reveal how deep a cut the Chancellor's "efficiency savings" will leave in the Welsh budget.

So far the maths - and worse case scenario total - according to the Finance Minister, Andrew Davies, had been going like this: a cut of £292m as a result of savings of £5b forced on Whitehall departments; a loss of £120m from the capital budget because of money brought forward to combat the recession and another £75m cut in capital spending due to underspends in the UK Department of Health.

His "perfect storm" maths - plenty of subtraction, very little adding up - led to a scenario of £500m disappearing from the Welsh budget. Public sector organisations have been asked to "wargame" what a 2% cut in their budgets would mean but also, where a 5% cut would leave them. The answers? 2%. Doable with belt tightening. 5%? Job losses, services to the public cut.

Now? Even worse to come, or a case of whipping up an even stormier scenario only to reveal that things aren't, after all, quite that bad?

Back too to thoughts on the Devolution Decade, a conference organised by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, supported by the All Wales Convention. Sir Emyr Jones Parry, who must have taken to rehearsing that neutral face in the bathroom mirror, took it all in and let little out but it's fair to say the nay-sayers in the room were well outnumbered.

What the audience got for the first few hours wasn't, you suspect, what they'd expected. They listened to an almost relentlessely negative view of what's happened to the Welsh economy, what's been achieved for Welsh schools and hospitals over the past ten years. Between them the Prof, the Economist, the Education adviser and his Health expert delivered what the Chair called "a cold bath."

It was "wrist slitting time" suggested one who was near the front. Others might console themselves with the thought that cold baths are meant to be shocking but rather good for you.

Supporters of "efficiency savings" will perhaps be rehearsing the argument already that tomorrow's budget will deliver one hell of a shock but one that just has to pay off.


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