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Cuts and constraints

Betsan Powys | 11:27 UK time, Monday, 5 October 2009

Off to Manchester this week to but first, there's some pain to endure this end - a great deal of pain in fact.

It's the kind of pain you know is coming but can do nothing about. It's the kind of pain that I always knew to expect when the dentist suggested putting on the Richard Clayderman CD when I walked into his room. I used to take my pain muzak-free.

It's the kind of pain that hits the pocket and comes at the end of months of dire warnings that there is less money in the public spending pot than ever before. It's the kind that gets local government leaders preparing to pen press releases in anger and resorting to cut and paste ... 'at the coal-face' ... 'front line services must be protected' ... because they're convinced that as deliverers of our services, they will always bear the brunt of cuts.

It's the kind of pain you feel when you're a Finance Minister in a National Assembly and you're seeing an ever decreasing pot of money coming at you. You know that your budget is largely fixed and anyway you've already nicked a bit of extra cash from this year's budget to spend last year and you've dipped into your reserves ... and now it's pay-back time.

Bear in mind that all Andrew Davies can reveal later is how he intends to divvy up the money the government has to play with. How much he and the Assembly Government have to play with was decided some time ago. He's debated the spending choices ahead with his cabinet colleagues for months. There is £416million pounds to be found in efficiency savings - £200m of it already taken from the pot to be spent early in order to inject some cash into the Welsh economy asap and another £216m that is a straightforward cut.

Will he ring-fence some departmental budgets? Can he afford to protect the health and education budgets or will he simply ask everyone to take a hit? Will he look at the £216m and divide it up between the long row of begging bowls in front of him? The health budget is projected to be some £6billion - just over in fact. If you're talking about serious constraints on spending, will he insist that they share the pain of efficiency savings? His language so far seems to suggest he expects everyone to feel the squeeze.

Up in Manchester the race to prove you're really, really good at this constraint business goes on.

The Conservatives are talking about a "big and bold shake-up" of incapacity benefits. In other words the cuts they're promising are real cuts but they're cuts for a purpose. Gordon Brown has finally brought himself to talk spending "cuts" and Nick Clegg has tried to trump both with this "savage cuts".

Le'ts listen closely to Andrew Davies' language this afternoon. Will he be tempted to join in this every-so-slightly macho competition to prove he's not afraid of cuts? Or will he simply accept that the really big cut has been made for him by the Chancelllor and adopt the language of partnership and co-operation to ease the pain we all know is coming?

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