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Ask and you shall get?

Betsan Powys | 10:51 UK time, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Well, well, well.

Ask and you shall, apparently, get.

Let me run you through the sequence of events this morning.

Before that first blog entry an Email was sent to the Conservatives asking whether this offer made by George Osborne to the Scottish Government was also being extended to Wales?

What read like a non-committal response comes back.

At the government briefing, taken this morning on camera by the First Minister Carwyn Jones, I asked whether the same offer has been made to Wales.

He looks slightly startled.

"No, is the simple answer. It hasn't".
"Should it?"
"I mean ... we welcome any commitment that suggests we will get a protected budget but bluntly, I don't believe that'll happen with the Conservatives and certainly no such offer has been made to Wales .... IF it's been said to the SNP government in Scotland, it certainly hasn't been said in Wales".

If?

I refer the First Minister to the offer outlined again here.

He raises an obvious question of his own. How do you get on with the job of cutting the budget deficit swiftly, while making such apparently generous offers to defer extra cuts in other parts of the UK? And we in Labour, he said pointedly, have nothing to offer the Tories. No point them currying favour with us.

Within minutes, Plaid Cymru put out a statement

"It's a significant development that the Tories have apparently conceded at last that their cuts agenda would smash our brittle economic recovery to bits. But having accepted that they were wrong in Scotland, they must now do the same in Wales".

Before I go on, let's be clear on one thing. George Osborne is not saying Scotland would be immune from cuts. He's saying that given the Scottish budget has already been adopted, then the extra cuts a Conservative government is planning to impose in order to cut the deficit won't be imposed on the Scottish Government for one year. He's deferring the pain, not sparing it.

Next up, the Conservatives.

Nick Bourne, sounding considerably less non-committal, announces jubilantly that "Wales will be treated in the same way as Scotland". He even used the word 'rejoice'.

On he went. Such an offer is not a silver bullet. The debt has got to be paid back. This doesn't mean the Assembly Government - in the event of David Cameron becoming PM - should carry on blithely spending the extra quid they've not, after all, seen slashed from their budget.

And the Liberal Democrats? No sign of rejoicing here.

Just how long is this list going to be, wondered Kirsty Williams. First there's a Tory pledge to protect spending on health, then international development. Over the weekend Scotland was added to the list ... and now, Wales? How do you make significant inroads into the national debt while all of that's going on? "One has to wonder how their plans add up". The Lib Dems must be seeing, too, a clear message by the Tories that Nick Clegg isn't the only dancing partner they're lining up.

The events of this morning unfolded in what looked and felt like an episode of The Accidental Giveaway (if giveaway, indeed, it is. The Accidental Deferred Cut just sounds like a quite different sort of film).

And before you give a huge sigh of relief at the thought of those extra cuts being put off for a year, let me just suggest you do one thing.

Look straight ahead. What do you see?

What you should be seeing, if you're looking properly, is the word 'cuts' writ large. What you will be seeing is a year where those 'cuts' that have already been hurting, will start to make you gasp.

The Assembly Government doesn't know exactly how deep they'll go but let's put it like this: rumour has it ... not, let's up the ante ... strong whispers suggest they're drawing up spending plans for 2010-2011 that take into account possible cuts of 3% on their revenue budget and 10% on the capital budget.

Whichever way you apply percentages like that, be under no illusion: they will hurt and they will hurt a lot.

UPDATE: Peter Hain has responded to this morning's pledge. I'll quote it in full:

"Yet again, Wales is merely an afterthought for the Tories. Having made a dubious offer of 'more pain later' for Scotland they have today added insult to injury in Wales. George Osborne says that Wales can have double the savage cuts in twelve months time. This plainly means it would be twice as bad for Wales in a year's time with the Tories. We in Wales know that this would wreck the fragile recovery and destroy jobs.

Whilst Labour has a credible plan to pull us through into economic recovery the Tories are looking for a short term sticking plaster, just to get them through an election year. And what happened to Conservatives wanting to cut the deficit 'further and faster'? As soon as they have to explain themselves their policies unravel. The decent mainstream majority in Wales will see right through this Tory cuts con."

The response from Labour in Cardiff is different incidentally. The suggestion this end? That Nick Bourne has overplayed his hand; that it's worth questioning whether any such pledge has been made by George Osborne and to whisper that given it's understated announcement, it might all - after the election - prove to be deniable.

Over to Mr Osborne.

UPDATE

Not directly from the Shadow Chancellor but this statement comes from a Conservative spokeperson:

"We recognise that the Welsh Assembly has already voted through the Budget for the financial year 2010/11.

"As a result a Conservative Government would therefore offer the Welsh Assembly the option to delay any in-year spending reductions for 2010/11 until the 2011/12 financial year.

"Whether the Assembly Government chose to do so would be a decision for them, and the Welsh Assembly but a Conservative Government at Westminster wants to work with the Welsh Government to get the people of Wales and Britain through this debt crisis."

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