Poundstretcher, M+S or Fortnum's?
- 1 October 2012
- From the section Wales politics
Tomorrow the Finance Minister Jane Hutt will reveal her first stab at dividing just under £15bn of spending between Welsh government departments. That is the size of the block grant from Westminster for 2013-14 - a fall in cash terms from this year, a squeeze that's made to feel even tighter thanks to inflation pressures.
Bear in mind that Labour hold only 30 of the 60 seats in the Assembly and there you have it: a tough few weeks for Ms Hutt, a deal that must be struck with at least one of the opposition parties. The talking has already started, with all three groups we're told but negotiations will, as they say, get underway in earnest once the Finance Minister has delivered her statement tomorrow afternoon.
Last year the political palette in Wales was more orange and adding yellow to the mix earned Labour a 12 month deal. The Lib Dems voted for the budget in return for a promise of extra money for deprived pupils.
Their priority this year is likely, again, to be education. Plaid Cymru are expected to argue for more investment in the economy, while the Conservatives have already suggested they want more spending on the Welsh health service. Given Jane Hutt's eve of draft budget photo opportunity this afternoon was with Health Minister Lesley Griffiths in a hospital, let's assume that tomorrow's statement is one Labour will argue means more money for the NHS in Wales.
Was he at all serious about striking a deal with Labour this time round, Tory leader Andrew RT Davies was asked last week. He certainly was! Drawing on a retail politics description, Labour went and struck "a Poundstretcher deal with the Lib Dems last time - when they could have got a Marks and Spencer deal with us" he said.
A loud stage whisper came from the back of the room. "Or a Fortnum and Mason deal with Plaid's Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas!" Until last week it was certainly true that Labour only needed one, single vote to see the budget through. It was also true that there seemed to be a bit of a bromance developing between Lord Elis Thomas and First Minister Carwyn Jones just a few weeks ago. But a deal over the budget? A stretch, surely.
A week on, with Labour AM Keith Davies seriously ill in hospital, the bottom line is that Labour will need more than one vote to see them through anyway. They're confident they can strike a deal with one group or other. Reserves are at very low levels and each department will be out to keep hold of what they've got - but Ms Hutt has been round the negotiation block 'more times than Mr Whippy', as my friend from Pontypridd is fond of saying.
She will find a little something in the bottom of her handbag and a deal will be struck by December.