Crunching encounters - and numbers

 

The sleeper cells, it seems, are very much awake.

I'm talking about Welsh Labour MPs and their blunt message to the First Minister on the devolution of policing. He is the most senior elected Labour politician in the UK, one of them pointed out to me recently. Just a pity, they added, he doesn't use that fact, and put his shoulder to the wheel a bit, fight on the things that really matter instead of faffing about with nonsense like the devolution of policing. Their message is pretty simple: why doesn't he use his time to deliver better health and education services?

Fertile ground for the leader of the opposition at this afternoon's First Minister's questions. It started well enough. Instead of worrying about reshuffling his cabinet, or "keeping the old gang together" as Andrew Davies put it, why didn't Carwyn Jones worry rather more about reshuffling his policies? Mr Jones was taking no lessons on that front.

Neither was he impressed by an (old) attack on the (surviving) Minister for the Economy. How could business have confidence in a politician who regrets capitalism and a government that "wants to support Marxism?" asked Mr Davies.

"One thing I can promise him is that business have far more faith in the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport than they ever have in him" came the response - one Mr Davies felt, (modestly) "was hardly a ringing endorsement to be honest with you ..." In fact, I'm not quite sure that sentence came out right at all.

Arguments over the economy and the impact of tomorrow's budget on Wales were rehearsed today - because tomorrow, the chamber will be empty - or should I say under half full, or is that over half empty?. Labour and Plaid Cymru AMs (including the Presiding Officer, though not, apparently, including Dafydd Elis Thomas) are staying away. Liberal Democrat - and Conservative AMs will be here. "Politicians in this place need to grow up" says their leader.

Put simply, the pre-budget headlines are these:

The First Minister is clear George Osborne's Plan A must now be scrapped in favour of a Plan B that involves some borrowing in order to spend on infrastructure projects. Interestingly this week, we've finally narrowed down that 'some'. For months, all we had to go on was the length of that mythical piece of string - until yesterday. Now we have that implied figure of £8 billion. It was our maths, but crunched on numbers provided by the First Minister.

The leader of the Welsh Conservatives has "complete confidence" that the Chancellor will take "the right approach" in tomorrow's budget. Talk of borrowing to kick-start the economy was dismissed out of hand as "remedies and witch doctor potions." As for Carwyn Jones' take on the budget? "Casino economics".

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have done their own number crunching. They've called on George Osborne to increase the personal tax allowance to £10,000, concluding that it he does, "ordinary workers would see £700 back in their pockets". Kirsty Williams and her group "subscribe to the overall UK Government policy on borrowing" but are up for anything and everything to stimulate the economy other than borrowing. How much were we talking? "Unlike the First Minister" she said "I'm not going to pretend I've seen the books and come up with a hard and fast figure".

Plaid Cymru spelled out how the Chancellor could, in their view, afford Wales "a measure of defence against cuts". They were talking millions, not billions. Devolving smaller taxes from stamp duty to landfill tax would release a revenue stream of £215m say Plaid, against which the Welsh Government could borrow and spend on smaller, ready to go infrastructure projects. Nimbler, but necessary if the Welsh economy is to improve.

Mr Osborne will be talking - and taking, or recycling one way or another - billions tomorrow. Watch him live tomorrow here. Do you homework tonight here.

 
Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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