Welsh budget priorities 'not reflected in spending'

Money The Welsh budget talks about jobs but commits more to the NHS, AMs say

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The Welsh government's budget for next year fails to reflect what it claims are the key priorities, the assembly's finance committee has warned.

While ministers say they are putting jobs and growth first, the budget deal last month in fact puts substantially more money into the NHS, AMs said.

Committee chair Jocelyn Davies AM likened it to "singing one song to the tune of another".

The Welsh government said it would consider the committee's findings.

Since the economic crisis struck, the Welsh government's mantra has been that it is ruthlessly focused on creating jobs and economic growth.

Start Quote

The government is entitled to have whatever priorities that it wants but we're arguing that it really should be more transparent”

End Quote Jocelyn Davies AM Chair, finance committee

This was repeated in October as minister's unveiled their £16bn spending plans for next year.

Under the plans, the NHS in Wales will get £570m of extra funding over three years, an increase of 3.58% in cash terms or 1.68% in real terms.

But according to AMs on the finance committee, there is a disconnection between ministers aims of jobs and growth and the budget itself, which they say clearly directs scarce additional resources towards the health service.

Committee chair, Plaid Cymru AM Jocelyn Davies told Radio Wales: "It's a little like singing one song to the tune of another."

She added: "We did find that there was definite disconnect with the Welsh government's stated top priorities - growth and jobs - but the resources allocated in this budget would appear to prioritise health.

"We do say, of course, that the government is entitled to have whatever priorities that it wants but we're arguing that it really should be more transparent.

Montage of council services Funding for council services has been 'greatly reduced' in the draft budget, say finance AMs

"So if you re-prioritise something, that decision should be open to scrutiny by others."

Even with the extra NHS money, the committee said its AMs were not convinced all the health boards have sufficient plans in place to live within their means.

Meanwhile, funding for local government services has been "greatly reduced", Ms Davies said.

And the committee is also concerned about the lack of detail regarding the financial implications of current and planned legislation and has decided to hold an inquiry to examine the issue in-depth.

Ms Davies added: "We have raised our game but with recent announcements concerning the potential for new borrowing and taxation responsibilities being devolved we are also aware that the assembly will need to step up its scrutiny processes even further in the future."

The report is expected to make difficult reading for the Welsh government.

'More transparency'

But Labour ministers have already done a deal with Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats to ensure they have enough votes to have it passed by the assembly next month.

Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas, who sits on the finance committee, said his party would continue to scrutinise the budget deal despite its agreement to abstain.

He said: "An important lesson to take from the report is the need for more transparency in terms of where all the money is coming from when the ministers make decisions to prioritise certain areas."

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "We will consider the committee's report and findings and the finance minister will respond to the committee in due course."

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