Public sector in Wales braced budget cuts


Public service providers in Wales are bracing themselves for a round of expected cuts to be announced in next week's emergency Budget.

A BBC survey has found many areas are already going through the accounts earmarking where savings could be made.

Social care and transport are thought to be among the biggest victims.

Wales' largest employer, the NHS, has been warned by assembly ministers it has to reduce its budget more than £1bn over the next three years.

Nurses make up the largest part of the more than 90,000 staff in the health service in Wales.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the number of nurses needs to be protected as they contribute the greatest volume of care to patients.

Doctors' leaders say a similar thing about the importance of their members.

Meanwhile, the Conseervatives say a scheme run for the last three years in which all prescription medicines in Wales have been free should be scrapped.

But that would not please patients like Janet Rogers, from Newport, who has cystic fybrosis, an inherited condition affecting the glands that produce body fluids or secretions.

She used to spent £90 a year on prescription medicines, which can be up to 30 tablets per day and said that going back to paying for prescriptions would not be fair.

"I could not live without them. If I did not have [free prescriptions] I would not be able to afford my drugs," she said.

"To a lot of people, £90 is a lot of money. To have another bill coming in when money's tight is a big issue."

There are also fears for another of the flagship schemes brought in by the assembly government - free breakfasts for primary schools - as the UK government tries to cut the country's deficit by £5.7bn this financial year.

It costs nearly £10m a year to run and it's the kind of public funding expected to come under scrutiny in the future.

Peter Osborne, headteacher at Cwm Glas Primary School in Swansea said that in the eyes of many parents, the money was "well spent", helping parents who had to get to work and those who were struggling to feed their children in the morning.

Vicky Hassan, who works in the public sector herself and whose daughter Holly goes to the school's breakfast club, said the scheme helped with her job.

"I would have to change all my shifts and in work [without it]," she added.

Another area likely to come under the spotlight is heritage, including places like Swansea Museum, which costs the local authority £500,000 a year to run.

A strategy has been launched there to try to get museums to work smarter in hard economic times, such as using more volunteers and young people to help.

Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones said it would be a "tough sell" protecting his budget from the cuts.

"We cannot ignore what's happening around us and what's likely to happen over the next few years with certainly decreased funding from the London government," he said.

"So, in response, to that we have to be positive, we cannot put our heads in the sand and hope for the best."

The biggest public sector workers union, Unison, is calling for a four-year campaign to resist government cuts.

The general secretary, Dave Prentis, said that if ministers target services, pay or pensions, "they won't know what's hit them".

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