Spending priorities

The First Minister has just held his last news conference of 2015, so did we learn anything new?

The first point to make is that we were given a strong indication that spending in health and schools will be protected in next year's budget.

It would have been extraordinary if he'd gone into an assembly election campaign saying anything different, considering that the Conservatives at Westminster are protecting the NHS, and it's likely to be the number one subject in the next few months in Wales.

So it looks like councils will once again be hit by the cuts after facing average reductions of 3.4% in their financial settlement from the Welsh government over the past two years.

While on the subject of stats, he stressed the recent figures from the Treasury which he claimed put spending per head on public services in Wales at 11% higher than England. 7% higher in health and social care and within that 1% higher in health. And in education, he said spending per head is 4% higher.

Presumably the Treasury will take the credit for these as well, but it was the First Minister who tried to use them to claim the Tories were wrong to say that health spending was lower in Wales than elsewhere.

Protection

The news conference coincided with the publication of the Welsh local government association's manifesto for the assembly election.

The WLGA has called on the Welsh government to remove the national budget protection on schools, and also called for extra powers to be devolved to the local authorities.

Both were slapped down. On the protection of school budgets, he said it would continue next year and a strong hint it would remain in future years if Labour remains in power.

Currently, local authorities are required to offer a degree of protection to school budgets. It has been resisted by councils, not because they don't want to protect schools, but because they want the freedom to spend the money as they see fit, rather than ministers in Cardiff.

And on more powers, Mr Jones said that would only happen if the structure of local government was correct, claiming that was not the case at the moment. In other words, it's something that may be considered if there are fewer councils in future.

Wish-list

He set out a wish-list of what he wants from George Osborne. It includes a funding floor, support for a city deal, clarification on the electrification of main rail lines in north and south Wales and the devolution of air passenger duty.

The funding floor, which is a way of protecting the Welsh government's relative spending levels during times of public sector growth, appears to be top of the list, closely followed by support for a city deal.

The city deal proposal was only submitted to the Treasury less than a fortnight ago so it might be a tall order to get a spending commitment, although I'm told this could easily roll into next spring's budget.

Two other comments are worth a mention.

Carwyn Jones was asked about the dangers of Labour infighting at Westminster to the assembly campaign. The response was stark: "Nobody is going to win any election anywhere if people are openly fighting with each other.

"To me it's stunningly obvious."

The other related to comments he made last week when he hinted that he would consider breaking up Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in future.

He has now rowed back from that comment, saying re-organisation is not at "the forefront of our thinking".

Instead the board will be given the opportunity to regain the confidence of people in north Wales.

He said if it's successful in doing that the argument for a new structure becomes weaker.