Fifth and final budget

A big day at the assembly as the fifth and final budget is set out by the Welsh government.

It's worth remarking that this is the first administration so far since the start of devolution which has only had cuts to deal with.

Labour will not want to go into the assembly election feeling that it has left itself exposed to more attacks about failing to protect NHS budgets.

So instead it will give its single biggest extra cash injection to health of more than a quarter of a billion pounds.

Since 2013, when it made the key decision to re-prioritise spending from councils to the NHS, more than a billion pounds has gone to health.

Extra money

In other words, most of the extra money that has come its way has been spent on the NHS.

It will not of course take the heat out of the debate.

The Tories have referred to figures from the assembly's research department showing that in real terms (after taking into account the effect of inflation) health spending in 2015 is still around £100m behind what it was in 2010.

The Welsh government says the extra money will mean that spending in 2016 will be 0.6% higher than in 2010.

The Tory point being that the failure to protect the NHS budget between 2011 and 2013 means that it's taken until 2016 to catch up to a point where it should have been in the first place.

Bed-blocking

The health minister Mark Drakeford fails to acknowledge the difference between council and nhs cuts. His argument is that local authority social care providers stop elderly people taking up beds in hospitals when they should be at home.

In other words, if you cut their budgets, you can't get people to be operated on in hospitals because of so-called bed-blocking.

We're not expecting council budgets to be cut as much as many had feared.

One inevitable question is whether the worst of austerity for public services in Wales is now over?

There is a narrative that the worst of the cuts are yet to come but that isn't backed up by the figures.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Welsh government's budget was cut by around 8%.

Between 2015 and 2020, the forecast is for the Welsh government's budget to be cut by 3.6%.

Council leaders will still say it doesn't mean things are getting any easier.

Their argument is that the low-hanging fruit has already been covered, and the cumulative impact of cuts means any further reductions are just as tough.