06 October 2011

Welsh Draft Budget: Death of a thousand cuts

The Welsh Government's 2012-2013 Draft Budget, published yesterday by Labour finance minister Jane Hutt, is the second one in a row to cut Welsh public services. 12.2% cuts to education, 3% cuts to the NHS and an average of 6% cuts to environment, housing, fire services and elsewhere across the public sector promise to make Welsh residents less healthy, less safe, and less financially secure over the coming year while hurting social mobility and wasting resources.

An 8.2% cut to higher education support calls into question how long the Welsh Government intend to keep their promise of lower tuition fees in Wales. The simple act of abolishing tuition fees in Wales for all students would likely save the Assembly money; but Education Minister Leighton Andrews' turn toward the market means that, like in Tory-run England, university students studying in Wales will pay more and get less once again. Funding to improve workers' literacy and numeracy has been cut in half, as has money for the poor to access post-16 education. Anticipating this slashing of support for education, students from half of Wales' universities have organised a demonstration and All-Wales Student Assembly against education cuts on the 21st and 22nd of October.

A 5% real-terms cut to local government will give councils across Wales an excuse to sack thousands more workers. While some trade union branches are already taking steps toward industrial action against the cuts, public-sector unions Unison and GMB can no longer make apologies for a Welsh government that takes its members' money and yet acts completely against those members' interests. A successful campaign by the FBU in 2010 turned back proposed fire service cuts in South Wales, but it is similarly clear that the Welsh Government will not relent unless decisively defeated.

A few Labour sops to the press are only intended as distractions. £288 million "added" to the NHS Wales budget is simply a slowing of £1 billion in cuts already proposed, and will quickly be destroyed by inflation which is running at 5%. An extra £1 million for the environment consists in reality of £4 million added to subsidise incineration, and £3 million cut from other areas to make up the difference. A new jobs fund will create at most 4,000 minimum wage jobs over three years -- a sticking plaster which won't even make up for the jobs lost as a result of the Assembly's other cuts.

Cuts to housing and homelessness support abandon Wales' most needy to an uncertain and harsh winter. Cuts to the Food Standards Agency just weeks after over a dozen cases of E. coli were traced to a Cardiff restaurant seem wilfully ignorant or even contemptuous.

In the whole budget there is only one winner: big business, which will receive £10 million in handouts through "enterprise zones", the aforementioned £4 million for incinerators and an additional £1.7 million through "encouraging innovation". Insurance giant Admiral, job-slashing military firm BAe and nuclear power are likely to be the greatest beneficiaries of government largess.

The government will claim, as Thatcher did twenty years ago, that "there is no alternative" to the cuts. The Socialist Party have always put forward a practical alternative, tested and proven in Liverpool Council in the 1980s: defy Cameron and Clegg, set a budget based on need and hand the bill to Westminster. If Labour in the Assembly put half the effort into such a fighting programme as they do into making excuses for implementing cuts, Wales would have all the money it needed to create jobs and build a sustainable, productive economy. Time and again they, alone and in partnership with Plaid Cymru, have failed to do so. Welsh Labour have written the budget of the Welsh Government; but we need a new, mass party, representing the interests of the working class of Wales, can write a genuine Welsh Budget.

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