I got my opportunity to respond to this year’s Budget this week. In my speech I addressed my deep concerns about the continued austerity under the UK Government and their utter failure to support the people and businesses of North Wales.
It is clear that this was a Budget that included more harm than help for people in work. It continued to cut away at our police, justice and international trade budgets and did nothing of value to unpick the hurt inflicted by Universal Credit cuts.
This was a sticking plaster Budget. It did nothing to address the long-term problems created by eight long years of enforced austerity; an austerity that was driven only by ideology and not by facts.
The funding for the North Wales Growth Deal is welcome, but the devil is in the detail. Local councils, businesses, Assembly Members and MPs have worked hard to get support from UK Government. After over three years the £120m is welcome, but still under performs on expectations.
What we needed in this Budget was investment in schools, local government and our public services. What we got was an expert exercise in kicking the can down the road. On police we were told that the Home Secretary will investigate police funding later in the year. On schools, the Government thinks that £10,000 per primary school will be enough. This is a derisible sum that will do nothing to reverse the catastrophic impact of the UK Government’s funding for local government. It is important to note that this funding is for England only and will translate into Barnet Formula funding for the Welsh Government.
There was talk about tax reliefs for those paying Capital Gains tax, but there was no talk of how we redress the imbalance within society or how we eradicate child poverty. Delyn has suffered at the hands of this UK Government. Be it Universal Credit, the Bedroom Tax, and their utter failure on unemployment for North East Wales.
We could have had a Budget that invested in renewable energy and high-tech jobs. It could have been a Budget that supported people in work against the cost of living. We should have seen a Budget that supported small and medium sized businesses grow and invest in their towns. This was a missed opportunity which will place further pressures on people trying to do the right thing.
Tonight I voted against the UK Government’s police grant report. It was promised by the Government that they would increase police funding for the next financial year by £450m but in reality the Home Office have used this report to slash local police funding by £100m. This is because the Home Office have put in place a cash-freeze in their funding. The only way for North Wales Police to reclaim that loss of income is by requesting an increase in your Council Tax.
The settlement comes in the context of increasing pressure on police forces following an overall reduction in spending since 2010 of over £2.8bn, resulting in a loss of 21,000 officers. For many police forces. particularly ones with low Council Tax bases such as ours, the amount raised by the precept will be effectively wiped out by the real-terms reduction in Home Office funding and broader inflationary pressure. Police Chiefs had warned the Home Office that a settlement which only covers inflation will mean police are unable to meet rising demands and “reverse the reduction in preventable activity.”
Only recently figures released showed that crime was rising in North Wales. Labour has pledged to hire an additional 10,000 police officers, 1,000 more security staff and 500 more boarder guards. Only buy giving the police the resources they need can we secure our neighbourhoods.