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The Welsh Conservative shadow budget

December 9, 2010

Followers of Welsh politics may be forgiven for missing the rather underwhelming unveiling of the Tory shadow budget today.

In a curiously quiet fashion, the party revealed what would be cut or protected under its governance.

As promised, the key Conservative priority is health spending, which will be ring fenced, leading to higher cuts in all other areas than in the Labour-Plaid draft budget. The differences between the two spending plans are laid out here:

WAG’s plans/Welsh Conservative Alternative

Health and Social Services                                        -7.6%                           NIL

Social Justice and Local Government                       -7.4%                          -12.5%

Education, Children & Lifelong Learning                -8%                              -12%

Economy and Transport                                               -21.3%                         -30%

Environment, Sustainability and Housing               -21%                            -25%

Rural Affairs                                                                     -12.7%                       -15%

Heritage                                                                             -13%                          -20%

Public Services and Performance                               -24.4%                        -30%

Central Services and Administration                         -19.1%                         -25%

This is largely what was expected, but figures at the WAG may now be gleefully rubbing their hands at the prospect of pointing out deeper cuts to be suffered in all departments bar health under a Conservative administration.

Battle lines

There are some other key differences which may feature heavily in debates in the coming months.

  • A public sector pay freeze for salaries over £21,000.
  • Further postponements in the Trunk Road building programme.
  • A further reduction of 1.5% in the local government settlement.
  • The replacement of Communities First with a voluntary sector “Big Society” programme.
  • No further increase to offset student fees.

The arguments

Seeing how these decisions play in an electoral campaign will be interesting. In austere times, the public sector pay freeze may go down well with much of the electorate. Similarly, a reduction in the local government settlement may be easy to defend.

But further postponements to road building, already a bleak prospect after the slashing of capital spending, may be harder to advocate.

Similarly, the choice to both embrace the “Big Society” and scrap the Communities First project, and to leave students at the mercy of fee-raising universities may bring the party some vocal critics. It may also leave them open to comparisons to their already unpopular Westminster counterparts.

This, at least, gives the parties some clearly contrasting platforms to campaign on come election time.

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