Sunday, 13 December 2015

Finishing Thatcher's work - what power reveals

This column was published in the Llanelli Herald on 11 December 

The Assembly’s budget is 11% lower than it was when the Tories came to power in 2010. 

These cuts are all part of the Tory plan to slash the size of Government in order to give tax cuts to the richest, and finish what Margaret Thatcher started. 

The Welsh Government is powerless to resist these cuts as the amount of money it gets to spend is decided by the Chancellor.  But what we can do is to try and ensure that we manage the cuts to protect the services that people rely on the most.

The message I’ve been relaying to Labour Ministers in Cardiff is that the people of Llanelli want the NHS and schools to be spared from the impact of the Tory cuts as much as possible. And they’ve listened.

Carwyn Jones has set aside an extra £300 million for the NHS in Wales. That means that the health service is now funded at a record level in Wales. We have made a choice to spend more per head on health than in England and this extra investment allows us to make improvements at Prince Phillip Hospital to create a new ‘Front of House facility’. This will make a real difference to us in Llanelli and is only possible because of Welsh Labour’s decision to protect NHS funding in Wales.

In contrast the Tory Government in England are introducing huge cuts to social services, and public health budgets which are already causing chaos, and will store up huge problems for the future. 

In Wales we recognise the close links between social care and health and that is why we’re putting an extra £21 million into Social Services to support older and vulnerable people to maintain their independence in their own home, prevent hospital admission and enable early discharge from hospital.

Welsh Labour Ministers have also taken action to protect education spending. Welsh Labour Government have increased the education budget by almost £40m. This puts spending on schools in Wales ahead of England, per head. Carwyn Jones has made clear that this extra money needs to be spent on the frontline by going straight into schools budgets. But I am very concerned that Plaid run Carmarthenshire County Council are asking local schools to identify big cuts. 

After some difficult results five years ago the Welsh education system has turned a corner. This year saw the best ever GCSE results, the closing of the gap with England, and our disadvantaged pupils are now catching up with their peers. It is vital that this momentum on raising standards is maintained, and I’m really worried that Plaid run Carmarthenshire Council will put this at risk if they don’t pass on the funding to schools.

With spending on schools and hospitals protected the cuts to the Welsh budget being made by the Tories will have to fall elsewhere. These cuts are hacking away at the advances that have been made to public services over the last 20 years. And David Cameron is planning even more cuts in the years to come. How people within Plaid can consider forming a coalition with these Tories after next year’s Assembly elections is beyond me.

Lee Waters is the Welsh Labour & Cooperative candidate for Llanelli in next May’s Assembly elections

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