For the past decade or so, Welsh Government’s budget has been squeezed because of the UK government’s austerity agenda. According to the Wales Governance Centre, Wales’ block grant (its main income source) is around 5% lower in real terms than 2010-11. If the Welsh Government's budget had grown in line with the long-run trend in public expenditure, it would be £6 billion higher in 2020-21.
This means that there are now around:
Welsh government has had to make really difficult choices because of a shrinking settlement. It’s managed to protect and invest in our NHS, but it simply doesn’t have the means to do this everywhere. Arguably our councils have borne the brunt. There are tens of thousands fewer people working for them now compared to a decade ago.
And what’s been the impact of this? Well, inevitably, service delivery shrinks too. Political spin often tells us it’s a case of doing less with more, but in lots of cases it simply means doing less with less.
This is because austerity hasn’t just been about making sensible choices to reduce the deficit. Austerity has been about shrinking our public sector so that our safety net – those universal services which we can all access – gets that much smaller. It’s a political choice. It’s taking us away from collective services which we can all benefit from, leaving people to rely more and more on what the market can offer.
Trades unions have been at the centre of anti-austerity campaigns throughout Britain, and Welsh government has taken decisive steps to protect us from the worst possible outcomes. We’ve avoided large scale compulsory redundancies and we’ve kept the private sector out of our NHS and schools. But we can only do more if we have more.
What’s frightening about some of the policy proposals in this election is that they entrench austerity. We need the opposite – we need a UK government that recognises that austerity has failed Wales. We need enough funding to restore our safety net and deliver brilliant public services. And we need a UK government that enables the Welsh government to do this.