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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Sticky Ends

Martin Shipton in the Western Mail this morning exposes the Welsh Labour Government's lack of delivery of its 10 key manifesto pledges from the Welsh Assembly elections in 2003. He describes a press event yesterday in which the Government sought to promote the supplementary budget as a "week of delivery" as "jam tomorrow - while virtually delivering nothing today." This dismal performance is actually in direct contrast to the delivery-centred Partnership Agreement driven forward by the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the previous Assembly. In that agreement we pushed through a freeze in prescription charges, free eye and dental tests and medicines for certain groups, investment in rural schools, smaller class sizes and school buildings, grants for students in further and higher education, changes in homelessness legislation and an eight fold increase in spending on this item, above-inflation funding for local Government and record investment in the countryside and in the Welsh Language. What is more we did this in just over two years. Now that they have a majority and they are governing alone, Labour do not seem to have got off the starting block. It is worth reproducing Martin Shipton's analysis of their top ten promises to illustrate this:

Promise: Prescription charges scrapped
Reality: Charge remains at £6. Reduction to £5 in October and £4 during 2005-06
Promise: Free breakfasts in primary schools
Reality: No free breakfasts yet. £1.5m pilot starts in the autumn, with a further £3.5m available for 2005-06
Promise: Free swimming for older people
Reality: No free swimming yet. Pilot due in 2004-05, with £3m allocated for £2005-06
Promise: £100m to fight crime
Reality: £4m extra allocated for 2005-06
Promise: Knowledge Bank for entrepreneurs
Reality: No bank yet. £3m to start fund in 2005-06
Promise: Extend 20mph and safe routes to school schemes
Reality: Nothing as yet. Guidance to councils "is being revised".
Promise: Free home care for disabled people
Reality: £7.5m allocated to abolish charges from September 2005 - but no definition of who qualifies as disabled
Promise: Better school and hospital buildings
Reality: £32m extra allocated for 2005-06
Promise: No top-up fees
Reality: Powers to ensure this are on their way, but no extra money from Whitehall
Promise: Develop half-price travel for young people
Reality: No scheme as yet, though it's hoped to have one by 2007

In actual fact the situation is worse than this. On top-up fees for example, the powers may be on the way but the pledge is only that they will not be introduced before 2007. The Labour Assembly Government have no idea what they will do after that. On School buildings the pledge is to invest £560 million by 2007 and yet the indicative plans we have seen so far indicate that only £524 million has been put aside for this purpose, a shortfall of £36 million or three new Comprehensive Schools.

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