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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Crucial budget votes

Next week sees the Labour Assembly Government's draft budget come to Plenary. The opposition parties have tabled a joint amendment centred on a number of key areas. These include schools, ambulances and transport. The opposition's amendment is:

The National Assembly for Wales declines to take note of the draft budget for the Welsh Assembly Government for the financial years 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 laid in the Table Office on 17 October 2006 by the Minister for Finance, Local Government and Public Services, as it fails to make either adequate provision, or any at all, for the following matters:
a) a sum equivalent to the 1% efficiency savings of all schools’ delegated budgets which should be returned to the schools
b) the budget of Tir Mynydd to be restored to the level set in 2005-6
c) closing the higher education funding gap
d) an increase in the budget allocated for transport grants
e) an increase in the budget allocated to the Ambulance Service
f) an increase in the allowances paid to foster carers
g) financial assistance to community radio stations
h) financial assistance to local authorities to overcome the difficulties they face over:
i. landfill sites
ii. the capital costs of improving care homes
i) transitional relief to local authorities on the withdrawal of rural rate relief
j) the employment of cognitive behaviour therapists
k) financial assistance to provide for play areas for disabled children
l) financial assistance to establish refuges for women who suffer domestic violence in those local authority areas where none currently exist
m) further financial support for the improvement of rail infrastructure
Accordingly the National Assembly for Wales instructs the Finance Minister to lay a revised draft budget to take full account of the matters set out in (a) to (m) above.

As this morning's Western Mail makes clear the opposition leaders are quite determined not to be fobbed off this year, especially as some of the promises made during budget negotiations last time were not honoured. One of these was closing the funding gap in higher education.

What has upset the opposition leaders most is the way that Labour has pressed ahead with the budget as if it had a huge majority, ignoring all opposition requests for changes and failing to take consultation meetings seriously. As the letter says:

"In particular we regret the manner in which the budget process has been addressed this year.

"We had understood, and had each of us accepted, a firm intention to be involved in the budget process at an early stage."

That did not happen. Inevitably, this row is heightened by the imminent election and the need for both sides to carve out their own position. However, I do not believe that many voters will be impressed with Labour's megaphone attitude to minority government and the arrogance they are displaying in thinking that they can ride roughshod over very genuine concerns.
If only the Lib Dems in Scotland had Welsh courage and deserted Labour too.

The Lib Dems have been carrying too many inept Labour Ministers on their shoulders for too long. And with elections looming, would Lib Dems like to be stuck with a Labour party that supports the illegal invasion of Iraq and the hated Council Tax which hurts so many pensioners?

But government after the next election won't be possible from Labour alone. They are already too few in numbers and seem certain to be beaten into second place by the Nats.

So time to look at options. Go in with the Tories? They support the two mosted hated policies of Labour - Iraq & Council Tax so no chance.

The Trots and/or the Greens? There'll be no Trots next time after the Sheridenistas went off with their ball. And the Greens won't be enough.

Looks like SNP or no-one. AFter the Lib Dems would not wish to carry the blame for a weak Parliament.
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