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Monday, November 07, 2011

Looking for the money

A number of stories today relate to the spending of the £14 billion or so given to Wales by the Welsh Government. In particular the Western Mail highlights the report of the Assembly Finance Committee on the draft budget and the damning criticism contained therein of the lack of transparency and accountability surrounding that document.

The all-party Committee says: “[We] remain concerned that few specific targets or objectives with measurable outcomes were clearly presented for scrutiny, against which committees could consider the potential impact and effectiveness of the allocations proposed in the draft budget, and evaluate value for money achieved with resources allocated. In the current financial climate, with limited resources available, we consider it to be critical that those scrutinising public expenditure – as well as all individuals involved in delivering public services – are clear about the ultimate outcomes that are intended to be delivered by such expenditure.”

It continues: “We recommend that in presenting future draft budgets, the Welsh Government seeks to make all relevant and requested information on proposed budgetary allocations [available] to National Assembly for Wales committees, providing a sufficient level of detail for scrutiny in a consistent and co-ordinated manner, at the time of the draft budget’s publication, or as close to it as reasonably possible.”

The Committee also expresses concern that the Finance Minister did not seem to realise that her Cabinet colleague had frozen all new health capital spending for the time being, and also articulated considerable doubts as to whether health spending could be contained within the budgets set for it.

This leads us onto two other stories, one of which is directly due to a concession won by the Welsh Liberal Democrats that all Welsh Government spending above £25,000 will now be published monthly by ministers. This provides useful information by which we can scrutinise Ministers, unfortunately it comes after the fact. If we had anything approaching this level of detail when approving the budget then we would be able to question it far more effectively.

The BBC report that Welsh government has spent nearly £42m on IT, marketing and management consultancy in the first five months of this financial year. As a Management consultant says on their site this spending may well be perfectly justifiable, however there is no getting away from the fact that it dwarfs the £34.5m given to the voluntary sector in the same period.

This £42m is rougly equivalent to four new Primary Schools or one and a half new Comprehensive Schools. That is why we need more than just the published figures but a proper justification for the expenditure.

Finally, the BBC also report that the NHS in Wales is spending £700,000 a year paying managers whose posts were scrapped during a shake-up of the health service in 2009. A total of 120 managers who lost their jobs were kept on and had their salaries protected.

Naturally this is concerning at a time when health service budgets are being squeezed. However, the most astonishing part of this story is the criticism of the policy by a Plaid Cymru AM, when it was his party in government who put it into effect and constantly defended it in committee and Plenary meetings.
Having seen both sides of the coin as it were; I've seen third sector agencies struggling to survive with leaking roofs & ceillings and then gone up to Rhyd-y-car in Merthyr to see the WAG offices up there with its Pilkinton "K" Glass and airconditioned offices, it really makes me sick!

Have WAG/WG started employing Science Graduates yet, or is that situation of employing mainly Arts graduates the state of play?
It seems the First Minister is happy to sit back and watch the Welsh economy become a huge car crash and blame London for it all. Things that the FM can do to get the Welsh economy moving 'in the right direction', he won't do. Meanwhile the "£14 billion or so" is losing its real value due to inflation. cw
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