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Thursday, April 07, 2016

The dodgy maths behind Plaid Cymru's manifesto

As a wish list Plaid Cymru's Assembly manifesto is a glossy attempt at radically changing the direction of Welsh Government policy. However, it sits firmly within the mainstream of Welsh political thinking and for all the fanfare on their part, the most radical thing about the document is its rather sketchy attempt to fund the party's promises.

Plaid has made much of the fact that they have costed their policies and had that work verified by independent academics. However, I have not been able to find the detailed workings such an exercise implies on their website, and from media reports it appears that the bulk of the money is to be found from unspecified efficiency savings.

The BBC say that the party plan to find annual efficiency savings of £300m, or around 4%, in the health budget. In addition they say that they will find £300m of savings elsewhere in the public sector and a separate saving of £150m a year by merging back-office functions in the public sector in areas like payroll and IT.

Experience of merging back-office functions within the public sector indicates that the last item is going to be much harder to achieve than Plaid Cymru imagine and given the plethora of organisations involved may be the financial equivalent of herding cats in thunder. Nevertheless, it is at least a concrete proposal.

My problem with the £600m of efficiency savings is their sheer scale. Savings of this magnitude over such a short period of time are going to be very difficult to achieve. Even the independent academics describe them as 'challenging', which is as near as they are going to get to expressing scepticism about their deliverability.

It is safe to say that savings of this order will involve deep cuts to local councils and the third sector, redundancies and diminished public services in some areas. The Welsh Government does not of course deliver services, it funds others to do so. As a result they will have little control over the choices made by others on how they deliver cuts in their budget.

Such savings would also require the sort of institutional and cultural change within the public sector which normally takes a decade or more to bed in. When you factor in the proposed reorganisation of health being put forward by Plaid Cymru, it appears that if they were to get into government then the whole health service will be thrown into uncertainty and chaos as health boards focus on redundancies, structural redesign and efficiency reviews instead of concentrating on delivering front line health care.

This is not the detailed costing of policies we were promised. Plaid's manifesto may be very glossy but their failure to back the contents up with detail of how they will pay for and deliver the proposals means that they are actually promising a thin veneer with very little substance.
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