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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Why Brexit is bad for our environment

The BBC report on warnings by nature charities that Wales risks losing 80% of the laws that protect its environment after Brexit with no plans in place yet to replace them. They say that Wildlife, habitats, air and water quality could all be affected:

With less than 40 days to go until the UK is set to leave the EU, WWF Cymru's director Anne Meikle warned "the rug will be pulled out from our existing environmental protections".

In her letter to the government she writes that "without these principles and governance structures in place, decisions will be significantly less robust and potentially indefensible".

She said legislation would risk being inoperable and people would lose the right and mechanism to challenge government where they failed to apply environmental laws effectively.

Currently Wales abides by hundreds of regulations and standards which apply across the EU to protect nature and guard against pollution.

The UK and Scottish governments have already announced consultations on plans to replace these laws after Brexit.

But in Wales, where control over environmental policies is devolved to the Welsh Government, ministers are yet to make an announcement.

This is not just about transferring EU rules into Welsh law. Currently members of the public can complain to the EU Commission free of charge, who can decide to investigate on their behalf. The BBC say that the most recent example is a complaint by river groups over the Welsh Government's handling of agricultural pollution in rivers. How people get redress for breaches of the law and who investigates needs to be considered by the Welsh Government as well:

Over the years, rulings from Brussels have also forced action over emissions of toxic gases at Aberthaw coal-fired power station in the Vale of Glamorgan and the creation of a marine protection zone off west Wales to help the threatened harbour porpoise.

In England, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced proposals for a new independent body - known as the Office for Environmental Protection.

But in a letter to the assembly's environment committee this week, Ms Griffiths said she felt the model set out by the UK government was not a "workable approach for Wales" and promised a consultation later in February.

The Welsh Government really need to step up to the plate on this. It is just seven weeks until we leave the EU and they haven't even consulted on options. We cannot afford to allow our environment to be a victim of Brexit.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Labour's red letter day?

The most significant blow to Jeremy Corbyn's Labour yesterday was not the defection of seven MPs to a poorly defined independent grouping, but the readmittance of Derek Hatton to the party.

This was the man who, in September 1985, as Deputy Leader of Liverpool City Council, sent redundancy notices to 31,000 council workers through a private cab firm, so as to make a political point. That action in turn gave the then Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, the ammunition to root out the hard left from Liverpool.

It inspired Kinnock's most famous speech, at the Labour party conference in Bournemouth over 33 years ago, in which he accused Militant of the “grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers”.

The Independent reports that as Kinnock spoke, Hatton shouted “Liar!” from the back of the hall, prompting the Labour leader to address his adversary directly: “I’m telling you, and you’ll listen – you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services or with their homes.”

In the circumstances the decision to readmit Hatton sends an interesting message. The Labour Party has moved towards him, not vice versa. Kinnock turned the fortunes of his party around with that speech, Corbyn appears determined to undo that work.

That is evident by some of the social media comments yesterday and today, in which supporters of the current Labour leader seem happy to be rid of the seven defectors. For them the loss of the likes of Chuka Umunna is a good thing, while Hatton will be greeted like a prodigal son.

This is a red letter day for Corbyn's fan base, for everybody else it is confirmation of Labour's unelectability.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Digital Gangsters

A select committee report argues that Facebook deliberately broke privacy and competition law and should urgently be subject to statutory regulation, and denounces the company and its executives as “digital gangsters”.

The Guardian reports that the final report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s 18-month investigation into disinformation and fake news accused Facebook of purposefully obstructing its inquiry and failing to tackle attempts by Russia to manipulate elections.

The report:
It is difficult to argue with Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson who has called for "new independent regulation with a tough powers and sanctions regime to curb the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism and the forces trying to use technology to subvert our democracy.”

The paper says that the inquiry was turbocharged in March 2918, with the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal:

The Observer revealed the company had secretly acquired data harvested from millions of Facebook users’ profiles and was selling its insights to political clients to allow them to more effectively manipulate potential voters. The company has since collapsed into administration.

The committee argues that, had Facebook abided by the terms of an agreement struck with US regulators in 2011 to limit developers’ access to user data, the scandal would not have occurred. “The Cambridge Analytica scandal was facilitated by Facebook’s policies,” it concludes.

The 108-page report makes excoriating reading for the social media giant, which is accused of continuing to prioritise shareholders’ profits over users’ privacy rights.

“Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritise their aim of making money from user data,” the report states, accusing the company of covering up leaks of user data. “It seems clear to us that Facebook acts only when serious breaches become public.”

Zuckerberg is also personally criticised by the committee in scathing terms, with his claim that Facebook has never sold user data dismissed by the report as “simply untrue”.

It is difficult to argue with this conclusion. Regulation beckons, but will the UK Government take the issue seriously, and to what extent are we able to properly regulate an international entity based in a foreign country?

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The long history of Chris Grayling gaffes

The latest controversy surrounding Chris Grayling, as reported by the Independent, prompted me to look back at past instances where the Transport Secretary has got himself in hot water.

The latest incident relates to Grayling's time as Justice Secretary, when he effectively privatised the probation services. This has now come back to bite him with the collapse of Working Links, which owns three Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) delivering probation services in Wales, Avon and Somerset, and Devon and Cornwall.

Under Grayling, ministers overhauled the arrangements for managing offenders in 2014 in a partial privatisation known as Transforming Rehabilitation. The National Probation Service was created to deal with high-risk cases, while remaining work was assigned to 21 CRCs.

The paper says that a "deeply troubling" report by Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, revealed that staff at one of the companies was "under-recording the number of riskier cases because of commercial pressures":

Devon and Cornwall was the first CRC to be rated inadequate by HM Inspectorate of Probation in 2018-19, last November, when it was also found that staff were completing sentence plans to meet performance targets, without meeting the offender involved.

Dame Glenys said: "The professional ethos of probation has buckled under the strain of the commercial pressures put upon it here, and it must be restored urgently."

Naturally, this has raised urgent questions as to whether probation services are fit for purpose under this arrangement and whether they should have been given to the private sector in the first place. It is not the first time though, that Chris Grayling has put his foot in it.

There is of course the timetabling chaos on the railways at the end of last year, on Grayling's watch as Transport Secretary, leading to a regulator’s report which concluded that nobody had taken charge of the crisis, saying “a system problem” had been the primary cause.

Who can forget the criticism Grayling received in December when it emerged he had given a £13.8m contract to Seaborne Freight, to provide extra ferries to ease pressure on important freight routes between Dover and Calais, a company that owned no ferries and who appeared to have copied its terms and conditions from a takeaway outlet? That deal was subsequently scrapped leading to calls for Grayling to quit as Transport Secretary.

But there is more. In August 2009, Grayling, who was then Shadow Home Secretary, claimed Britain was turning into The Wire, an American TV series featuring murderous villains, cynical politicians and corrupt, lazy detectives.

In October 2015, Grayling accused journalists of “misusing” Freedom of Information laws to “generate” stories.

He told the House of Commons that the Freedom of Information Act is "on occasions misused by those who use it effectively as a research tool to generate stories for the media. That isn’t acceptable. It is a legitimate and important tool for those who want to understand why and how the Government is taking decisions and it is not the intention of this Government to change that.”

I am still not clear to this day what the difference is, though I can understand why this current Government might wish to avoid effective scrutiny.

There is also from October 2014, the proposals by Chris Grayling to reform the Human Rights Act, which were lambasted by former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, QC as being full of factual “howlers” and not thought through.

Back in April 2010, Grayling was in the media again, this time arguing that Bed and breakfasts run by Christians should be allowed to turn away gay couples because of their sexuality.

In November 2018, he was one of the cabinet ministers involved in the controversy over the introduction of gagging clauses which banned 40 charities and more than 300 companies from publicly criticising them, their departments or the prime minister, as part of deals costing the taxpayer £25 billion.

The Times reported that:
In June 2018, Grayling emerged as one of the Government Ministers who had concerns about the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster, telling fellow MPs that he does not want to see them evacuated to a temporary location because it will undermine Britain’s democracy.

In December 2018, Chris Grayling said the government would “lead consumer uptake” of electrically-powered cars when he laid out his plan for tackling air pollution with a switch to battery-powered vehicles.

However, he has then came under fire for subsequently scrapping grants for plug-in cars, in a move condemned by vehicle manufacturers as “astounding”, while official figures revealed that only 29 of the 1,830 vehicles run by Department for Transport and its agencies are electric.

And then, of course, there is Brexit. Chris Grayling sat on the Vote Leave campaign committee alongside Dominic Raab, Liam Fox, and Andrea Leadsom. Vote Leave was fined £61,000  in July 2018, and reported to the police by the Electoral Commission after the watchdog found “significant evidence” of coordination with another campaign group, BeLeave.

In an expose of the European Research Group in December 2017, Open Democracy reported that data collected by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority covering the last year, showed that six cabinet members, along with the chief of staff and special adviser to the Brexit secretary, David Davis have each claimed £2,000 in parliamentary expenses for “professional” and “pooled” services from the ERG.

Five other subscriptions from former Tory cabinet ministers and whips, plus the current chair of the ERG, means this group alone have claimed more than £32,000 from the public purse. 

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, Penny Mordaunt, the newly-promoted defence secretary, David Gauk, the work and pensions secretary, Sajid Javid, the communities and local government secretary, Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons, and Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, have all used official expenses claims to pay for “ERG subscriptions” over the last 12 months. 

Perhaps this explains why Grayling was one of those in October 2014, who was calling on David Cameron to ditch the European Arrest Warrant, a suggestion that even Theresa May baulked at. She warned that a failure to back Britain’s membership of the European arrest warrant system raised a risk that the country would have to release more than 500 people from jail and the prospect that EU partners such as Ireland would refuse to hand over suspected republican terrorists or Islamist jihadists for trial in Britain.

I am sure that there is much more to report. The real question though, in the light of this history, is why is Chris Grayling still in the cabinet?

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Are the UK Government voter ID pilots in trouble?

At last, some good news. The Independent reports that Ministers' plans to introduce voter ID nationwide in elections are "falling apart" as three councils set to be involved in a major pilot have pulled out of the scheme.

The councils concerned have cited time pressures and the "volume of work" involved in participating in the trials as their reason for pulling out. Their decision raises questions over the feasibility of voter ID, which is already the subject of a legal challenge in the High Court:

The first set of trials took place in the 2018 local elections in five English boroughs and research from the Electoral Commission found 1,036 people were turned away due to incorrect identification.

East Staffordshire and Ribble Valley councils have now said they would not be participating in the 2019 round due to the scale of work involved; while Peterborough city council aired similar concerns, adding that uncertainty over the jailed MP Fiona Onasanya also complicates issues.

A spokesperson for Ribble Valley said: "Our returning officer believed the administration of the voter ID pilot on top of local government boundary changes would have been too resource intensive and could not have been carried out without potentially impacting the smooth running of the elections."

Peterborough city council added: "We have spoken to the cabinet office and due to the uncertainty surrounding the sentencing of the Peterborough MP, and the volume of work that this may entail, we have agreed with the cabinet office to withdraw from the pilot scheme in 2019."

It comes as a legal challenge against ministers' plans to rollout voter ID nationwide is set to be heard in the High Court next month after a judicial review was brought by 64-year-old Neil Coughlan earlier this year.

Rolling out the policy across the UK for a general election, according to an official cabinet office document, is estimated to range between £4.3m and £20.4m for three different models of voter ID.

The money spent on this scheme would be far better used to improve voter engagement. Instead it is putting people off voting, in a mirror image of some US states attempts at voter suppression. Surely it is time the experiment was abandoned.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Striking school pupils outshine bickering politicians

As the Times reports, the decision by many school pupils to go on strike today is causing some controversy. The paper says that some parents are undecided about whether to allow their children to break the rules to campaign, while others have accused schools of withdrawing permission under pressure from local authorities. Some schools that had told parents that children could have a day off were told by councils to take a harder stance:

They say that parents could be fined £60 if they permit their child to take unauthorised absence. Some pupils said that teachers had turned a blind eye or given tacit approval to preparations for the Youth Strike 4 Climate marches, even though many head teachers refused to authorise absences. In some schools pupils had been allowed to design banners to take on today’s climate change strikes. Others spent yesterday writing letters to head teachers explaining why they intended to walk out of school at 11am.

Nevertheless, as the BBC report, events are planned for Birmingham, Hereford and Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as Hay-on-Wye in Powys. There, children from a number of local schools will march through the town before meeting councillors to call for more cycle lanes and increased use of renewable energy.

The Times adds that pupils are expected to walk out of school in about 60 areas to attend marches, rallies and litter picks:

University students and adult activists have pledged to protest alongside the children. Some said that this was misguided and described the day of action as a “children’s crusade”.

Holly Gillibrand, 13, who has already walked out of school on Fridays five times, is co-ordinating strikes for her local area, Fort William. She is using social media to spread the word and putting up posters. She says that her teachers are supportive.

She said: “We are not impressed by our leaders’ inability to treat the climate and ecological crisis as the crisis it is, and people’s aversion to the action that is needed to limit catastrophic climate and ecological breakdown is depressing.”

She said she was encouraged by “some incredibly dedicated and passionate adults” such as the wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham and the anthropologist Jane Goodall.

Holly, who is in her second year at Lochaber High School, first became involved with the global protest in September last year. She said: “I have loved the environment and nature since I can remember and this has just grown into a passion to protect and conserve the natural world.”

Personally, I think that this sort of action is a vital part of the education process. Schools should not just be about cramming pupils for exams but also preparing them for future and alerting them to the big issues that we all face on a daily basis, so that they can make up their own minds on what they think and want to do about them. Schools should be enablers as well as educators.

The likes of Holly and all the other pupils who are leading this action day, form a startling contrast to the braying, bickering politicians in Westminster and the bully-boy tactics of climate change-deniers like Donald Trump.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The consequences of the Welsh Government's misguided popularism

I am a bit behind in catching up with this article on Wales-online, but that does nothing to lessen the seriousness of the issue that they have highlighted or its impact on public policy.

The news site reports that the independent board which monitors Cardiff prison has found that half of the men released from HMP Cardiff have nowhere to stay when they are released and many will deliberately reoffend in order to be sent back to prison, where they can at least get regular meals and can be warm:

Of 23 men interviewed on the day of their release, only 13 had a definite place to sleep that night. There was then further monitoring and a pattern emerged where half of those being released each day had no accommodation to go to.

One man was released and left with a travel warrant to Coventry, 44p in his pocket and nowhere to sleep that night, the report says.

Appointments were made for the men to make a housing application but "there was a clear expectation that none would be offered".

During the winter, there was "great concern" about the cold temperatures people were being released into.

Even those who said they had a place to stay were relying on a friend or relatives sofa or temporary hostel accommodation.

However, many told the board they expected to be sent to Huggard, a hostel in Cardiff city centre - something they feared.

"There was a general expectation held by men without accommodation that they would be sent to the Huggard Centre hostel. A number of men expressed fears in relation to the hostel, citing being pressurised into taking drugs, facing violence or having possessions stolen".

The article adds that Welsh Government statistics for 2016-17 showed 12% of those who were homeless said their reason was due to leaving prison.

This was an issue I sought to tackle when, as a Deputy Minister in 2001, I pushed through a change of the law in the Welsh Assembly that re-established clear categories of people, who have a local connection, who should not just be rehoused first but would also require additional support to enable them to remain in their new home.

These categories were a care leaver or person at particular risk of sexual exploitation between the ages of 18 and 21; a 16 or 17 year old; a person fleeing domestic violence or threatened domestic violence; a person homeless after leaving the armed forces; and a former prisoner, homeless after leaving custody.

Unfortunately, in 2013 he Welsh Government decided to succumb to pressure from some councils and, in the face of all the evidence, removed the priority for ex-prisoners. This was a change I fought at every stage, including this article for the then-website, Wales Eye. I wrote that the removal of the statutory duty to rehouse ex-prisoners is a serious misstep:

That proposal is being made for purely popularist reasons and belies the evidence in the government's own research, published in 2008, that concluded that 75% of those offenders most likely to reoffend have a housing need compared to 30% of the general offender population. That report suggested that more joined up thinking is needed to prevent re-offending. It said:

'Securing appropriate accommodation has long been one of the main problems associated with leaving prison as well as a central focus of resettlement work. Research published by the Home Office in 2001, and cited in the Social Exclusion Unit report, noted that around one-third of prisoners do not have a settled home prior to going into prison and around one-third will lose their home during their sentence, making the resettlement role a significant and challenging one. If an offender/ex-offender lacks a suitable place to live, it is more difficult for them to get and keep a job or to engage effectively with any other interventions in relation to their needs. Accommodation is therefore identified as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the reduction of re-offending.'

As Shelter Cymru points out, if this is the case then surely the solution is not to destabilise the 'necessary' condition but rather to ensure that the supporting conditions are more effectively met. They argue that the new duty would be more effective if it were underpinned by priority status to guarantee a right to temporary accommodation while prevention work is being carried out. They say that without a right to temporary accommodation, it will be virtually impossible for local authorities to work with homeless prison leavers effectively.

Gofal Cymru is also scathing about the proposal to drop this particular priority group. In their submission to the government they say: 'It is estimated that more than 90 per cent of prisoners have a mental health problem of some kind and that more than 70 per cent of both male and female prisoners have at least two mental disorders. Many are from disadvantaged backgrounds, have substance misuse issues and poor literacy rates. It is clear that a significant proportion of the prison population is vulnerable and we therefore question the benefits of amending the priority need definition. We fear that an unintended consequence of this proposal will lead to many vulnerable former prisoners being denied access to accommodation.'

Shelter Cymru say that if these individuals end up street homeless on release, it is highly likely that they will fall out of touch with prevention services and back into a cycle of reoffending. This has consequences for community safety, healthcare, social services and, eventually, for homelessness as well.

Cymorth Cymru, an umbrella group for supported housing providers concur. They say: 'It is clear from the conversations that we've had with our members that simply putting a roof over someone's head is not enough. This is as true for those leaving prison as it is for many others. As such, we strongly feel that removing the housing element is the wrong response and that instead we should be focussing on the factors such as support that complement the provision of accommodation.'

My concern is similar, that without a statutory duty to rehouse prisoners underpinning rehabilitation, councils will just not bother to do the work and reoffending rates, which are already higher than those in England will rise even further.

It gives me no satisfaction to see those concerns realised on the streets of Cardiff.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Welsh Labour under fire for 'aborted' anti-semitism inquiry

Despite attempts by Welsh Labour to close down an investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism on the part of Cardiff Central Assembly Member, Jenny Rathbone, the issue stubbornly refuses to go away.

As the BBC reports, Rathbone was investigated after suggesting security fears of Jewish people at a Cardiff synagogue could be "in their own heads". She subsequently apologised and was given a formal warning, but details of the investigation have not been published.

Now Welsh Jewish representatives have spoken out, accusing Welsh Labour of failing to take into consideration the feelings of the Jewish community in the way they handled the investigation:

"We're concerned at the lack of transparency," said Laurence Kahn, chairman of the South Wales Jewish Representative Council.

The Cardiff Central AM was suspended from the Labour assembly group and referred for investigation by the UK Labour Party after her remarks were revealed by the Jewish Chronicle in November.

But she was readmitted to the group before the party investigation was complete.

The investigation has now concluded and Ms Rathbone has been given a formal warning and ordered to undergo training.

"The question is: are they trying to satisfy the Jewish community and deal with our concerns?" Mr Kahn asked.

"And if the answer to that is yes then obviously they ought to be giving us the information that is lacking at the moment."

Mr Kahn claimed the readmission of Ms Rathbone to the Labour assembly group before the investigation had finished was "inappropriate":

"They should have had a little bit more consideration for the local Jewish community," he added.

First Minister Mark Drakeford should explain the timing of Ms Rathbone's readmission, according to Stanley Soffa, representative for the Cardiff Reform Synagogue on the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Labour has not explained why Jenny Rathbone was readmitted before the investigation was complete.

Whatever, the process that was followed or the outcome it does seem clear that yet again Labour have failed to deal with a complaint of this nature in a sensitive and satisfactory manner. This, in turn, adds to the dossier that is building up against the party on this issue and feeds into the wider story reported a few days ago by the BBC.

They have discovered that in the ten months between April 2018 and January 2019, the Labour Party received 673 complaint alleging acts of anti-Semitism by its members, whilst the Parliamentary Labour Party have complained about a lack of information:

The data published revealed:
It is not a pretty picture.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

There is no Brexit dividend

For those who claimed that Brexit would bring unparalleled prosperity and freedom, while all the claims of an economic turndown were just 'project fear', today's news that official figures have confirmed the UK suffered its worst year for GDP growth since 2012 must come as a bit of a shock.

It may certainly be a surprise to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has stated that Britain can reap an economic dividend from Theresa May’s Brexit deal. He may well still be poring over the highly critical report by the Treasury select committee which warns that his claims of a “deal dividend” if Britain avoided a no-deal exit lacks credibility, wondering how to spin it in his favour.

As the Guardian reports, the committee's criticism came after data on Monday showed the economy grew by just 0.2% in the final three months of 2018, down from 0.6% in the third quarter. The fourth-quarter figures contained signs of an even sharper slowdown, with the economy posting a decline of 0.4% in December amid signs that Brexit uncertainty is taking hold:

For 2018 as a whole, GDP growth slipped to its lowest since 2012, at 1.4%, down from 1.8% in 2017.

Nicky Morgan MP, the Conservative chair of the committee, said Hammond’s “dividend” claim, at the Conservative party conference last year, had already been undermined by the government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility. The OBR had told the committee the dividend was not an economic boost so much as “avoiding something really very bad” in the form of a no-deal departure.

“The OBR already assumes an orderly Brexit, so there won’t be a ‘deal dividend’ beyond the forecast just by avoiding no-deal. Business confidence may improve with increased certainty, but it’s not credible to describe this as a dividend,” said Morgan.

The OBR has made a smooth departure from the EU a key part of its forecasts, which prompted the Treasury committee to state there is no evidence of an economic boost from supporting the deal over and above those central estimates.

Hammond has repeatedly suggested that, should parliament throw its weight behind Theresa May’s Brexit plan, it would generate a dual economic boost for the country by lifting the fog of uncertainty blocking businesses investment, while also allowing him to spend public funds held in reserve for a no-deal scenario.

As if to emphasise the closeness of the cliff edge we are hurtling towards, growth figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that business investment in the final three months of 2018 declined sharply. At the same time corporate spending tumbled for the fourth successive quarter – falling by 1.4% in the final quarter of 2018 alone - for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.

In addition companies have intensified their contingency planning to cope with the possibility of a disruptive Brexit. Car manufacturers are stockpiling parts, banks have moved employees to Ireland and continental Europe and two Japanese electronics firms, Panasonic and Sony, have moved their EU headquarters to mainland Europe.

The paper also reports that GDP growth in December plunged into reverse, with a broad-based slump across each of the key sectors for the economy. The manufacturing sector, which makes up about a tenth of the economy, fell into recession, with six months of negative growth in the longest negative run since September 2008 to February 2009, the depths of the financial crisis.

And we haven't even left the EU yet.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Can our public services survive another budget?

As a local councillor I am currently in the process of scrutinising Swansea's latest budget proposals. Like other councils we have been badly hit by cuts in funding, though we remain better off than councils on the other side of Offa's Dyke due to the protection offered by past Welsh Governments.

Unfortunately the current Welsh Government has failed to pass on the 1% real term increase in its budget for next year, and that has added to the difficult decisions that are having to be made. But fear not, the Tories have promised to end austerity, and surely that means more money for future years. Or does it?

In The Times the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned that the chancellor will have to find billions of pounds in next month’s spring statement if he is to spare public services another brutal squeeze and deliver on his promise to end austerity.

They say that departments excluding health, defence and overseas aid face more cuts under the government’s spending plans, on top of the £40 billion they have endured already. That will knock on in the money allocated to the Welsh Government, and put local services under even more pressure.

The IFS say that to ease the pressure and allow spending to rise in line with both inflation and population growth, Philip Hammond will need to find an extra £5 billion by 2023-24. To do so he will have to raise taxes, cut other spending or borrow more.

The paper says that Hammond has very little wriggle room. He has promised to use some of the £15 billion of borrowing headroom against his fiscal rules if a Brexit deal is agreed but there is no guarantee it will have been in time. Until then, he wants to keep it in reserve for no-deal contingency plans.

In addition, a recent reclassification of student loans will also increase borrowing by £12 billion, virtually wiping out his war chest, making it difficult for the chancellor to borrow more without looking fiscally irresponsible:

Last week the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggested that he might have to abandon his rules. The IFS noted that “the chancellor remains some way off achieving his stated overarching fiscal objective of eliminating the deficit entirely by the mid-2020s”.

Public services would face an intensified squeeze if there was a no-deal Brexit, the IFS added. “This would mean lower spending and higher taxes in the medium term,” it said. In the short term, it would trash the government’s fiscal plans as it “might well raise spending to support the economy, mitigate the impacts for the worst-hit sectors or areas and provide funding to departments now required to perform additional functions, notably at the border”.

It added: “Any boost to spending would be temporary, and further austerity would eventually be required.

We are at a crossroads. The IFS analysis suggests yet more years of austerity for many public services, albeit at a much slower pace than the last nine years, unless the Chancellor is prepared to step up to the mark and deliver on his rhetoric.  The question is whether public services can survive any further cuts.

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