Is the same First Minister who stood up for Wales last February when Liam Byrne, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, stated unequivocally that:
“Wales is well funded. Identifiable public spending per head in Wales is 14% above England and in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, the Welsh Assembly Government received an annual average real terms increase of 2.4% compared to the UK average of 2.1%... The Government has no plans to change the Barnett formula.”
If I remember correctly, there was total silence from the First Minister on this matter at the time.
Indeed, it is worth remembering that after thirteen years of power, Labour did nothing to change the current funding system and, despite Gerry Holtham’s review, it is doubtful that a thorough review of Barnett would have been prioritised by Labour in Westminster if they had won the election, as David Jones pointed out last November.
In fact, the First Minister said back in April that “The (Labour) manifesto doesn’t include a commitment to scrap Barnett, but it will have to be considered at a UK level.”
Hardly a commitment to change!
This ambivalence shouldn’t be too surprising as during an interview that Carwyn Jones had with the Times Educational Supplement back in 2007, it was reported that he was “rejecting a review of the Barnett formula, which determines public spending in Wales.
It is also easy to forget that whilst it is easy to condemn the current coalition government for implementing a reduction in budgets, the One-Wales Government had already started a programme of cuts in Wales during the last parliament.
As Andrew Davies warned as far back as February last year, “the years of plenty have come to an end, and we need to be planning for some lean years coming ahead".
Despite this, I don’t remember any of the Labour-Plaid Government at the time, including the current First Minister, “standing up for Wales” and objecting to the £500 million budget cuts that were made to the Welsh budget as a result.
With 133,000 people currently unemployed in Wales, can the First Minister show us how his government has “stood up for Wales” during the two years in which 57,000 more people are without a job as compared to 2008? (and no, I don't include Pro-Act in this).
This is despite the fact that Wales, unlike any other region of the UK with the exception of Cornwall, has been getting an additional funding package of nearly £300 million per annum in European Structural Convergence Funds since 2000.
Let us not forget that Wales, and the UK, wouldn’t be facing the current financial mess if the Labour Party’s policies during the last thirteen years hadn’t led us to a position where we are currently paying interest rate on our national debt that is nearly FIVE TIMES the block grant that the Assembly receives from Westminster every year.
Does anyone really think that if this situation had continued, Wales would be in a better position?
Without immediate action, it is inevitable that the UK would have lost all fiscal credibility with the markets from which it has borrowed hundreds of billions of pounds.
As a result, our credit rating would have been downgraded, the rate at which we pay interest on our loans would have increased, and there would have been even less money in the budget for public spending, especially within Wales.
That is the simple truth of the current situation this country finds itself in.
Of course it is Labour’s job to act as an opposition, but at least there should be a more balanced reporting stance from the Welsh press on the debate surrounding public sector expenditure reductions and the reasons why this situation has come about.