Money is the Bottom Line

As someone who generally feels much more at home exploring ideas and strategies, the last few weeks have been a rather different time for me. Election campaigns are about getting out onto the streets, the doorsteps and especially the screen in the corner of the living room ... but this blog is only read by a thousand or so people for whom politics matters most of the time, rather than by the millions for whom it only really comes alive at election time.

So the best I hope to do at this time is give others ideas about what things to emphasize, and my conclusion—as you might have guessed from how much I've repeated it—is that every pound Wales gets over the next five or ten years of cutbacks, while we claw ourselves out the debt we've been landed with, is what matters most to most people. Of course it's not the only thing that matters, but for most ordinary voters it's the bottom line.

     

We are in a financial mess, and it's only right that we in Wales shoulder our fair share of these cuts along with the remainder of the UK ... but it must be our fair share. Wales has been systematically short-changed over the past thirteen years of Labour government. Public spending on things like hospitals and schools was increased, but as a percentage it was increased far more in the remainder of the UK than it was in Wales. This graph from the Holtham Commission report shows this in the clearest terms:
 

     

Elections are primarily about holding government to account for the way they spend the money they collect from us in taxes, and getting rid of them when they fail us. Labour have failed us.

The Tories and the LibDems have no specific plans to correct the unfairness of the way Wales is financed, even though the Holtham Commission has done all the detailed work about how it can be done more fairly. Neither will commit themselves to implementing its recommendations, they have only offered a non-committal promise to "look at" the funding of Wales.

That leaves only Plaid Cymru that will fight for Wales to get its fair share of funding. We have no country to care about other than Wales ... but to the other three parties Wales is just a small part of the UK with only 5% of its population and, critically, only 5% of its voters. In order to form or be part of a government in Westminster they have no choice but to pursue policies tailored to appeal to voters in the rest of the UK. They can never put Wales' needs first.

     

£300m might seem small in relation to the debt crisis in the UK, and in truth it is small. That makes the lack of commitment for the other three parties even more inexplicable. Gerry Holtham himself said the UK government were "silly billies" for not solving the problem. But to us in Wales, £300m will make a big difference.

As one example of what that amount of money could be spent on, take the proposed new specialist and critical care hospital at Llanfrechfa near Cwmbrân, the centrepiece of the Gwent Clinical Futures programme. It was due to cost £292m, but had to be put on hold as I reported in this post in July last year. It's a perfect illustration of what £300m actually means in human terms.

     

And next year—for this £300m is cumulative—it could be a couple of smaller hospitals elsewhere, or twenty new secondary schools at £15m a throw. Or to pay for more teachers and teaching resources, or on better transport ... or on any of a dozen other priorities.

     

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