MSs debated the draft Welsh budget amid concerns about swingeing cuts to public services.
Rebecca Evans, Wales’ finance minister, opened the two-hour debate in the Senedd, saying ministers have had to take the starkest and most painful decisions since devolution.
She told MSs the draft spending plans were reshaped in line with a set of guiding principles: protecting frontline services, helping those hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis, and saving jobs.
Ms Evans said: “The constrained funding settlement that we have means that we cannot go as far and as fast as we would like, but this draft budget seeks to prioritise the issues that people and communities across Wales hold the most important.”
She announced a further £25m in consequential funding to support the social care workforce and other pressures in the final budget.
South Wales East MS Peredur Owen Griffiths, who chairs the Senedd’s finance committee, said question marks hang over whether the draft budget is sufficient to protect frontline services.
Mr Owen Griffiths, of Plaid Cymru, warned cuts are likely to have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable.
Peter Fox accused the Welsh Government of blaming Westminster for its failings as he argued that the draft budget fails to deliver on the people’s priorities.
The Conservative told the chamber: “This blame game is just a smokescreen to hide decades of poor strategic planning and government choices and decisions.”
He denounced Welsh ministers for “passing the buck” to local authorities while knowing that significant council tax rises would follow with the people of Wales paying the price.
Rhun ap Iorwerth criticised the “shocking mismanagement” of public finances by the UK Government as he raised concerns about the fairness of Wales’ financial settlement.
He said the Barnett formula, the UK Treasury mechanism used to decide funding, is not fit for purpose in addressing Wales’ society needs.
The Plaid Cymru leader said drastic reprioritisation of funding to prop up health and transport shows a lack of long-term budget planning.
Jane Dodds, the Lib Dems’ leader in Wales, condemned an £11m cut to childcare at a time when Welsh families face some of the highest childcare costs in the world.
She told the Senedd: “Affordable, high-quality and accessible childcare remains critical to all Welsh families, particularly when we’re looking at trying to reduce child poverty.”
Jayne Bryant raised concerns about the lack of a children’s rights impact assessment to underpin the draft budget for the tenth successive year.
The children’s committee chair rejected Welsh ministers’ rationale that a separate children’s rights impact assessment is not needed.
She told MSs such an impact assessment would show how the Welsh Government is complying with its duty to have due regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Paul Davies, who chairs the economy and rural affairs committee, raised concerns about the cumulative impact of substantial real-terms cuts to business and agricultural support.
The former Tory group leader said this is the first round of agricultural support post-EU funding, with farming having to compete with other priorities for the first time in decades.
He told MSs that if the sustainable farming scheme, which will be introduced next year, is to be a success then it must be properly funded.
Llyr Gruffydd, on behalf of the climate change committee, criticised Welsh ministers’ written evidence, saying key information was missing and figures were inaccurate.
The Plaid Cymru MS for North Wales said: “Our ability to perform effective scrutiny is only as good as the information provided to us.
“The minister and deputy minister’s written evidence to support our scrutiny of the draft budget fell short of the standard the committee expects.”
He told the chamber that the cuts will mean scaling back projects and programmes aimed at delivering climate change targets and global biodiversity commitments.
Mr Gruffydd raised concerns about additional funding for Transport for Wales, saying it cannot be given a blank cheque and must become a financially sustainable rail service.
John Griffiths – who chairs the local government and housing committee – said councils are finding themselves in the position of not only making difficult decisions, but bad choices.
He pointed to the Welsh Local Government Association’s warning that there will be fewer public services being offered if there is no change in the funding settlement.
“This is a stark warning, and one that should not be ignored,” he said.
The Labour MS for Newport East cautioned that cuts to the social care workforce grant will add to existing pressures on the sector and could too easily become a tipping point.
Mr Griffiths said his committee was deeply concerned by a real-terms cut to the housing support grant, urging ministers to explore all options to provide extra funding.
Russell George, in his capacity as chair of the health committee, pointed out that all seven health boards are at increased levels of escalation due to their financial position.
The Conservative said the committee is unclear how health boards will stabilise their finances while responding to unprecedented demand and delivering savings.
Mr George warned that the scale of the challenge around waiting times remains daunting.
Plaid Cymru’s Mabon ap Gwynfor raised grave concerns about a shift away from funding preventative programmes, such as for obesity and smoking, creating a vicious cycle.
Mike Hedges, a Labour backbencher, who represents Swansea East, criticised the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru for not producing alternative budgets.
He said: “The opposition parties are exceptionally good at finding areas to spend money or to reduce income, but less good at areas to save revenue expenditure.”
The draft budget motion was agreed 30-12 on February 6 with Plaid Cymru MSs abstaining. A further debate and vote on the final 2024-25 budget will be held on March 5.