The detailed Welsh Government budget was released this week, and is likely to be the last Budget that Mark Drakeford will publish as Finance Secretary given the Welsh Labour leadership race is now well underway. The headlines were published a few weeks ago and there were several announcements in it that will impact on the Welsh Housing Sector. The big announcement that we saw in the draft budget was that funding for Supporting People and homelessness will be ring-fenced until the end of this Assembly term, following our Housing Matters Wales campaign with Cymorth Cymru. The long term certainty this announcement brings will ensure that many of the projects run by housing associations in Wales are able to continue to support thousands of people every year, from domestic abuse survivors to people with mental health issues.
Also announced in the Welsh Budget was an additional £35 million of funding that will be made available through the Social Housing Grant. This extra funding will go a long way to ensuring that the Welsh Government achieves their target of 20,000 homes by the end of this Assembly term. Overall, this budget was a good one for housing and restated Welsh Government’s commitment to delivering on our Housing Supply Pact, and continue to deliver the vital services provided by the Supporting People programme.
While it was a good budget for housing, and health also saw a significant increase in funding, both education and Local Government have seen cuts. Local Government leaders have been quick to criticise the settlement, saying they have ‘run out of road’ in their effort to protect core services from cuts. They have been met with short shrift from Cabinet Secretary Alun Davies who controversially described councils asking for more funding as ‘Oliver Twist’.
At the other end of the M4, Phillip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will take his infamous red briefcase into the House of Commons for the UK Budget on Monday. Given that at the Conservative Party Conference the Prime Minister promised the end of austerity, I am hoping that the UK Budget will be quite different to those we have seen over the last few years, although I am cautious about being too optimistic. Given recent press coverage I think it is likely that there will be further announcements regarding changes to the Universal Credit system, although the exact nature of the announcements remains up in the air.
Budget announcements are an interesting part of a political year and can be quite reflective in setting out the attitudes, and often the overall aims of a government for that financial year. The Welsh Government is in a state of flux at the moment and there is a fairly high chance that Mark Drakeford, the current Finance Minister, could be the First Minister that delivers on this budget. He hasn’t taken any drastic steps with this budget that indicate an extremely different style of leadership that he could be planning, but he did acknowledge that this was the “most difficult budget” he has been involved in. It will be interesting to see whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s plans this week make the job of the next Welsh Finance Secretary any easier …