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I am not quite sure whether I need a wee dram after that speech by Patrick Grady. We have moved from the turgid to the ranting in one fell swoop, and it got the point where I was looking forward to the Chief Secretary’s speech, which takes something.
I will not regurgitate what has been said, because I could not make head nor tail of it, quite frankly, and I do not suspect the Members who made those speeches could, either. These debates come on the eighth anniversary of the Conservatives’ first austerity Budget, and we are still seeing the effects of that pernicious and ill-informed policy in these estimates.
Back in 2010, the then Chancellor outlined a package of cuts worth £81 billion, to be rolled out gradually, with many still to take effect during this Parliament. There has been an absolute decimation of the public realm, and the vast contraction in spending has had devastating social consequences. A cash-starved NHS is at crisis point; social care has been forgotten and ignored; there has been the longest fall in living standards since records began; and the Office for Budget Responsibility is saying that wages will stagnate for another two decades. Meanwhile, swingeing cuts to the regions have left the UK more unequal.
Today, the Local Government Association published a report showing that local authorities will have had £16 billion cut from their core funding by the end of the decade, leading to a £7.8 billion funding gap by 2025. When Conservative Members call for special consideration, I remind them that they all supported those decisions, with no dissent, year in, year out. With no codicils and no caveats, they supported every one of those spending cuts. They are now complaining and saying that they need their communities back up and running. Quite simply, they voted for these cuts in their own areas, and they should have the guts and the backbone to admit it.
Those cuts helped to create a sense of hopelessness and destitution in many places across the UK, one which no doubt contributed to the Brexit vote a few years after Mr Osborne’s slash-and-burn Budget. It is very strange that, after pursuing this unpopular and ineffective programme, cutting Department after Department, the Prime Minister managed to find enough cash to buy the support of the Democratic Unionist party. It is regrettable that DUP Members are not here today, but the fact is that the DUP should not have had to ask in the first place.
Yes, ironically, the Prime Minister sprouted the magic money tree in the rose garden of No. 10 on the very spot where the giggling David and Nick shook hands on the austerity deal. Indeed, £410 million of that deal is included in these estimates, with some £590 million left to be allocated. Perhaps the Chief Secretary could tell the House when the remaining millions promised to the DUP will be put before Parliament?
We have no issue with the funding of Northern Ireland. After all, following eight years of austerity, 370,000 people there are now living in poverty. What we object to is the Government telling the public during an election campaign that there is no fiscal headroom for investment, before immediately finding a £1 billion windfall to keep themselves in power. Unfortunately, the other devolved nations have not been privy to similar arrangements, as they could not afford to offer the Prime Minister continued tenure in office in return.
Looking north of the English border, the Scotland Office sees a significant reduction in its departmental budget. I also note that some spending has been allocated for city deals in Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen. Alongside that funding, perhaps the Chief Secretary can tell us how much money the UK Government will invest in the new or recently signed city deals in Scotland, such as the Stirling and Clackmannanshire deal. Will she give us more details on the Glasgow and Clyde Valley city deal by updating us, for example, on whether there will be any additional Government funding for that deal, particularly for infrastructure projects?
Turning to Wales, the cash grant proposed for the devolved Welsh Government is 2% lower than the amount they received last year and comes at a time of unprecedented austerity for Wales. The Welsh Labour Government’s budget will be 7% lower in real terms by the end of the decade than it was in 2010-11 as a result of the UK Government’s cuts. That means there is £1.2 billion less to spend on public services. As with Scotland, this is the first financial year the Welsh Government have been given greater control over taxation. The Wales Act 2017 and the Welsh fiscal framework devolved stamp duty and landfill tax to the Welsh Government. Responding to that, the Government have reduced the block grant by £269 million to reflect changes to the amount of tax revenue the Welsh Government now collect directly.
Although the devolution of Welsh taxes is welcome, Labour is the real party of devolution and wants to ensure that the Welsh Government have a greater level of fiscal autonomy and financial self-determination. However, this also puts Wales in a vulnerable position. Welsh taxes will need to grow as fast as those in the rest of England to keep up with cuts to the block-grant. In the case of stamp duty, which has been replaced by a land transaction tax, Wales has received no agreement from the Government to protect any fall in revenue. That is particularly concerning given the deep-rooted differences in UK property market conditions, especially after Brexit, which risk leaving the Welsh Government exposed to risks that are outside their control. In addition, Wales’s slower population growth may lead to slower revenue growth than in the other nations of the UK.
The Opposition are also concerned by the method that has been agreed upon to determine how the Welsh block grant is cut. The comparable model means that Wales will lose out even if revenues per head grow at the same rate as everywhere else in the UK. When offered the same method, the Scottish Government rejected it outright, and the Welsh Government agreed to it only after the Treasury agreed to a Welsh needs-based factor being included in the Barnett formula.
So although the Government’s recognition of the Welsh population’s higher needs is a welcome step, the uprating of Barnett consequentials to reflect the high need must also be closely monitored. The transitional uprating of 5% and the agreed funding floor of 15% should not be considered a fait accompli by the Treasury. Instead, both rates should be regularly reviewed by this House and the Welsh Assembly, and, where necessary, uprated.
The day-to-day spending budget for the Welsh Government is yet another casualty in the Government’s continued austerity programme. The Welsh Government this year will see a 3.3% reduction in both their capital and resource budget compared with last year’s final budget. The reality is that the Treasury is pulling the rug from under the Welsh Government by demanding that they do more with less. It is the same old story that we have seen played out time and again, for example, in relation to local government in the UK. Ministers have cynically devolved taxation as a means to also devolve their austerity agenda. That is another case of the Tories not having the courage of their convictions; it is all a charade and an illusion. Financial settlements are dressed up, but in the end Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will inevitably find that they have less. Those nations deserve better from the Government; they deserve a better deal, one that is fair. With these estimates, they are not getting that deal and, to use the words of the Chief Secretary, “That’s a disgrace”.