Mark Isherwood is the Welsh Conservative Assembly Member for North Wales and Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Public Services and Europe
The Welsh Government’s Local Government budget settlement for 2019/20 is unbalanced and unfair.
The figures, released earlier this month, show an overall 1.8 per cent real terms reduction for local government with every local authority in North Wales seeing a cut, despite seven in South Wales seeing a standstill or an increase.
Not only are North Wales councils seeing their budgets slashed, but Labour-run councils in Cardiff, Newport and Neath Port Talbot are seeing theirs’ increase. It is cronyism of the highest order and it is council taxpayers across the region who will be paying the price.
Of course, spending public money is not just about how much is spent, but also how well it’s spent. Currently, Conservative-led Monmouthshire has the lowest per head of funding, receiving £585 less per head than the highest. Again, if you look to North Wales, Wrexham is eighteenth with £339 less, and Flintshire nineteenth with £368 less.
This settlement is a kick in the teeth for North, Mid and West Wales.
We need to be looking at this, in the context of the impact. This funding formula has existed for almost two decades under a Welsh Labour Government and is not addressing the inequalities that exist.
Voluntary Sector leaders have stated that we now need to introduce preventative budgets that deliver real change with measures that invest in what works, rather than always looking to do something differently. This would include co-design and co-delivery, rather than consultation after design from above and commissioning to deliver top-down programmes.
The Auditor General for Wales report, ‘Guide to Welsh Public Finances’, said:
“Co-production involves a recognition of the positive assets that individuals and communities offer public services. These can dwarf the limited financial resources available to the public sector. There is a challenge for public services to understand and work with those resources alongside the financial resources that are typically included in budgets.”
Wales has some well-meaning legislation in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Its Part 2 Code of Practice puts in place a system where people are full partners in the design and operation of care and support, giving people clear and unambiguous rights and responsibilities.
It states that:
“Local authorities must seek to empower people to produce innovative solutions through local networks and communities’, and that this ‘means putting robust arrangements in place to secure involvement of people in the design and operation of services.”
However, time and time again we see the distress and damage that is being caused when those public agencies and Councils are failing to carry out those responsibilities and duties.
The implications of not implementing this legislation is that millions of pounds are being spent poorly, adding millions to the cost pressure on statutory health and care services, rather than engaging with public bodies in Wales and delivering smart and efficient services.
The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has issued a statement supported by the Local Government leaders from all parties, in which the WLGA Conservative group leader, Peter Fox, stated:
“With £370 million new monies arriving from Westminster, an imaginative approach to funding preventative services to keep people out of hospitals was needed. Instead, the Welsh Government has given the NHS a seven per cent increase and cut council budgets for the eighth year in succession.”
This is an accurate and daunting reflection on Welsh Government prioritisation.
We’re not advocating a cut in NHS funding; what we’re advocating is imaginative, smart, preventative budgets that keep the pressure off health services by the two working better together.
Behind the rhetoric, Welsh Labour’s Local Government budget means spending more to deliver less, rather than spending better to improve lives and save money. Unless health, social and third sector care are enabled to fund preventative services together, we will continue to see a Welsh NHS which is unable to cope with demand.