New News, Old News, No News

One of the most difficult jobs in Parliament is leading the opposition response to a Budget or an Autumn Statement. Even though you’ve probably already read the best bits in the press on the days leading up to the announcement, you still have to think on your feet because there are some surprises. The closest thing to a big surprise this time was the actual abolition of the Autumn Statement and its replacement with a Budget in the autumn. Maybe this will have some impact on the Assembly’s own budget cycle in years to come.

As to the rest of the announcement, there was nothing in it that hadn’t been trailed extensively in recent days. As expected, there is “tens of millions” - or £400m to be precise - extra in capital spending which the Welsh Government will get between 2016-17 and 2020-21. This is a consequential from increased roads spending in England, though it seems from first indications it will be spent here in Wales on improved flood defences and high streets, perhaps recognising the controversial nature of big road building projects with some backbench Labour AMs like Lee Waters (Lab, Llanelli) and Jenny Rathbone (Lab, Cardiff Central).

Less good news to the Welsh Government is the very modest uplift in revenue spending of £35.8m between 2016-17 and 2019-20, of which half is due to income from the Apprenticeship Levy. This means that in terms of service delivery that austerity will continue unless income can be raised from other sources.

Further, the only other news of specific named relevance to Wales in the Autumn Statement was the importance of the Swansea Bay City Region Deal and the growth deal for North Wales. As neither of these were either new or substantial announcements, it was clear they were just padding to try and Welshify a statement that aimed for functionality or flashiness. The Statement could be fairly criticised on those grounds.

Less fair – and a lot more synthetic – was the criticism from Labour, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru around a lack of commitment to the tidal lagoon scheme in the Statement. Regardless of the merits of that project and the recent hype whipped up, there was never any chance the tidal lagoon would be given the go ahead because the whole issue of this energy source including its strike price is still being examined by the independent Hendry Review. To expect the Chancellor to make a decision before this crucial Review has reported is at best naïve and at worst playing politics with the future energy security of the nation.