Aaron Hill gives his verdict on the draft budget.
When Welsh Government released its Programme for Government last month, I wasn’t the only one with a few complaints. Lack of detail on delivery, on funding, and on why exactly we’d waited so long were high on the agenda. Yesterday’s budget began to answer some of those questions, but also gave a flavour of the direction the Welsh Government will be taking in this Fifth Assembly.
Extra funding for the NHS will always grab headlines, and our colleague in Local Government are sure to be breathing a sigh of relief after their best funding settlement in years. But in the week that it was confirmed that the previous Welsh Government’s 10,000 homes target was exceeded by 15%, there was more good news for housing.
Following the success of the Homes for Wales campaign, there is now widespread recognition of the housing crisis in Wales – more than 8,000 families have been on housing waiting lists since the 2011 election – and Welsh Government responded to calls for an ambitious plan to tackle this crisis yesterday with £1.3bn in capital funding over the next five years to deliver Welsh Government’s 20,000 affordable homes target.
The Finance Secretary’s wide-ranging and long term commitment to capital investment was welcome. The four year capital budget cycle is both a sign of maturing institution, and a sign that Wales is open for business in the wake of Brexit. It has provided certainty, – scarce in these uncertain times – that there will be significant capital investment in housing and other key infrastructure. We’ll be looking for more detail on the £1.3bn, but the funding has been warmly welcomed by the sector, as we continue working towards that 20,000 figure.
Beyond the bricks and mortar, there was also a welcome commitment yesterday to funding for Supporting People and Homelessness Prevention, following the Let’s Keep on Supporting People campaign. This will ensure that Wales can remain one of the world’s leaders in tackling homelessness. Those who watched Mark Drakeford closely during his time at health won’t be surprised to see a focus on prevention, or prudence, and we must hope this continues.
It couldn’t all be good news, though.
Just as in the Programme for Government, there was little to no mention of tackling poverty from Welsh Government during this budget round. It’s no surprise when they are phasing out their flagship Communities First programme, but the same can be said of Regeneration, which saw a £65m gap in its capital budget line yesterday.
The last Welsh Government had a sharp focus on both these areas, and even while flagship schemes like Communities First and Vibrant & Viable Places are cut or end, that focus must remain. Investing in infrastructure and prevention are absolutely the right approach, but these must be targeted in the right way to ensure that communities across Wales feel the benefit.
The hope now, is that the Finance Secretary’s prudent approach will mean that the same certainty offered to infrastructure investment can be extended to the other forms of support communities require.