“The draft budget is being set in some of the most challenging of times in recent memory for Welsh Government, and I welcome the way in which Welsh Government has continued to provide support throughout the cost-of-living crisis to those most in need, in spite of too often being handcuffed by Westminster.
We must be honest about the reality the Senedd is facing, the reality our local authorities are facing, and the reality our residents are facing.
Twelve years of austerity has withered the fabric of this country, making Wales and the UK poorer, impacting on public services, health, transport, housing, welfare, local authority budgets, arts and culture. All were led like lambs to the slaughter, all to be sacrificed on the altar of austerity.
This, we were told by Westminster, was a price worth paying in order to restore economic credibility. The Tory Government waxed lyrical about how their scorched earth policy to the building blocks of our society would succeed in bringing down the debt, except it catastrophically failed, even by their own measures. Debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is now at its highest rate for more than 60 years.
The results of the last 12 years are impossible to escape: the worst fall in living standards since records began; real-term wage cuts for workers, the NHS on the brink, and a demoralised public sector workforce; a housing market completely out of control; and more food banks than branches of McDonalds. It is a record worthy of eternal shame and one only sustained by divide-and-rule tactics, designed to pit worker against worker, industry against industry, and person against person.
But, in the face of that, we must take hope from the rising unity of workers and unions across this country, forced into strike action to defend their pay and working conditions.
The UK Government completely and utterly squandered its years of low interest rates. Instead of cutting, they could and should have invested in those building blocks—in a nationalised public transport network, in new social housing, in properly funded public services, and in a Green New Deal. It is economically illiterate to do otherwise. Many forms of public spending end up returning far more economic value than they initially cost. Metaphorically speaking, the UK Government had the chance to fix the roof while the sun was shining. Instead, they simply ripped off even more tiles.
We have to be honest here in Wales about too often being unable to have made those investments ourselves. Comparatively speaking, we essentially have no substantial ability to borrow to invest because of Westminster-imposed borrowing restrictions. From refusing to provide Wales with a penny of HS2 funding to threatening to overrule the Welsh Government on trade union legislation, in this Chamber we have first-hand experience of the way in which Wales is shortchanged by a UK Government who seem to have no problem whatsoever with undermining the union.
Unlike the UK Government, who made a choice not to borrow to invest, the Welsh Government is all too often restricted from even having that choice. The fact is that without prudential borrowing powers Wales will continue to fall behind, and we will continue to be hamstrung in our own ability to invest in the future of our nation. So, it’s no good us simply hoping for a change of Government in Westminster; we must embrace every opportunity we have here in Wales to lead, but we need the tools to be able to lead properly, and that is why prudential borrowing is so important.
In that regard, I hope that, moving forward, we can use the budget-setting process as a platform on which to build a cross-party Senedd campaign for Welsh prudential borrowing powers, alongside an updated Welsh Government case for those powers. And I want Wales to maximise its ability to craft our own unique future, led by a Government with the financial power to make transformational change that improves living standards for all, and let’s build a greener, fairer Wales that is fit for the challenges of our future. Diolch.”
*a recording of an excerpt of the speech is below*