Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The two Cs challenges for Jones

By Phil Parry
BBC Wales Politics

Carwyn Jones AM
Carwyn Jones will face a big squeeze on public spending

For Carwyn Jones, the new first minister, the challenges ahead can be boiled down to the two Cs - cuts and characters.

Any cuts in public spending would be very tough to deliver and even tougher to sell to the people of Wales.

Politicians don't like the word "cuts".

They prefer phrases like "efficiency savings", but there will be a dramatic slow-down in any increased funding for public spending and to the man or woman in the street that will feel like cuts.

And characters. How will Mr Jones keep on board key figures within his own government, where he is in coalition with Plaid Cymru, and make sure the relationship with colleagues in Westminster stays on course?

Uncharted territory

It's a relationship that has been tested in recent weeks over the timing of a possible referendum on more assembly powers.

And if a general election brings a change of government in Westminster we are in completely uncharted territory about how strained that relationship between Cardiff Bay and London may become.

So how much will the new world of much tighter public spending in Whitehall affect the first minister's freedom to act?

Whichever Whitehall departments feel the spending slowdown the most, then it will have a direct effect on the money Mr Jones will have to dish out in Wales on the "frontline services" we hear so much about - such as the health service and education.

He has already promised to increase spending on education so that could mean more pressure on other services.

A block grant of around £16bn comes from central government - and in the health and social care sector in Wales a budget has been outlined of £5.8bn, for the next financial year, an increase of £2.6%.

But that's "by far the lowest increase received for many years," according to Finance Minister Andrew Davies.

And as the UK government grapples with a £175bn annual deficit - and with talk of financial markets pushing up the cost of borrowing - this could be just the start of squeezes on public spending.


Mr Jones has two big hurdles to clear on that. How to work out which department will feel the heat most on spending - and how to communicate that effectively to the Welsh public.

Mr Jones's background is as a barrister, but he will need all his communication skills to sell that tough message to voters, with an assembly election in May 2011.

Strained relationships between personalities in his own cabinet could prove almost as tricky.

Differences with Plaid Cymru over the timing of a possible referendum on more powers appear to have eased - but they came close to breaking up the coalition with Labour and give a clue to the tensions that exist between the two parties, and within Labour itself.

A news release from Labour appeared to put a question mark over holding a referendum next year on more powers for the assembly.

Plaid Cymru sources described it as a "serious breach of trust" and "completely unacceptable".

Mr Jones must ensure those tensions don't resurface, but if they do, they could once again threaten the coalition.

And while he keeps Plaid Cymru happy within the coalition he must also keep Labour colleagues on side, notably in Westminster.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain has made it quite clear he believes a referendum in the next couple of years "would be lost".

Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan during his final First Minister's questions

In the short term Mr Jones must face the challenge of putting together his cabinet.

It's more of a "blank sheet of paper" than a reshuffle.

But it appears likely room will be made for supporters such as his campaign manager Leighton Andrews, while other figures like Education Minister Jane Hutt and Finance Minister Andrew Davies could be dropped.

And other challenges lie ahead for him - even beyond the issues of funding public services and easing tensions within his cabinet and beyond.

Foremost among them is how really to fill the shoes of Rhodri Morgan, who came to represent Wales over and beyond his role as leader of Labour in Wales.

His popularity ratings have outstripped those of Labour in Wales.

Comments like "does a one-legged duck swim in circles?" in answer to the question did he want the job of leader, endeared Rhodri Morgan to voters.

And perhaps the biggest challenge of all will be for the new first minister to coin memorable "Carwynisms" that make headlines in quite the same way.

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