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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Minister unveils Welsh budget
National Assembly chamber
The assembly was told of budget plans for 2003
Welsh Finance Minister Edwina Hart has outlined Wales' biggest ever budget, with a commitment to further funding for health and education.

The minister outlined the key areas of spending, but added a proviso that extra money meant higher quality services.

The 11bn budget for 2003-2004 includes an 11% year on year increase for health services, including 11m for the new Local Health Boards.

Welsh Assembly Finance Minister Edwina Hart
Edwina Hart will address the assembly on Tuesday
Ahead of the budget, opposition politicians had criticised the "raiding" of 230m from budget reserves, saying the extra spending was a "sweetener" for voters ahead of the assembly elections next spring.

But Ms Hart responded to critics saying the reserves for next year would be triple those of the current financial year.

Ms Hart said over the next three years, the Welsh Assembly Government planned major investment in schools, health, social care and improving the quality of life in the communities of Wales.

An extra 110m was earmarked for health services - on top of 300m previously announced.

An additional 8.7% for education services was revealed, including funding for Assembly Learning Grants, higher education, school buildings and equipment, smaller class sizes, small and rural schools and special educational needs.

The minister also outlined 3.5m of assembly commitment towards funding the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales and the provision of funding for assembly "embassies" in the United States, Brussels, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Ms Hart also praised the spending of last year's budget, which reached 99% and was better than any other part of the UK, said the minister.

"We must ensure where there is extra investment, that we deliver higher quality services which meet the needs of people across Wales," said Ms Hart.

Janet Ryder AM
Janet Ryder AM: 'Sweeteners'

"Delivery also requires real results."

The minister said 37 of the 44 budget priorities laid down for the current financial year had been met.

But Plaid's finance spokesperson Janet Ryder said the budget was full of vagueness and contradictions and she criticised the use of reserves.

The north Wales AM criticised the lack of finances to support drug rehabilitation programmes, an issue which was raised with Home Secretary David Blunkett at the recent Labour Party conference in Blackpool.


Clearly there is not enough money being spent on services in Wales and a reassessment needs to be made

Janet Ryder, Plaid finance spokesperson

"Where is that money?3.5m for the Ryder Cup and 3.7m for drug rehabilitation, where are your priorities, minister?

"Yes, Wales needs a millennium centre, but can the same money be better spent on rebuilding communities and providing homes for people?

"If money needs to be taken from reserves, then clearly there is not enough money being spent on services in Wales and a reassessment needs to be made of the Barnett Formula."

The Welsh Assembly Government has been accused of "raiding its reserves" for the 2003 budget, ahead of the spring assembly elections.

The 11bn budget shows proposed increases of 110m for for health board and NHS trust revenue budgets and an additional 30m boost for education, including 10m to provide free nursery places for pre-school children.

Cabinet ministers will give detailed outlines of their spending plans in the coming 10 days.

Tory AM Jonathan Morgan said Finance Minister Edwina Hart had previously pledged to keep health levels of reserves, as local authorities are required to do by Westminster.

While Tory finance spokesman David Jones cautiously welcomed the increases in health spending, he warned against it being wasted on administration costs.

The draft budget proposals cover a three-year period up to 2005-2006.

In July, First Minister Rhodri Morgan welcomed Chancellor Gordon Brown's announcement the assembly budget would rise by 5.1% in real terms.

By 2006, the assembly's budget will reach an estimated 12.6bn.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru finance spokesperson
"Where are the priorities in this budget?"
Edwina Hart, Assembly Finance Minister
"There are no cheap electioneering gimmicks in the budget"
See also:

10 Jul 02 | Politics
14 Jul 02 | Business
14 Jan 00 | Wales
12 Jul 02 | Wales
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