Dave Reid, Socialist Party Wales

Happy New Year! The Welsh government has put forward a devastating budget for public services for 2024.

The figures are terrifying. Because of inflation, the budget is worth £1.3 billion less now than when it was originally announced in 2021. It was already a cuts budget. And the real value of the Welsh budget is £3 billion less than it was in 2010.

The real-world consequences will be horrific. Lives will be lost and others ruined.

The Welsh government claims to be “protecting” core services – health and council services – by not cutting them so much. But even these increases do not keep up with inflation – ie they mean cuts.

Core inflation runs at 5.5%, and has been over 10% this year. But health spending will only ‘increase’ by 4%, and local government by 3.1%. Both real-terms cuts. Other services will not even get these insufficient increases.

The NHS is already on its knees in Wales, unable to provide basic services in many cases. The Welsh Ambulance Service advises many people who call 999 to get a taxi to hospital, because they will probably never get an ambulance.

NHS workers are leaving the service in droves, because the pressures of work are so great, while real pay has been cut year after year. One third of sickness absences in the NHS are caused by stress at work. Yet this budget means even more cuts.

If anything, local government is in an even worse state. Councils face the prospect of going bust or just providing what is required by law – statutory services. That means more library closures, and more charges for social care.

Devastating failure

The Welsh Labour government tries to pin the blame on the Tory UK government cutting funding for Wales. And, yes, 13 years of Tory austerity has devastated services across the UK. But the decline of public services in Wales is also a testament of a failed political strategy by Welsh Labour.

Welsh Labour leaders claimed they could mitigate the cuts imposed by Westminster, and use devolved powers to run things more fairly than the Tories in England. They told us that it would be a mistake to fight the cuts – that the Tories would impose them anyway.

But where have we ended up?

The NHS in Wales is in an even worse state than in Tory England. Council services are just as threadbare.

The Tory policy of charging for basic public services in health, education and social care has been implemented by a Welsh Labour government, and will now be extended, with more charges for dental services, social care, and university tuition fees.

The Welsh government has the power to set a no-cuts, needs-led budget that tackles poverty, fully funds public services, and massively expands NHS and council services. It should immediately implement a £15-an-hour minimum wage, nationalise Tata Steel, transport, utilities, and the top companies, and organise a mass campaign around this with the trade unions and working-class people in Wales.

The Tories are so discredited that even though Labour’s Keir Starmer is unpopular, he is likely to win a significant majority in parliament. But the idea that we should wait for a UK Labour government has been exposed even before it has been elected.

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow chancellor, has promised to continue Tory spending levels (cuts) until productivity increases – something that has not happened since the 1960s. Starmer welcomed business leaders at this year’s Labour conference, saying: “If we do come into government, you will be coming into government with us”.

Social partnership?

Some trade union leaders have believed the Welsh Labour government’s false promise of ‘social partnership’, and therefore blocked action by their members against Labour councils or working for Welsh government services run by Labour. This must change.

A notable exception has been Unite the Union’s support for its council workers in Cardiff and Wrexham, who have been on strike for pay rises that keep pace with inflation. To provide an alternative to the Tories and Labour, we need a new mass workers’ party with socialist policies.