Local Government indicative budget for 2019-20

Oct 25, 2017 | Articles, Assembly Business, Assembly Issues | 0 comments

Plenary Wednesday 25 October 2017

13:57:01
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Spoken Contribution – 13:57:01
Watch this contribution on Senedd TV | View this contribution in the Record of Proceeding document

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. We had a panel from the Welsh Local Government Association in committee this morning, Minister, discussing matters relating to the draft budget. We all know that these are difficult times for local government funding, but one thing that would help councils to take decisions is some certainty of future funding levels. I know you have provided an indicative budget for 2019-20, so we have moved to a two-year cycle. The situation in Scotland is that they effectively have a three-year cycle. The WLGA are calling for a multi-year settlement and say that a three-year settlement would be a great help for their forward planning. What’s your response to that?

Mark Drakeford AC

Mark Drakeford AC

Teitl: Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Gyllid a Llywodraeth Leol Plaid: Llafur Cymru

Well, I say this to the Member: I share the WLGA’s ambition for a three-year cycle—I wish I was in a position to do that for them—but we do not have a Welsh Government budget for the third year of this cycle because there has been no comprehensive spending review by the incoming Government, elected in June of this year, and in circumstances where I simply do not know how much money we will have available to use for all public services in Wales, I cannot give local government a sensible and reliable indicative budget for that third year. I wish I was in a position to do that, because I understand the points that they made to you and that you made this afternoon about that helping them to be able to plan.

I made a judgment, Dirprwy Lywydd, that it was possible to provide a firm budget for next year and a reliably indicative budget for the second year in the budget that I laid on 3 October. Without the figures that I need from the UK Government about what the shape of the Welsh Government’s budget will be in the third year, I simply didn’t have reliable enough information to be able to give local government figures on which they could plan properly.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes, thanks for clarifying that. Of course, that lack of information would make it very difficult, so I take it that the situation regarding the UK Government and Scotland is therefore different from the situation regarding the UK Government and local government funding in Wales. Continuing with the theme of the financing of local government, you’ve stressed in the past to the WLGA the need to seek alternative sources of income. The WLGA say that this is currently easier for councils in England to achieve due to their power of general competence. We heard today that English councils have invested in petrol stations, in superstores and, in London, they even own their own shopping centres. If councils in Wales had the power of general competence, would this more entrepreneurial route be a good route for them to go down, do you think, or would there be too many potential drawbacks?
Mark Drakeford AC

Mark Drakeford AC

Teitl: Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Gyllid a Llywodraeth Leol Plaid: Llafur Cymru

Well, Dirprwy Lywydd, I am keen to provide local authorities in Wales with a general power of competence. It was included in the draft Bill published during the last Assembly term and was widely welcomed by local authorities. It is one of the reasons why I’m keen to press ahead with local government reforms so we can bring a Bill in front of this Assembly that will provide local authorities in Wales with exactly that ability. I think they will want to look carefully at some of the ways in which those powers have been used across our border. I think that there are some positive lessons that can be learned from things that local authorities there may have been able to do. Some of the more speculative investments that have been made, of the sort that Mr Bennett outlined, are giving rise to some concerns in some parts of England about whether taxpayers’ money has been reliably invested and whether it will give local taxpayers a proper return. Sometimes it’s lucky to be going second in something because you are able to gain from the experience of those who’ve gone first. This is an area where I think Welsh local government will be able to reflect on the experience across our border, use the new power we are keen to give them where they can do it to advantage, but maybe not to be drawn into some areas of activity where proper returns and the levels of probity that we would expect may not be so easy to guarantee.
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes, thank you. That, of course—. I think you need to have some kind of thought to the possible disadvantages, which you’ve outlined, so I think that’s a sensible answer.

Now, another development in England—[Interruption.] Another development in England is that at least one council has successfully set up a not-for-profit energy company. That is the Robin Hood Energy company in Nottingham. Now, if these powers of general competence did come to Wales, do you think that would be an idea that some local councils could effectively pursue here?