Wales politics

Lib Dems still in opposition says AM, as budget passes

The Welsh Liberal Democrats will remain an opposition party, despite their budget deal with the Welsh government, says the party's finance spokesman.

Peter Black was speaking during a Senedd debate on Labour's budget for next year.

AMs voted in favour of the spending plans on Tuesday.

It follows a deal between Labour ministers and the Lib Dems which offers more money to help the education of the least well-off pupils.

Mr Black told AMs that his was a "responsible party" and that failing to pass the £14.5bn budget would mean uncertainty for the public sector.

The party recognised the economic context had forced difficult decisions, but supported the "general thrust" of the budget.

"We remain an opposition party with a duty to continue to hold the government to account," he said.

He denied claims from opponents that the Lib Dems had "sold out cheaply".

'Good deal'

He said the agreement was "not just a good deal for Welsh Liberal Democrats," but also for poorer pupils, education and the public sector.

Finance Minister Jane Hutt said there was something in the budget that every member should support.

Passing the budget on time would allow councils and local health boards to make their plans, and give the private sector "confidence and stability", she said.

Despite calls for more health spending from the Conservatives, the government was confident the money it had allocated, together with efficiency savings, would deliver the NHS "we all aspire to".

The deal with the Lib Dems will help some 70,000 primary and secondary school pupils from poorer families, Ms Hutt said.

Schools will receive £450 for every child entitled to free school meals.

It was being paid for thanks to "careful financial management", the minister added.

She said the government believed there was a "middle ground" that could reduce the UK's debts without stalling economic growth.

The budget does not meet the needs of the people of Wales, Tory finance spokesman Paul Davies said.

'Sold out'

He added he was "extremely disappointed" that the Lib Dems had supported it, adding they had "sold out very cheaply".

The £32m pupil deprivation grant was short of the £40m the Lib Dems had indicated they would need for the policy in talks with the Conservatives.

Image caption Carwyn Jones agreed a deal with the Liberal Democrats after long talks

Mr Davies said the budget "will rip hundreds of millions of pounds out of our health service".

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said there were "huge cuts" in prospect for every service delivered by the government.

Although there was a cash increase for health, "we have to accept in real terms that's a cut".

He told the Tories their desire to protect health spending from inflation would mean cuts for education "far in excess of what we are already facing".

He returned to Plaid's central charge that the government had not responded adequately to the economic crisis.

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