Bad blood on budget deal

Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats have accused the Welsh government of bad faith over a budget deal on education.

It is a row which is important because of how it could affect Labour's chances of striking future deals and what it tells us about education funding.

Here's the politics first. Labour does not have an overall majority at the assembly so the Welsh government needs to strike a deal with another party to get its budget through.

And there were smiles all round last year when Leanne Wood and Kirsty Williams held a joint news conference to say they'd won concessions from ministers, and as a result they would support the budget.

One of those was an increase in the Pupil Deprivation Grant.

This is designed to be spent on pupils who are eligible for free school meals and costs £64m.

It works out at £918 per pupil and has been used for things like numeracy and literacy projects, and support for teaching assistants.

Now the opposition parties say they agreed the deal on the understanding that it was separate from a commitment by the Welsh government to increase the education budget by 1% above any changes to the level of funding it gets from Westminster.

But it has now emerged that the pupil deprivation grant does in fact form part of that 1%.

'No headaches'

The Welsh government says it's been transparent all along and that the budget deal did not involve a promise to ring-fence the cash on top of the 1% commitment.

Both Plaid and the Lib Dems say there's been a breach of faith and point to an assembly committee hearing in October when Huw Lewis said: "If any local authority officer or politician is under the impression that the uplift in the PDG is a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to the 1% commitment, I will disabuse them of that very rapidly".

The wider problem for Labour is what it means for the future prospects of striking deals.

Immediately after the last assembly elections three years ago, the big question being asked was how would Labour govern effectively without an overall majority?

As it has turned out, it's a problem that ministers needn't have worried out because they've got their budgets through without any major headaches.

Harden resolve?

The question is how long can that continue?

Whoever is right on this issue the fact remains that the smaller parties are unhappy with the outcome of a major part of the deal that got the budget through.

The question is will the other parties be mindful to enter talks next time round, or will it harden their resolve to win more concessions?

And does the row tell us anything about the state of school funding?

It's fair to say that it has not generated anything like the attention that funding for the NHS has.

The 1% increase for schools was a key part of Carwyn Jones's leadership campaign.

The Welsh Local Government Association has been keen to stress that its members have been passing on this increase.

In the past there has been criticism that extra money has been retained in Town Hall coffers.

But this time council leaders insist the money is getting through, even if protecting the 1% for schools makes life financially difficult when you consider councils have had to cope with a 4% cut in cash terms in their overall settlement from the Welsh government this year.

Pride

And any protection of schools also has a disproportionate affect because it makes up around 40% of the overall budgets of councils.

It's unsurprising that the Welsh government was keen to stress its pride in the 1% commitment because it has been a central defence against Conservative attacks that the Welsh NHS budget should have been protected.

Ministers say that if funding in health had been protected, then education would have faced disproportionate cuts.