The grim reality is that the UK economy has been hit harder than any other country in the G7 and that in responding to the crisis the Government’s decisions on COVID contracts have squandered public money.
At a time when the country needed a lift, there was little in the Chancellor’s Spending Review today to help those in Newport East and Wales who have kept going through the pandemic.
The government previously talked about ‘extending an arm around every single worker’, but on the evidence of the Chancellor’s statement in the Commons, this was just more bluster from a government that specialises in it.
While it’s welcome that the Chancellor has agreed to implement the pay review body advice to increase pay for our NHS workers, it’s disappointing that public sector workers face a pay freeze after a decade of stagnant wages. This is a real kick in the teeth for frontline workers who have sacrificed so much this year and continue to play a critical role to keep services running. This decision is incredibly unfair and reduces the funding available to the Welsh Government for pay in Wales.
There was no extension to the £20 a week emergency uplift in Universal Credit due to end in April. This is money that enables families to put food on the table, and has never been more important – especially when you consider that the number of unemployed people in the UK is expected to surge to 2.6 million by mid-2021.
The Government has also not lived up to its commitment to replace European structural funds worth £375m a year to Wales as the money they announced for the UK as a whole falls well short of replacing the money that will begin to tail off at the end of the year – just when our communities need it most.
While the Government spends £100billion on HS2, there was nothing in the statement to address the chronic underfunding of Welsh railways – with an estimated shortfall in funding for Wales of up to £5.1bn over the next decade.
There was no mention of industries like steel and manufacturing that need urgent focus. We finally saw confirmation from the Government regarding the long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy yet there needs to be confirmation that this £100bn of spending benefits all parts of the country. Crucially, the Government must work with the UK steel industry to ensure that British steel is used in these projects which will not only provide a significant boost to the industry but show the Government is serious about being a country and the country being a world-class manufacturer.
The Chancellor’s spending review once again showed the disconnect between what government are offering and what workers in Wales and across the UK need.