THE Welsh Government has delivered its key promises to the people of Wales in the face of one of the most difficult periods of government in modern history, First Minister Mark Drakeford said today.
This term of government has been unprecedented – over the last five years, the Welsh Government has faced the significant challenges of austerity, Brexit, the climate emergency and the coronavirus pandemic.
Any one of these could have been enough to derail any government’s plans.
But the Welsh Government’s final annual report of the fifth Senedd – which the First Minister describes as “unlike any in the 20 years since devolution” – reveals the government has fulfilled its promises to the people of Wales.
And the Welsh Government has mobilised all its resources to respond to the global Covid-19 pandemic, using every lever at its disposal to protect lives and livelihoods.
Protecting the Welsh NHS with more than £1.5bn in additional funding invested in 2020-21 (over and above its annual budget) to ensure it has the funding it needs to deal with the immediate health impact of the pandemic, and to deliver the most successful NHS track and trace programme in the UK and the largest vaccination programme Wales has ever seen.
Investing £2bn to support businesses, including establishing a bespoke Economic Resilience Fund, which has helped to safeguard 100,000 jobs, ensuring the Welsh economy has a platform on which to recover and rebuild.
Allocating more than £1bn in additional resources for local authority services to help them to sustain provision for those who need it most. This helps ensure those people and families most severely affected can continue to draw on support offered by the Welsh Government and other public services, including schools and community services.
This includes providing 133,000 digital devices for children learning at home and ensuring free school meals to Easter 2022.
This Senedd term has also seen significant constitutional developments, including the Wales Act 2017 and the introduction of devolved taxes in Wales, while 16 and 17-year-olds and qualifying citizens from overseas now have the right to vote in Senedd and local government elections.
Thanks to devolution, the Welsh Government’s spend on public services is 14% higher than the equivalent spend in England – with £10,929 being spent per person in Wales in 2019-20.
First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford said:
“Since this government was formed in 2016, we have faced a series of challenges, which on their own would have caused any government significant problems.
“These have all overlapped each other in this five-year period – Brexit and the ongoing uncertainty about our future relationship with the EU; the lasting damage caused by more than a decade of austerity; the climate emergency and the coronavirus pandemic.
“In spite of these challenges, we have continued to deliver the promises we set out in our programme for government and have mobilised all our resources to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, to protect people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods.
“We have delivered for Wales and will continue to deliver for Wales. We are continuing to respond to coronavirus pandemic and deliver the largest vaccination programme Wales has ever seen, while ensuring our NHS is protected, our economy has a platform on which to recover and rebuild and those people and families most severely affected can continue to draw on our support.”
Ministers have successfully implemented the six key commitments they set out in 2016 as part of an ambitious programme for government to improve the lives of people across Wales.
Free childcare for working parents: launched in September 2017, the Childcare Offer is providing free early education and childcare for children aged three and four. 14,600 children benefited from the offer in January 2020.
A New Treatment Fund for life-threatening Illnesses: Launched in January 2017, it has provided more than 260 new life-improving and life-saving treatments, reducing the average time it takes for newly-approved medicines and treatments to become available to patients on the Welsh NHS from 90 days to just 13 days.
Tax cuts for all small businesses in Wales: Half of all businesses in Wales now pay no business rates at all following the introduction of a permanent Small Business Rates Relief scheme in April 2018.
Doubling the capital limit for those going into residential care to £50,000 in April 2019, two years earlier than planned. This is the most generous scheme in the UK.
Creating 100,000 quality apprenticeships for all ages to help thousands of people learn new skills while earning a wage. This target was met in 2020. More than half of apprenticeships were aged 25 and over.
An extra £100m to improve school standards – reducing infant class sizes, establishing the National Academy for Educational Leadership and improving Welsh language teaching and learning. More than 90,000 learners have benefited from 176 brand new or improved school and college buildings across Wales, as part of a £650m investment in the 21st Century Schools and Colleges Programme since 2016.
Ministers have also acted in a number of cross-cutting priority areas, including:
Early years: Shaping and improving the lives of every child in Wales by supporting more than 36,000 children in disadvantaged areas through Flying Start each year, while the Coronavirus Childcare Assistance Scheme has provided essential childcare support for 9,600 pre-school vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.
Housing: Ensuring everyone can have a good quality, affordable home by successfully delivering and exceeding the goal of 20,000 affordable homes, with the majority of these being social housing, and doing everything possible to prevent homelessness, by supporting 5,000 people into temporary accommodation since March 2020.
Mental Health: Providing the right treatment at an early stage by increasing ring-fenced funding for mental health services by 12.5% to more than £700m, and using a Whole School Approach to provide counselling support for around 11,500 children each year.
Social care: Embedding compassion and giving people dignity and autonomy by maintaining the cap on charges for care services that people get in their own homes to a maximum of £100, ensuring fairness across Wales, while people on low incomes pay much less or nothing at all. In addition, Ministers have increased funding to support integration across health and social care, and provided a £500 payment for social care workers during the pandemic.
Skills and employability: Giving people the skills to secure fair, rewarding work by establishing Working Wales and supporting the employability of more than 50,000 people, and investing an additional £130m to deliver a Covid Commitment to education, employment and training.
Decarbonisation: Supporting a clean and healthy environment for everyone by legally committing Wales to a pathway for decarbonisation following the declaration of a Climate Emergency, ensuring half of Wales’ electricity needs now come from renewable energy sources, and maintaining Wales’ position as a world leader in recycling, increasing the recycling rate from 5% in 1999 to 65% today.
Poverty: Taken a whole-government approach to tackling poverty by ensuring 220,000 households pay no council tax at all through our Council Tax Reduction Scheme, and becoming the first government in the UK to provide funding for Free School Meals during school holidays, and extending this to 2022.
Biodiversity: reversing the decline in the environment for future generations by launching a National Forest Programme, planting 25,000 native trees through a Green Corridors initiative, and creating 388 community gardens through a Local Places for Nature programme, bringing nature to people’s doorstep.
During the fifth Senedd, 17 Acts have received Royal Assent and a further two are expected by May 2021. These include:
Laws introducing Wales’ new devolved taxes;
Introducing a new curriculum for Wales, which will support higher standards of literacy, numeracy and creativity and ensure learners are more digitally competent and bilingual;
Reforming local government, including extending the electoral franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds and qualifying citizens from overseas;
Introducing a Minimum Price for Alcohol, to help prevent alcohol-related deaths;
Removing the defence of reasonable chastisement of children, to protect children from physical punishment;
Abolishing the Right to Buy, to protect Wales’ social housing stock;
Banning letting agent fees;
Reforming the Additional Learning Needs system;
Reforming the system for renting homes;
Prohibiting the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in Wales;
Dis-applying certain provisions of the UK Government’s Trade Union Act 2016 as they apply to devolved Welsh authorities.