Budget shows signs of improvement but is some way off the investment needed to tackle the climate and nature crisis says Future Generations Commissioner for Wales
The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has welcomed the Welsh Government’s budget published yesterday but says the Government is still not comprehensively demonstrating how spending is meeting the climate emergency and how across the board it is shifting its spend towards preventing problems from occurring rather than trying to fix them afterwards.
On funding the climate emergency there are several things to welcome as part of the Government’s budget plans published yesterday, including:
- Plans to seek additional headroom for borrowing and capital investment. Major decarbonisation challenges such as the retrofitting of buildings will only be possible if the Welsh Government is given greater powers to invest.
- The increased spending on sustainable travel from £160m to £219m which will encourage decarbonisation of transport and greater levels of physical activity.
- The increase in the Social Housing Grant funding from £188m to £223m which will facilitate decarbonisation of Welsh housing stock whilst tackling key social issues related to fuel poverty and health.
- The announcement of £140m in new capital funding for climate and environment, taking total capital spending specifically on climate and environment over the 5% threshold.
“I am pleased to see that Welsh Government have acted on the advice I gave, in part through my 10 point plan which I published earlier this year which set out the funding commitments needed to contribute towards decarbonisation and tackling the climate emergency.
Alongside the investments in the new metro systems this demonstrates the Government’s dedication to investing in proactive solutions to the climate crisis. However, whilst the budget has targeted investment at measures “which current evidence supports as being the areas where Welsh Government can have the greatest impact to deliver our first carbon budget” it remains the case that there is no holistic impact assessment of the net carbon impact of the budget. In other words, the Government cannot tell us whether the way in which they are spending their money is supporting an increase or a decrease in carbon emissions.
“For example, the recent Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan Pipeline Update for 2019 showed a planned investment of £1.56bn on roads against an investment of £818 million in sustainable transport (public transport and active travel) between 2018-2021. Without a comprehensive assessment of all spending decisions, progress in some areas may be undermined by high carbon projects or programmes in others.”
The Commissioner continued:
The Government from now on must forensically analyse every aspect of its expenditure, especially capital spend in terms of carbon impact and publish details on how this stacks up overall. Over the past few months I have written to the Minister for Finance and Trefnydd to request the Government share their carbon impact assessments, and I am not yet satisfied with their responses to date.
In response to an improved settlement for local government the Commissioner said:
“I welcome the increased budget for local government who have struggled to meet the demand on services during the last number of years due to austerity. I am pleased to see the Government recognises the importance of local government in the provision of preventative services; education, sports and community facilities, quality public open spaces and community-based support services; all of which play an important in stopping people becoming unwell or developing longer-term social problems. These services are vital if we are truly going to shift to a nation which puts well-being at the core of public policy as is required by the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
“Beyond this, the Government must demonstrate how it is spending for prevention across its budgets and Local Government must commit to making investments in preventative services, working with others such as health boards, fire and rescue services, Natural Resources Wales and voluntary and community-based organisations.”
The Commissioner also welcomed the Government’s production of a ‘Budget Improvement Plan’ following recommendations she made last year about improvements that were needed in the budget process.
Sophie Howe concluded:
“The Government is on a journey towards embedding the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations Act and starting to demonstrate how their budget process needs to reflect spending priories which support people’s well-being and do not store up problems for future generations.
“Wales should be commended for being at the forefront of a movement towards well-being budgeting which is being adopted by Government’s in New Zealand, Scotland and Finland.”