Last week the UK Government announced its spring budget – a budget that did little to help the serious financial situation we face in Wales or to address the mounting cost-of-living challenges faced by far too many people. Despite having considerable headroom, the Chancellor chose to do the bare minimum and prioritise the pension pots of the most wealthy ahead of major investment in public services, in a way in which we would have seen passported to support our services here in Wales.
While Wales came out with an additional £178m through the Barnett Formula as a result of UK Government spending, this is less than the £200m allocated to fix potholes in England and still leaves Wales’ settlement in 2023-24 up to £900m lower in real terms than expected at the time of the 2021 spending review. To cap it all, the Department for Transport also took the decision last week to classify the Northern Powerhouse Rail plan an ‘England and Wales project’, despite no rail being laid in Wales, which could mean another £1bn not coming to Wales alongside the £5bn Wales has already missed out on as part of the HS2 project branded in the same way.
What Wales needs is a real commitment to investment in all our public services and infrastructure – not least our creaking rail track network – but this UK Government budget falls short of protecting the critical services we all rely on and only offers cuts to many vital services. The Office for Budget Responsibility says this year will still see the biggest fall in disposable incomes since records began and, as many families in Wales are already really feeling the pinch, the UK Government has got its priorities totally wrong.
Here in Wales, the government is committed to helping families where possible and last week it was announced that the free school meals scheme will be extended up until the end of May half term holiday, including all bank holidays during this period – £9m has been made available to allow schools to do this. Back in 2020, Wales became the first UK nation to guarantee free school meals for eligible families during the school holidays and allowed individual local authorities to decide how to administer the free meal provision, either by creating lunches or by providing vouchers or direct payments to families. This scheme has proved a lifeline to many families struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and it means that eligible children will be able to eat a proper meal once a day.
For some years now, I have been recognising those organisations, businesses or individuals who go above and beyond to make a real difference in our corner of north Wales through a Community Champions initiative and, in March, our Community Champion was Patrick Oliver, who can often be seen in and around Parkfields Community Centre in Mold. Patrick is always available to offer help to others and he cuts the grass and hedges as well as picking up rubbish and helping other people with their gardens. He also helps out at the Clubhouse and St David’s Church and he’s a real star of the local community – thanks for your hard work Patrick! You can nominate your Community Champion at my website at www.hannahblythyn.cymru.
Last Friday I visited Caffi Isa near Mold to celebrate its National Lottery Community Fund win to support the Isa Improv project, its scheme for young people who feel isolated, lack in confidence and need assistance to reach their potential. The £10,000 will fund facilitators, the Welsh Language, project management, marketing and travel for the project and I met with National Lottery funding officer Sarah Bowles and Caffi Isa chair Sara Parker, as well as Sekki Tabasuares and Steve Green from Stand Tall CIC. The group also received a further National Lottery Community Fund grant to help establish volunteer groups to re-engage the Mynydd Isa community after the Covid-19 pandemic. I also attended an event at Flintshire County Council to recognise Lord Barry Jones’ more than 50 years of service in the Houses of Parliament (first as an MP and then in the House of Lords). Many of you will know Barry as he served as our MP in the former East Flintshire constituency and then in Alyn and Deeside until 2001, before he entered the House of Lords. He’s been a real presence in our community for decades and it was an honour to be there to pay tribute to his hard work last week.
Do you need help or advice with an issue? There’s still time to book your place at my advice surgery in Flint on Friday 24th March, 10am to 11.30am. It’s appointment only, so please book by calling 01352 753464 or email me at email@example.com. As always, if you would like advice and/or support at any other time, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on any of the following contact details – 52 High Street, Mold, Flintshire, on 01352 753464 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org You can also keep up to date via my Facebook page – www.facebook.com/hannahblythynMS Constituents are, of course, welcome to contact my office to arrange an appointment to see me, you don’t need to wait until an advice surgery.