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Vaughan Gething Hints Wales Wants Cash Boost Under Labour Government

The next general election could see both the UK and Welsh governments led by Labour leaders (Alamy)

5 min read

First Minister of Wales Vaughan Gething has said that the biggest challenge he expects to face as the Labour leader of the devolved government will be how to increase the scale of budgets to boost public services.

Gething is in his first few weeks of leading the Welsh government, having won the leadership election to replace Mark Drakeford last month. As the Senedd returns from Easter recess on Monday, Gething will host his first cabinet meeting and prepare for his inaugural First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday. 

The first black leader of any European country, Gething told PoliticsHome he was looking forward to both the opportunity and the challenge – with the intention of setting out to his cabinet and to the UK Labour leadership why there will likely be many “bumps in the road”.

“The biggest challenge we really have is the scale of our budget, and the way that there is no prospect of that improving if we have more of the same,” he told PoliticsHome, hinting that he hopes that under a Labour UK government, Wales could see its share of the pot increase.

“What really matters for us is how we set a budget, the scale of a budget… you've got to have partners in the UK Government, or [you get] the continuation of the aggressive competition we've had up to now.”

Gething said that “people are pretty fed up” with the cost of living and believed and hoped if Keir Starmer were to get to Downing Street at the next election, Labour would need to immediately increase investment in the economy and public services across the whole of the UK. 

"I think lots of voters still like the sound of what we want to do, and want to understand that it is a properly costed manifesto,” he said.

“I understand the need for fiscal discipline, but I remember the election in 1997 where actually there was some immediate injection into public services and the economy. In the longer term I hope to see sustained investment in the economy and public services – it is exactly what we saw in ‘97, and it took a couple of years to get that sustained growth and investment.”

UK Labour has already committed to restoring decision-making power over structural funds to the Welsh government, with Starmer promising at the Welsh Labour conference last year that Wales would take back control of its “economic destiny”.

Labour has also committed investment in the steel industry which would particularly benefit areas such as Cardiff and Port Talbot in Wales, and Labour have claimed that investment in public services in England, such as increasing NHS appointments and more free breakfast clubs in primary schools, would benefit Wales through Barnett consequentials, the system which ensures that a share of additional funding – allocated only to England – is also shared to the devolved administrations.

Vaughan Gething
Vaughan Gething assumed office as First Minister of Wales on 20 March (Alamy)

Gething said that if Labour wins the general election, expected by the end of this year, he wanted to see “very clear commitments to having a different relationship” between the Welsh and Westminster governments, as he accused the current Conservative UK government of pursuing a “really aggressive and difficult relationship” with the Welsh government. 

Explaining he wanted to have a “regular and predictable meeting” with Starmer, he said this would ensure there is a “different way of working that isn't just in a press release, but real in the way that we make choices”.

“I think the public instinctively understands that having two Labour governments that can and will work together is good news for Wales, and good news for Britain,” he said.

The new First Minister has already faced criticism after his leadership campaign received £200,000 from a company run by a man who has been convicted twice for environmental offences. A Labour source told The Guardian that there remained a “real sense of anger” surrounding the donation.

Gething, however, insisted that the controversy would not damage the legitimacy of the Welsh administration in the eyes of the public.

“I've been knocking lots of doors and it hasn’t come up on a single door that I've knocked or in a single conversation I've had when going through the street,” he said.

“Actually my leadership manifesto has been very clear about us delivering on our commitments to ensure that there are clear penalties for environmental pollutants, so it's been no change to my ambition for the country and I'm looking forward to getting on and delivering that.”

What legacy does Gething hope to create during his time as First Minister?

“I think the challenge is recognising this a moment of change and renewal and to recognise that during all of Mark's period in office he had some pretty extraordinary challenges, going through the Brexit end game, going through the pandemic just as that was finishing, and then having to deal with a really aggressive, unstable Tory government,” he said.

“It's been an extraordinarily difficult period of time to lead Wales, I hope that if we get the change we need and get a different leadership on a UK level with a real partnership in power, it will make a big difference to people of Wales and Britain, a more hopeful future about the country that we can be.”

Expressing his hope that Wales and the rest of the UK would “move aside from the politics of division to a more unified and accepting way”, Gething said he believed the public wanted to see the government deliver on positive opportunities for Wales’ society and economy.

“I think all of that is possible. I hope at the end of my time as the First Minister, I will have made my contribution to make that real.”

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