Budget process and preventative spend
Finance is one of the corporate areas for change in the Statutory Guidance issued by Welsh Government on the implementation of the Act.
We have made some proactive interventions that seek to improve the systems of finance and decision-making which underpin public services, as in times of pressures on public finances from COVID-19 as well as austerity and Brexit we need to ensure that every penny spent maximises its contribution to all four dimensions of well-being.
We could see that decisions about finance and investment often act as a barrier rather than an opportunity to help achieve the well-being goals, and embed the five ways of working
The Welsh Government budget is the single biggest decision (or set of decisions) that is taken by a public body in Wales each year. As well as determining how public services are funded, the budget process and decisions send important signals about priorities across our public services and shows whether those priorities are shifting to realise the aspirations of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
We have dedicated significant resource to monitor and assess the draft budget over three consecutive years and provided advice to Government and evidence to the Senedd Finance Committee in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Welsh Government annual Draft Budget Process
Traditional, siloed structures in Welsh Government (and other public bodies) are often not designed to enable an integrated approach to financial decision-making. Cabinet portfolios are often focused on driving a specific outcome and the way that the budget groups are still organised means it can be challenging for collaborative decisions to be made that take account of the causes and effects of key issues facing future generations.
The work that I have undertaken with the Welsh Treasury over the last two years, working with the New Economics Foundation and Social Finance has led to the publication this year of a Budget Improvement Plan which sets out what Welsh Government think that progress should look like in terms of the budget process aligning with the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
My work on the Welsh Government annual draft budget has focused on key areas for change:
My work has shown that more needs to be done by Government to demonstrate a cross-government, coherent and evidence-based approach to prevention. I have worked with Government officials to explore the definition of prevention and preventative spend and I am now using this to challenge Government spending decisions.
Prevention is working in partnership to co-produce the best outcomes possible, utilising the strengths and assets people and places have to contribute. Breaking down into four levels, each level can reduce demand for the next:
- Primary prevention (PP) – Building resilience – creating the conditions in which problems do not arise in the future. A universal approach.
- Secondary prevention (SP) – Targeting action towards areas where there is a high risk of a problem occurring. A targeted approach, which cements the principles of progressive universalism*
- Tertiary prevention (TP) – Intervening once there is a problem, to stop it getting worse and prevent it reoccurring in the future. An intervention approach
- Acute spending (AS) – Spending, which acts to manage the impact of a strongly negative situation but does little or nothing to prevent problems occurring in the future. A remedial approach.* progressive universalism is a determination to provide support for all, giving everyone and everything a voice and vested interest, but recognises more support will be required by those people or areas with greater needs.
In June 2019, I published a Ten Point plan to fund the Climate Emergency which suggests how Welsh Government’s budget could increase investment in climate action, focusing on:
- Greater investment in active travel, public transport and electric vehicle infrastructure.
- Greater investment in a national housing retrofit programme – focusing initially on homes living in fuel poverty and those in social ownership could cost up to £1 billion.
- Wales becoming self-sufficient in renewable electricity by 2035.
- Increasing tree cover and the adoption of low carbon agricultural practices and re-thinking land-use practice.
- Ensuring that decarbonisation is a key principle and driver for decision making within planning, public sector procurement contracts and pension fund investments supported by a programme to train a carbon-literate public sector.
I was pleased to see an allocation of £140 million to support action on climate and nature in Welsh Government’s 2020-21 budget, in line with what I proposed, and also an increase in funding for sustainable transport and active travel.
There is also huge potential to contribute to the well-being goals via the £6.1 billion which is currently spent by the public sector in Wales on procurement and you can read about my work in this area here.