It cannot be overlooked that the Welsh budget is up to £1.3 billion less in real terms thanks to decisions made by the UK Government and soaring inflation. Here in Wales, we are facing the toughest ever financial situation since devolution thanks to these continuing poor settlements.
Despite the ongoing impact of inflation and cuts to our funding, the Welsh Government and Labour-led local authorities continue to prioritise those facing real need and facing disadvantage.
It recognises the importance of early-years development and continues to invest in initiatives that empower children and families. Sparse resources are allocated to critical areas to provide vital services to the most vulnerable members of society who rely on it most. Ministers have also taken decisions to support in particular health spending, and those essential services provided by local authorities, often unseen and unlauded.
During these challenging financial circumstances, we very much welcome recent announcements, such as the phased expansion of Flying Start childcare provision across the county borough. Flying Start is one of the Welsh Labour Government’s defining policies here in Wales with the first ever Flying Start starting in Caerau, Maesteg. Additional postcode areas will now include Cefn Cribwr, Cornelly and Kenfig Hill benefitting from the initiative in January 2024. Parents are encouraged to email [email protected] to register so they can benefit from the positive impacts of Flying Start provision.
We also hear of a further extension of the Universal Primary Free School Meal offer to full-time nursery pupils. The scheme was launched by Welsh Government in 2022 to help families ease the burden of the cost-of-living crisis and over 7700 pupils are now eligible in Bridgend County Borough. The offer will be extended to Year 4 pupils in April 2024, and to Year 5 and Year 6 pupils from September 2024.
I recently queried with the Minister for Education about how the Welsh Government works with local authorities to tackle social and economic disadvantage in schools in Ogmore. I was pleased to hear how our ‘School Essentials Grant’ has made a significant difference to many lower income families in Ogmore and across Wales, helping to reduce the worry surrounding the purchase of school uniform and equipment. Funding of £1.76m has been allocated to families living in Bridgend County Borough Council and Rhondda Cynon Taf in 2023-24.
It is essential that people are aware of the support available and reach out to the many organisations and support services in their local area. The local authority website can provide in-depth information about available support and my website also has extensive cost-of-living advice. If anyone needs help or guidance on how or where to find support, they can contact my office on 0300 2007328 and we’ll be happy to help.