NHS services and wards are to close in South Wales in a bid to bridge a £6m funding gap. Does this mark a return to the Thatcher years with cuts, cuts, cuts in the public sector? Martin Shipton reports
BACK in the Thatcher years of the 1980s, the dominant theme of domestic politics was public sector spending cuts, affecting jobs and services.
More recently, under Labour, we have become used to substantial increases in public service funding, notably in the NHS.
But with the disturbing news that significant cuts are planned at Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan hospitals because of a multi-million-pounds deficit, are we now returning to a cuts culture?
Jeff Evans, Senior National Officer in Wales for the civil servants' union PCS, said, "Obviously in the civil service we are dealing with a major cuts agenda, where 104,000 job cuts have been announced across the UK. The effects are already showing in Wales, with benefit offices closing in many communities.
"We think tax offices are next in line, and fear that up to 2,000 jobs are threatened in Wales as the result of a centralisation programme masterminded by London officials and supported by London ministers.
"There needs to be a serious public debate in Wales about the future of public sector employment, which is more central to the economy in Wales than in England.
"In the '60s and '70s there was considerable success in getting government departments to establish themselves in Wales - the DVLA, the Patent Office, Companies House and the Office for National Statistics. Now there is a very real danger that a lot of that good work will unravel in a serious cuts programme.
"The Assembly Government has an economic policy and is attempting to plan the economy. But decisions being taken in London threaten to undermine this policy.
"It's ironic that when private sector employers threaten to pull out of Wales, all the stops are pulled out to see what can be done to make them stay, but when the government in London announces job cuts, the Assembly Government does nothing."
Paul O'Shea, Wales Secretary of Unison, which represents thousands of workers in the health service and local government, said it was too early to say if we were returning to a cuts culture.
"I think we need to know more about how the Cardiff and Vale Trust has accumulated such a big deficit, " he said.
"We can't be sure what is going to happen, but I think there is a marked difference between the approach to public sector efficiency of the Westminster Government and that of the Assembly Government.
"Whereas in England the Gershon Review is based on cash savings, the intention in Wales is not so much to divert savings into cuts in council tax as to spend them on front-line services."
Monmouth Tory MP and AM David Davies said he objected to the description of the '80s as a period of cuts.
"Recently I looked at the historical funding of the Welsh Office, which before devolution was responsible for major public spending in Wales, and found that the only actual cut was carried out during a period of Labour Government in the mid-1970s.
"I believe that a lot of public money is wasted.
"It's sometimes said that the increasing use of private sector contractors has led to higher costs, but in circumstances where there have been issues I think it often stems from a difference in culture between the private and public sectors.
"In the private sector there is a tendency to haggle with suppliers, whereas that doesn't tend to happen in the public sector."
Jenny Randerson, the Liberal Democrats' health spokeswoman at the Assembly, said, "The government has long acknowledged the need for a new funding formula to ensure the areas of greatest need receive sufficient funding - yet they have failed to deliver.
"Not so long ago the minister produced his Designed for Life document, a 10-year plan for the future of health. I support the vision that he laid out of our future health service, but I find it impossible to see how it can be achieved if the first thing we are going to do is to cut back on millions of pounds worth of services."