Autism Cymru welcomes Welsh Assembly government's allocation of further £1.7 million to children with autism and special educational needs|
CARDIFF, Wales: The Welsh Assembly government has reached a deal with Plaid Cymru to save its £14.4bn spending plans for 2007-8. Ministers agreed to give an extra £9.6m to schools and £1.7m more to specialist services for children with autism and special educational needs.
Labour also promised that a one-off £2m grant to help schools meet their fuel bills would now be paid every year.
Plaid Cymru are now expected to abstain in the vote later to allow the budget to be passed.
Plaid Cymru's leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, said the entire package amounted to an extra £13.m for schools, although the other opposition parties argued that only £9m was new.
Mr Jones said: "This is new money meaning no other budgets will be cut to provide the extra funds, which is a major concession from the government."
The Assembly government's Finance Minister, Sue Essex, said: "This represents a major investment by the assembly government in the education of children in Wales."
But the Conservatives' Assembly leader, Nick Bourne, accused Plaid Cymru of doing a "shabby backroom deal" with Labour, rather than holding out for more money for education.
He said: "Like Labour, Plaid Cymru have put their narrow self-interests before the needs of the people of Wales."
Hopes of a deal rose when Plaid Cymru invited Ministers on the night of December 12 to negotiate directly with them, breaking with the rest of the opposition.
Sources have described the talks between the two parties as "amicable" and "constructive."
It is understood the deal was discussed by the Plaid group as a whole on the morning of December 13 before it was agreed with Labour.
In his pre-Budget report, Britain's Chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced an extra £165m for Wales over the next four years, including £9m next year.
However, all three opposition parties had said that, even if the entire sum were to go to education, it would still not be enough to persuade them to let the budget through.
In the event, the entire £9m has gone to education, together with another £2m from next year's reserves.
This latest increase is on top of funding rises already announced.
Total education spending in Wales will increase by £383m next year, up by 24 per cent.
Autism Cymru, Wales' National Charity for Autism, welcomed the news that the Welsh Assembly government was committing £1.7m.
Autism Cymru's Chief Executive, Hugh Morgan, said: "This allocation of Assembly government funding towards the education of children with autistic spectrum disorders in Wales is an encouraging sign, with the eagerly anticipated WAG All-Wales Strategy for Autism promised by Ministers due for publication very shortly. We hope that this funding will be a portent of Assembly resources to come in support of the many thousands families living with autism in Wales today."
(Sources: Autism Cymru, BBC News Online, December 14, 2006)