'Wales Will Be Hit Hardest ... the Assembly Budget Could Be Slashed by Up to Pounds 2bn' CONTENDERS FOR LABOUR LEADERSHIP WARN OVER CUTS

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Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON

LABOUR leadership candidates yesterday warned that Wales will bear the brunt of spending cuts and that public sector jobs are under threat.

Writing in the Western Mail today, bookies' favourite David Miliband turns his guns on the Westminster Government and condemns the "Tory cuts" as "ideological and avoidable".

The former Foreign Secretary's warning was echoed by rivals in the race and the Welsh Local Government Association has called for Wales to be spared the full force of the cuts ahead of next month's comprehensive spending review.

Mr Miliband said: "With 30% of Welsh people employed in the public sector, Wales will be hit hardest. I think it's wrong that local economies in areas like West Wales will suffer more than in richer places across the border.

"The Welsh Assembly budget could be slashed by up to pounds 2bn."

His grim forecast was shared by his brother and rival, former Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, who said: "I know that people in Wales are rightly concerned about the future of their public services because of the harsh cuts being imposed by this coalition.

Labour had a plan to tackle the deficit while protecting growth and essential services.

"The Tory and Lib Dem approach, on the other hand, will be to cut public services that we rely on much harder and much faster. They risk damaging the social fabric of Britain and damaging our chances for growth as well."

Former Health Secretary Andy Burnham said he felt Wales would be among the areas hit hardest.

He said: "South Wales, like the north east of England, will bear the brunt of the coalition's cuts, which will see public services cut to the quick. I too am determined to reduce the deficit, but to do so by putting vulnerable people at risk and putting any chance of recovery and growth in jeopardy is just plain wrong.

"I would look at a more balanced mix of tax and reductions in spending, as well as giving support for growth and regeneration to areas like Wales. That is how we not only reduce the deficit, but build for a better future too."

Fellow leadership hopeful Diane Abbott said taxes should play a much greater role in tackling the deficit and that Wales should be protected.

She said: "There is no doubt that the cuts will hit Wales hard. They will also hit women and families much harder than anyone else... My view is that we should minimise the need for public expenditure cuts by big cuts in defence spending including scrapping the Trident nuclear weapons system "We should also raise more through taxation. Currently the coalition Government wants to fill the deficit with 80% public sector cuts and 20% tax rises. I would make the ratio 50%-50% and protect areas like Wales."

However, the Welsh Conservatives blamed Labour's record in Westminster and Cardiff Bay for the challenges facing the nation.

Shadow Assembly Finance Minister Nick Ramsay said: "These cuts are Labour's legacy. Labour doubled the national debt and left us with the biggest deficit of all the G20 countries.

"These cuts are only unavoidable because the previous Government spent beyond its means. As a result even Labour was planning cuts of 20% before the General Election."

He added: "It is disappointing that in the years of plenty the Assembly Government had not taken the necessary measures to make public services more efficient to help deliver service improvements for the people of Wales. The Assembly Government now needs to work closely with the UK Govliving ernment to determine how Wales can play its part in reducing the nation's enormous deficit, while maintaining frontline services and protecting the most vulnerable in society."

Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, shared his analysis, saying: "David Miliband should ask himself why after 13 years of Labour, Wales is left with a third of children in poverty, a wider gap between rich and poor than under the Conservatives and the lowest social mobility in Western Europe. …