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Spending on justice system for Wales cut by a fifth since start of austerity

5 August 2019

Cardiff Bay

Council Tax increases and Welsh Government funding partially offset UK government cuts

Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre has published the first comprehensive analysis of spending on the justice system at a Welsh level.

The new report, Public Spending on the Justice System for Wales, details the funding provided by both UK and Welsh governments and the scale of cuts implemented over recent years.

Total spending on the justice system for Wales in 2017-18 was almost £1.2 billion, which equates to £370 per person and accounts for around 3.6% of total identifiable spending for Wales.

Police services was by far the largest area of spending (£709 million), followed by spending on law courts and tribunals (£250 million), and spending on prisons and probation (£205 million).

Spending on the justice system has fallen by over a fifth since the start of austerity measures, from £1.5 billion in 2009-10. Reserved UK government funding has fallen by a third in real terms during this period.

Devolved and local government funding of justice functions amounts to £442 million, or 38% of total spending on the justice system. This portion of justice funding has grown in real term since 2009-10.

Guto Ifan, Research Associate at the Wales Governance Centre, commented: “Although considered a reserved function, the Welsh Government has charted a slightly different course on justice funding since the start of austerity, particularly in allowing Council Tax precepts to rise faster in Wales and allocating funding for Police Community Support Officers. This extra funding however has only partially reduced the scale of the cuts, and several areas of the justice system are showing signs of strain.

“With growing discussion around the future of the justice system in Wales and talk of further devolution, adequate funding should be a key issue to consider.”

Other findings of the report include:

  • The share of police funding derived from the council tax precept has increased from 17% in 1999-00 to 42% in 2018-19. Precept levels have risen faster in Welsh police force areas (averaging 4% a year) than in England (2.4% a year) since 2010-11. This has resulted in a smaller relative fall in police spending and police numbers in Wales compared with England since 2010.
  • Legal aid expenditure in Wales was £76.9 million in 2017-18 and has fallen by over 38% in real terms since 2010-11. Criminal legal aid spending per person is significantly lower in Wales compared with England.
  • Total spending on prisons in Wales amounted to £168 million in 2017-18. Unlike the picture in England, spending on prisons in Wales has increased over recent years, alongside a large increase of 42% in the prison population located in Wales since 2010-11.

The report is intended to inform the work of the Commission on Justice in Wales, which is undertaking the first major examination of justice functions in Wales.

The author of the report will be presenting the findings of the report at a session at the National Eisteddfod in Llanrwst on 5 August 2019, 11:00am (Cardiff University Tent).