The worst kept policy secret in Welsh politics was revealed this week when, after an "open minded consultation", Children and Communities Secretary Carl Sargeant announced that the Welsh Government's flagship anti poverty scheme Communities First was being axed. It was one of the boldest programme closures in the devolution period. The programme will now end in March 2018, with its funding cut by 30% to £27 million in the next financial year. After that there will just be a legacy fund of £6m from April 2018 to allow councils to continue to maintain "effective interventions or community assets".
Naturally despite the lack of surprise in the announcement there was shock and awe from the left in the Assembly, including Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and some Labour backbenchers like Mike Hedges, who made media with perhaps with perhaps the most visible one man rebellion since last year's Assembly election. For Wood and Hedges the concern was based around more than just the 740 jobs that would be lost across Wales, it encompassed their concerns that the local delivery of anti poverty work would be wiped out.
The Cabinet Secretary naturally rejected this and instead stressed that it was both bold and right that the Communities First programme should come to an end. He was careful to praise its successes but to put that in the context of a programme which has spent around £300 million since it was launched in 2001 and has not always produced the results it promised. After all, not only have people been jailed for defrauding the scheme in the past but an audit report in 2015 showed that in Merthyr Tydfil the vast bulk of the £1.5 million Communities First fund there had been spent on the salaries of administrators.
Several things that can be read from Carl Sargeant's actions this week. The most obvious is the desire of the Welsh Government to take tough decisions, no matter how unpopular these might originally seem. It has demonstrated a steely edge to an administration too often accused of using money to appease the third sector and other possible critics.
Aligned to this are two financial messages. The first is that the period of austerity is far from over in Wales, and the second is the determination of the administration to get more bang for the buck. Labour is more serious than ever to spend the funds it has in a way that genuinely challenges inequality and delivers real change. As the Cabinet Secretary said, after sixteen years of programme delivery and £300 million spent "poverty remains a stubborn and persistent challenge".
Sargeant knew he would get flack, including from some of his own backbench colleagues, but he pressed ahead anyway because he knows that the Welsh Government could and should be running programmes that produce not just warm feelings but real and more tangible outcomes. Perhaps in his actions this week we see a Welsh Government that is finally facing up to the fact that this fifth Assembly is the Assembly in which the hard decisions will have to be made.