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Monday, February 16, 2004

Tory spending cuts and devolution

David Cornock raises some very good points about how devolution friendly the Tory's plans to cut £35 billion from public expenditure are. Although the Civil Service in the Assembly still falls under Westminster control, for all intents and purposes their destiny is in our hands. It would be very difficult therefore to impose a recruitment freeze on us. Secondly, as David points out, policy on education and health is also ours to determine. It would not therefore be possible to impose the effective privatisation of these services on us.

Another point does give some cause for concern however. What will be the impact of these proposals on the Assembly's budget? A straight £35 billion cut in public expenditure would see the Assembly lose £2 billion of its £11 billion budget. That is equivalent to about 35% of what we spend on the Welsh Health Service. It will not be as straightforward as that however. Letwin is proposing to increase UK expenditure on Health and Education whilst cutting other areas such as Transport, Defence etc. As not all of these areas are devolved then they do not come with a 'Barnett consequential', meaning that there does not necessarily have to be an equivalent cut in what we get to spend in Wales. Ken Clarke's spin that "He is simply proposing the increase in total public spending should be slower than that which Gordon Brown has been permitting and that which would take place under Labour." does not shed any light on the subject either.

The impact on the Assembly is impossible to work out because the Tories have not told us how they are going to achieve their cuts. They have not considered what will happen in the devolved Administrations nor are they proposing to alter the way money is allocated to them so as to better reflect need. So much for the new devolution-friendly Tory Party. As far as they are concerned Wales might not exist.

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