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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Devolution revisited

Yesterday's article promoting the benefits of self-government in Alderney was provided with an interesting counter-point in the Western Mail today. The paper reports that a new book from a pair of Cardiff academics concludes that unless the financial straightjacket of the Barnett formula is taken off the Assembly then it will continue to crisis-manage, regardless of the powers available to it.

'The academics go on to argue that while Gordon Brown's policy of pumping significant amounts of public spending into health and education as a means of staving off recession may have worked well on a UK-wide basis, it has "created absorption problems in Wales where the Barnett formula (which gives the Assembly a share of Treasury funding based on Wales' population rather than need) squeezes expenditure out of the system if it cannot be contained within the block grant cap of some £13bn.'

Inevitably, the Assembly Government spokesperson refuses to recognise the problem, preferring to fall back onto the usual narrative about Wales out-performing the rest of the UK etc. However, the picture painted by Professor Phil Cooke and Nick Clifton is eerily familiar to those of us who have been talking to the people who have to implement WAG policies on the ground.

Cuts of £300m from the Economic Development budget and a huge bureaucracy around the administration of Objective One funding has hampered many projects and left some very frustrated people both in the private and public sectors. I think that the point that devolution in Wales attracted few top-calibre politicians because the Assembly was given too few powers at the outset is also valid. Although I believe that there are some high quality civil servants working in the Assembly and its Government, it is undoubtedly the case that we have fared less well than Scotland in attracting and holding onto the very best politicians.
Now, now, Peter, there’s no need to be so self critical is there!
Interesting point on Objective One. I know that Wales had particular problems iwth ERDF (before devolution, but the perception all around is that SF money incvovles a pot of bureacracy to little purpose
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