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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Is Wales losing out?

Interesting article in the Western Mail this morning looking at a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research on devolution. The IPPR is a New Labour think tank and at first glance the report appears to have been written from a very English perspective. They argue for instance that the Assembly Government will have to abandon the Welsh Baccalaureate in favour of whatever equivalent qualification is introduced in England. They also fail to recognise the distinctive education agenda being pursued in Wales.

The press however concentrate on the comparative spending figures in the report. They state that since 1999 - the year the National Assembly was set up - spending in Wales on health and education has risen by 55% and 47% respectively. In England, however, the comparable increases were 65% and 56%. They also reveal that over the same period, spending in Wales on agriculture, fisheries and forestry went up by 36% against just 18% in England. Likewise, spending in Wales on recreation, culture and religion went up by 32%, nearly three times the rate of increase in England, which was 11%.

The Welsh Assembly Government response is that the IPPR is not comparing like with like:

"It seems that the figures are some way off the mark. For example, the press release suggests that culture spend has increased by 32%, and environment by 36%.

"In fact it is 96% and 154%. As a devolved government, we manage our policies and our portfolios in a different way than in England."

The most pertinent response to the report however, comes from Welsh Liberal Democrats Assembly Leader, Mike German. He argues that the figures underline the unfairness of the Barnett formula, which allocates money to Wales on a straight proportionate basis depending on population rather than on need:

"We should not lose sight that Wales still spends more per head than England.

"This research by the IPPR, a think tank at the heart of New Labour thinking, has put its finger on the essential problem of the Barnett Formula - the Barnett Squeeze.

"The outdated way in which money is given out across the UK was always designed to narrow differences in spending over time. What the IPPR has done is shown how the Barnett Formula is holding Wales back. A new formula - where money was distributed according to need, rather than a temporary solution which has endured for 25 years - would allow Wales to spend more on health, to deal with our higher level of need.

"If people in Wales have more sickness than those in England, then it makes sense that we should be able to spend more money addressing it."

The problem, as ever, is that Labour prefer to argue over the statistics instead of analysing the issues and formulating solutions. They would rather remain in denial instead of accepting the evidence that change is necessary.
I'd like to see Wales supporting itself rather than relying on the Barnett Formula. As England is the only net contributor, the Barnett Formula is discriminatory against the English.

Scotland and Wales are always talking about having more independence, more control over their budget, etc. but don't seem to want to cut the apron strings properly and fund themselves.

Rather than bringing out a bigger begging bowl and demanding more English tax to fund services, perhaps the Welsh Assembly could instead look at ways of making Wales solvent?
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