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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Re-opening the debate

It is difficult to know what precisely the British Medical Association are seeking to achieve by re-opening the debate on the running costs of the Assembly.

On the one hand you can see their point that the money received by the Welsh Assembly is directly derived from expenditure on devolved services in England and that to siphon off even a penny of it to fund the 'overhead costs of devolution' is depriving our own services of much needed cash. However, on the other hand we already had this discussion in 1997 and nothing that the BMA says is new. In fact they could be accused of trying to re-open the devolution debate and making the case for the abolition of the Assembly altogether.

In truth they have raised this issue now because they want to increase pressure on the UK Government to turn the Barnett formula into one based on needs. However, even then the same situation will prevail. Whatever lump sum we get to spend in Wales will be top-sliced to pay for the democratic process. And even though the situation is less transparent in Westminster, the same mechanisms effectively exist there too.

The cost of running the Westminster Parliament is taken directly from taxpayers money raised to pay for public services. The same sort of arrangement applies to local Councils. It is an inevitable part of any democratic process that we must use some public money to ensure that we get good administration, transparency and accountability. I suppose it is preferable to having a similar lump sum siphoned off to a Swiss bank account by an unaccountable dictator.

Perhaps the BMA's energies might be better spent unearthing the health deficit between England and Wales, by which I mean that they directly catalogue our greater health needs and put a figure to the sort of extra cash we would need to address them. I can think of no greater contribution that might be made at this stage by such an important and influential lobby group to the cause of financial transparency.
I disagree with the BMA. The idea that the Assembly should control a £15 billion budget but that the proportionately tiny amounts required for the Assembly's running costs should be decided in Westminster is about as daft as they come.

However, in one way the BMA do have a point. There is no Barnett consequential from the running costs of the House of Commons. These amount to over £210 million in the latest year. I don't know what the House of Lords figures are but I bet they are at the very least around half that amount again. A Barnett consequential of that little lot would be around £30million a year - not far off the amount the BMA are saying is a shortfall. Probably around £250 million "lost" to the Assembly in total since 1999.

Why don't we get a Barnett consequential for this?

Your party's coalition agreement to create the current NHS administration that Wales suffers under, has done more to waste public funds than any other factor since devolution. You might snipe at the BMA, but I am afraid that you have a lot to answer for.
That is the Plaid Cymru spin Ian, however I would argue that the LHBs empowered a large number of NHS professionals and have started a process of better joint working between Health and Social Services that over time will deliver real dividends for the NHS and the people who use it.
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