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Thursday, November 22, 2007

More devolution concerns

If I was concerned at the inability of some MPs to grasp the basic principles behind the Government of Wales Act 2006 then this article in today's Western Mail must cause further doubts about what exactly is going on down in Westminster.

Yesterday the Prime Minister raised eyebrows when he suggested the Barnett formula was based on spending needs. Asked about it at Prime Minister’s Questions, he said, “The Barnett formula is for the whole of the United Kingdom. It is not for one part of the United Kingdom, it covers all parts of the UK ... based on the needs of each different part.”

Considering that Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer for ten years that is a breathtaking mistake for him to make. As the Western Mail explains the Barnett formula – by which Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are allocated sums by the Treasury on the basis of their population size, calculated by reference to public spending in England – has long been a matter of contention. Need has never featured as part of this formula.

Perhaps all that Treasury resistance to its review was based on a misunderstanding by them of how it worked after all.
He has to protect Scotland's advantage because we all know that the Barnett Formula is a sop to the nationalists that helps sustain the Unionist argument and a Labour power base in Scotland - and also mitigate the 'it's oor oil' claim.

The fact is that these English Labour MPs are suddenly protesting (as if the Barnett Formula is a new thing) because of growing English disgust at a mechanism to transfer a disproportionate amount of taxpayers' money to Scotland.

As you say it's never been a needs based formula, and extending it to cover 'regions' won't change that, it will just be another step in the balkanisation of England.
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