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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Desperate times for Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru Assembly Members must be getting pretty desperate to find reasons to attack the Liberal Democrats if this example is any evidence.

Apparently, in a Radio Wales interview yesterday morning I appeared to rule out the introduction of a fair funding formula for Wales for five to six years, or so Plaid Cymru say. They have of course completely and deliberately failed to listen to a word I said.

More importantly though they are also guilty of misleading the electorate by claiming that the £300 million underfunding referred to by Gerry Holtham in his report could just be conjured up overnight. It could not be.

Assuming that the Government accepted the Holtham recommendations in full today, it could take up to a year to draw up a mutually acceptable means-tested funding formula and even then it would be implemented over a period of time with an appropriate transition arrangement. The upshot is that it might be six to ten years before the full benefit of the change came to Wales. That is acknowledged by everybody, even Holtham but not it seems, Plaid Cymru who want to play games and mislead on this issue.

For the record, this is the response to Plaid Cymru's press release as I sent it to the Western Mail:

This is a clear misrepresentation of what I said this morning and shows that Plaid Cymru are grasping at straws in their desperation to make an impact, any sort of impact.

What I made clear this morning was that there is a clear commitment in the coalition agreement to review the Barnett formula and that this reflects the longstanding policy of the Liberal Democrats to bring fair funding to Wales. However, even Gerry Holtham is clear that this cannot be done overnight and that it will be a number of years before Wales receives the full benefits of reform. That is putting to one side the time it takes to put a needs-based formula in place. Plaid Cymru are being disingenuous in pretending otherwise.

The comments attributed to me were unrelated to this issue and referred to the fact that irrespective of whether reform is instituted we face a long period of unprecedented retrenchment in public finances which will mean less money coming to Wales. In that context it is unrealistic to expect growth in the Assembly's health budget, even the Health Minister and key Plaid Cymru spokespeople acknowledge that. Is Gareth Jones saying that they are opposed to implementing the Holtham report as well?

The Western Mail did not subsequently use the story, I assume for obviouse reasons.

Update: In his evidence to Finance Committee this morning Gerry Holtham stated that he believed that it would take about 10 years for the full change to be worked through on a UK level. He also said that the Scottish Government was resistant to reform. So that will be the SNP blocking changes to the Barnett formula then?
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