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Saturday, September 15, 2007

A question of leadership

It is going to be much quieter in here for a bit as I am leaving for the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in an hour or so. However, scanning through the interweb I noticed a remarkable article by Tomos Livingstone in the Western Mail looking at the Assembly budget for the next few years.

Tomos tells us that there is speculation that the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which covers the years 2008-11, will offer Ministers in Cardiff Bay a settlement as low as 1% above inflation. This will involve significant belt-tightening in comparison to previous reviews and cause some problems in funding the very ambitious but largely uncosted One Wales agreement.

I was fascinated with Tomos' conclusion:

Official Government policy has always been that there are no plans to review Barnett, now 30 years old. But Labour’s leader in Scotland, Wendy Alexander, caused a minor kerfuffle this week when she was quoted as saying there were concerns about the way the formula worked.

The Assembly is carrying out its own review of Barnett, but the thoughts of Ms Alexander, whose brother Douglas is writing the next Labour manifesto, may be of more significance.

A lower CSR settlement sweetened with a revamp of the Barnett formula? I think the Assembly Government could, just about, live with that.

The 1% figure is far from set in stone, and we’ll have to wait to see how bad – or good – the settlement is.

I cannot know what Tomos' contacts are telling him but this comes across as an attempt at positive spin so as to gloss over a very poor settlement for Wales. It is true that we are carrying out a review of Barnett but that is where it ends. There is no indication that the UK Government are even convinced of the need for change or whether any reform will even benefit Wales. There is also the question of timescale. My view is that the creation of a new funding formula will take us well into the next CSR and beyond.

The best we can hope for is that the outcome of our work is to our advantage and that we get a sympathetic ear in the Treasury. In the meantime it would benefit all of us if we were to keep our feet on the ground and deal with the settlement we get rather than the one we would like.
Story follows up a Glasgow Herald story yesterday which was probably based on a leak from the SNP. After all the SNP were at the meeting with the Treasury. Why anyone should be surprised at the story is beyond my ken given the speculation for months that the new CSR will be tough. To make matters worse there is also a clear indication that Health and probably Education wil receive a bigger share of the cake than other services. As a councilor in Swansea I'm sure that you will be interested in what the first 3 year settlement offers local government. Recently Peter Riddell described the prospects for local government in England as grim.
Is this the same story I posted two days BEFORE the Western Mail?

Hardly news for the WM to run it two days later!
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