The Western Mail

Wednesday's editorial in the Western Mail was one of those rare occasions when I have been genuinely surprised by a newspaper's stance on an issue.

Powers that would boost Welsh democracy

Devolution, as Ron Davies memorably said, is a process not an event. While the next step in Wales will be the referendum on further lawmaking powers, an equally important debate concerns the level of financial autonomy that should be available to the Assembly Government.

Many will be instinctively reluctant to grant any kind of tax-levying powers to Cardiff Bay, fearing that that would inevitably result in a higher tax burden. But that is by no means necessarily the case, as the Scottish Government has demonstrated by choosing not to vary the rate of income tax during the first 10 years of devolution.

We believe there is a strong argument for changing the way the Assembly Government is funded. There is already substantial concern about the workings of the Barnett formula, which allocates resources to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Holtham Commission, which has been asked by the Assembly Government to investigate current arrangements, has already concluded that Wales stands to lose £8.5bn in Treasury funding over the next decade because of the way Barnett works. A move to a robust needs-based formula is clearly appropriate.

But there is a wider issue of accountability that suggests granting the Assembly Government the power to levy or at least vary taxes would strengthen Welsh democracy. At present AMs are only able to make decisions about how to carve up the block grant from the Treasury – they have no ability to vary the total amount of the cake. In this respect, they are in a less powerful position than the smallest community council in Wales, which can fix its own precept. Political parties and others often deplore the lack of political engagement with Welsh politics. Nothing would be more likely to stimulate a greater interest in the affairs of the National Assembly than the possibility of a tax increase. More crucially, the existence of tax-levying powers would force parties to concentrate their minds on the need to create the wealth from which tax revenue springs.

We also support calls for the Assembly Government to be granted full-scale borrowing powers. In the short term, this would allow a forward-looking administration to overcome the constraints on capital spending to be introduced whoever wins the general election. It would also give ministers greater flexibility in planning projects like new hospitals.

An additional reason for supporting tax-levying and borrowing powers is that Wales cannot afford to lag behind Scotland as devolution goes forward. With the Scottish Government likely to be granted income tax-varying power of up to 10p in the pound, our politicians should be trusted with the same responsibility.

Western Mail, 24 February 2010

The last time Martin Shipton said something that made my jaw drop was when the first part of the Holtham Commission's report came out in July.

As I mentioned in this post at the time, the doyen of Welsh political journalism—or weathered old hack, if he doesn't mind a little affection—said this:

The importance of the Holtham Commission’s findings about the way the National Assembly is funded cannot be overestimated.

... What is particularly neat about the Holtham report is the way the Commissioners have deployed the very same formulae used by the UK Government to allocate funds in the English regions to demonstrate that Wales is likely to lose out by billions of pounds over the next decade.

It is astonishing – and grossly unjust – that what is considered the right way to do things within England is regarded as unnecessary or unacceptable in the context of the UK as a whole.

Western Mail, 8 July 2009

The subject is the much same, so I'm not surprised at that. However what has changed is that the earlier statement was just one journalist's opinion, but it has now become the Western Mail's editorial position.

That is quite some shift ... and of course it is one that I welcome.

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Anonymous said...

And read by 1% of the population?

MH said...

Every little helps, Anon.

I only wish 1% of the population read this blog!

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