What Paxman couldn't understand

I quite like Jeremy Paxman but he's a BBC man through and through, and the BBC's rather limited view of Britishness—as we have seen in the fiasco over Plaid Cymru and the SNP not being given any place in the leaders' debates—seems hardwired into him. Would he have got his job if it wasn't?

Perhaps things are slightly different in BBC Cymru and BBC Scotland, but at BBC HQ in London the misconceptions about Wales and Scotland are all too apparent. The particular blindspot that surfaced on Newsnight last night was the complete inability to comprehend that public spending per head is actually much larger in London than it is in either Wales or Scotland.

When Eurfyl ap Gwilym disabused that misconception with hard figures, Jeremy Paxman found himself backed into a corner because he simply hadn't done his homework as well as he thought. No doubt some poor researcher at the BBC got it in the neck afterwards. As he phaffed about, Paxman even made the claim that London wasn't an English region. Incredible. And the scurry while Eurfyl left him to look through the figures for himself was one of those golden moments that will no doubt be replayed for years to come. So here it is again:


OK, it's all very well to laugh at a Jeremy Paxman who was out of his depth, but the point at issue is a serious one. Plaid Cymru is not asking for Wales to be immune from the public spending cuts that are certain to come. We are asking to be treated more fairly than we currently are. As I have shown on a number of occasions, Wales' share of public expenditure relative to England has fallen sharply in the thirteen years that Labour have been in power:


But over recent years, while relative expenditure in Wales has gone down, expenditure in England and Scotland has gone up relative to the UK as a whole.

So what Wales needs first is for the mechanisms which have resulted in this shortfall to be corrected. This means replacing the Barnett Formula with a needs-based formula. But in the short term—as an emergency fix in order to prevent things getting even worse—Gerry Holtham recommended putting a floor of 114% under future payments. Labour had every opportunity to implement this, but refused to make any firm commitment on it. In figures, this is £300m for this coming year.


However, cuts are bound to come over the next few years, whether under Labour or the Tories. To our cost, both under Thatcher and Major before and Blair and Brown after them, we know all about those two parties. But exactly the same will be true of the LibDems who will have to make even more cuts to pay for the tax break of £700 a year they plan to give every taxpayer ... even those who are on comfortable salaries. They too—just like the two parties they are trying so hard to be like—think that the UK can get out of this financial mess primarily by cutting spending on public services rather than by getting those who can afford it to pay more in taxes.

I'm all in favour of adjusting the tax bands so that more people in low paid employment don't have to pay Income Tax. Plaid also wants that. But if the starting point is increased by as much as the LibDems propose, the basic rate of Income Tax would need to be increased as well so that the overall tax take from those who pay the basic rate remains broadly the same. To put this into perspective, the £17bn that will be lost to the UK Treasury by doing this means that Wales will have to make do with about £850m less to spend on public services. That would be a disaster for Wales.


So what's the choice? The Tories and the LibDems alike say that they will "look at" a fair funding formula for Wales ... but won't commit themselves to anything despite the fact that an independent commission has done the hard work already, and come up with firm proposals about how things should be changed. Labour think they don't need to do anything. That leaves only Plaid to fight Wales' corner. The other three parties are much more concerned about winning votes in middle England than to actually do anything for this little corner of the island of Britain.

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Anonymous said...

The truth is out London gets more public money than Wales that is a statistic that deserves to be repeated. London gets more public money than Wales. I feel better already

Anonymous said...

Syniadau, what about the blogger the Druid of Anglesey who states that public expenditure makes up 70% of Welsh Gdp is that true or a myth?

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between public spending and the public sector as a percentage of GDP.

In Wales the public sector makes up about 30% of the economy, higher than most parts of the UK but not by much.

Public spending is high as a percentage of GDP because we are starting from a lower base. It also includes a 5% share of UK-wide spending like defence, foreign affairs etc. Also Wales has a higher proportion of elderly and more people that qualify for things like tax credits which will distort spending figures here. It's something Wales has very little control over.

Per capita spending is arguably the best measure for how state dependent a region is and as has been pointed out, London, Scotland and Northern Ireland all receive higher spending per capita than Wales and the rest of the English regions outside London.

Of course the question arises of what would Wales do if independent. It's true that Wales wouldn't be able spend the same amount per capita, but it's wrong to assume than an independent Wales would automatically have the same budget priorities as we (proportionally) have in the UK, spending £1.85bn on Defence for example.

Public spending as a percentage of GDP would fall sharply to a more "normal" level (40-45%) based on tax revenues (around £19.3bn) and public borrowing within Wales and a new budget based on what any Welsh Government decide to prioritise based on their political objectives, our national requirements and what we can afford.

Unknown said...

Paxman out-paxmanned! Didn't like it up him, did he! Never seen him treated and discomfited with such easy disdain! Beautiful!

Unknown said...

I just watched the whole program, and what was interesting was just how flustered Paxo was after the interview, when introducing the next item! Never seen him like that before! We need to make much more use of Dr Ap Gwilym, (and less of Ieuan Wyn Jones) on TV if we want to be taken seriously!

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