Sweet stuff ... and nonsense

It was nice to see Geraint Davies, the Labour MP for Swansea West, come out in favour of a tax on sugary drinks in this tweet today:

The reaction was for a number of Plaid Cymru supporters to say that this was Plaid's policy, put forward in our conference in October 2013. But, as I noted at the time in a comment on this post, it was not Plaid that came up with the idea. The policy had been put forward by Sustain, on behalf of over 60 organizations, in January 2013 in a document entitled, A Children's Future Fund: How food duties could provide the money to protect children’s health and the world they grow up in, and Plaid seem to have lifted the policy from them.

People can download the document by clicking the image.


Of course there's nothing wrong with a political party lifting ideas from organizations like this ... although the details will need to be refined. In principle, I think it's a good policy for public health reasons, and therefore one that deserves to be implemented. Even though I'd like the kudos of Wales doing it first, it doesn't really matter whether it's enacted across the UK (or whatever's left of it) by a government at Westminster, or across Wales by a government at Cardiff Bay.

Nor do I really care exactly how the money raised by such a tax is used. Wales does have a shortage of doctors compared with other countries, so Plaid's proposal to hypothecate it to employ a thousand more doctors is fine; but using it to "subsidize healthy foods" might work too.

So let's try and put our tribalism to one side and see if we, Plaid Cymru and Labour, can make it work. The Assembly already has the power to do this as a levy (in the same way as for single-use bags) so we could easily get it through before May 2016 if we put our minds to it without waiting for the Wales Act; but there's no chance of it even being considered in Westminster before May 2015.

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Anonymous said...

But with somewhat typical naivety no-one dares state how such a drink should be described or how such a tax should be collected.

Should the tax be collected:

Upon sale of the drinks in Wales? If so, the stuff will just be purchased in England and delivered locally.

Upon use? Somewhat unrealistic given that not many like paying taxes they can legally or otherwise avoid.

Blanket annual tax levied on drinks makers/manufacturers? Unrealistic insofar as they'd just up sticks move out of Wales.

As always, the thinnies will end up paying for the lifestyles of the fatties and nothing much will change. Now we can see why everyone isn't clever enough even to be a politician.

Anonymous said...

Wales has a shortage of doctors, because it chooses to train too few.

Anonymous said...

Wales has a shortage of doctors because those it does train do not want to stay to work in Wales.

Wales has a shortage of doctors because trained doctors from the rest of the UK do not wish to come to work in Wales.

Wales has a shortage of doctors because it is an unattractive place for the vast majority of qualified doctors to work.

Carwyn Jones knows why this. And so does Andrew RT Davies. And so do all the other party leaders. Eventually the truth will out ......... and none of us will be in the least bit surprised.

Anonymous said...

For me this is a good policy (whoever came up with it) for health reasons, for revenue reasons, and less importantly because it delineates Wales as a market with its own pricing (obviously if England copies the policy I have no objection).

The political issue is that when Plaid Cymru said they supported this, Labour felt the need to be typically tribal and attack it, even though it was right up their street (and right up Mark Drakeford's street).

It does appear true that doctors need incentives to work in Wales but Plaid has also suggested ways this could be done such as writing off debts.

MH said...

Thanks for the comments. Of course the tribalism works both ways, and Labour are every bit as guilty of it as Plaid are. But in this case it wasn't helped by Leanne making a policy announcement without also providing the facts and figures to show how it would be paid for in an accompanying press release. In the end it took us a full month to publish the detail, and only after a bruising session in which Carwyn Jones was able to land punches on us for not doing so. The details are here and here. These posts, and the one I linked to in this one, also answer many of 22:07's questions about the detail.


As 10:18 says, a policy like this is "right up Mark Drakeford's street". It is especially right for Wales because we have a greater problem with obesity than other countries in Britain, and because health takes up a greater proportion of our spending than elsewhere in Britain (this is why it was impossible for the Welsh Government to maintain levels of health spending following the austerity cuts ... it would have meant making proportionately greater cuts in other spending areas). The only way Wales will be able to afford its healthcare in the long term is to cut down on the need for medical treatment. We need to change our lifestyles, particularly our diet and our activity levels, so that we need less medical treatment in future.

This is why Wales can lead the way. Just as we did with smoking, just as we did with single-use bags, just as we are doing with organ donation. As a more left-leaning, more socially-inclusive society, there will be more acceptance of the introduction of measure like this here than elsewhere in Britain.


As for the shortage of doctors, I think there are many ways in which we could provide incentives for there to be more (like writing off student debt for those who practise in Wales). But that isn't the root of the problem. More doctors would mean a higher wage bill, irrespective of incentives.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why there is a shortage of doctors in Wales, but a proper medical school in north Wales would surely go a long way to both attracting and retaining doctors in that area. It is unfinished business from the 1880s and needs to be resolved. Bangor University is of course the stand-out candidate for that school, already having significant expertise in both biology and health sciences (nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy, etc.).

Phil Davies

MH said...

I complely agree, Phil. Currently there are only two medical schools Wales, at Cardiff and Swansea, so Bangor is the obvious place for a much-needed third school in the north.

Things do seem to be inching in that direction, though. There is a School of Medical Sciences with the specialisms you mention, so it appears to be gathering the critical mass necessary to become a fully-fledged medical school. It can't come soon enough.

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