Danny Alexander’s day out in Cardiff

The Western Mail, at least, made much of Danny Alexander’s appearance before the National Assembly’s Finance Committee today.  What’s really interesting, though, is not the fact of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury’s appearance or the ‘grilling’ he got from AMs, but what he appears to have had to say about reforming devolution’s financial arrangements.  There’s a report from BBC News here, a piece from Betsan Powys’s blog here, and a report from the Western Mail here.  On one hand, he refused to commit to any revision of the basis of the block grant in the foreseeable future.  On the other, he accepted that there was a ‘strong case’ for fiscal powers as recommended by the Holtham Commission, if there were cross-party support for that from the National Assembly.

It’s welcome news that Alexander accepts that the case for such devolved powers is a compelling one, and that strengthening devolution is about something more than simply the outcome of the referendum on the Assembly’s legislative powers.  The fact that the Treasury, in his person, can accept the case in principle for such powers for Wales as well as Scotland is highly encouraging and suggests that the Coalition’s thinking about devolution finance has made quite some progress since it came to office.

However, it’s regrettable that Alexander doesn’t seem to have understood that the various elements of the Holtham Commission’s recommendations – a needs-related grant, borrowing powers and limited fiscal powers – are linked.  ‘Fairness’ can only be delivered by ensuring that public services in Wales overall are properly funded, and by carefully calculating the deduction from the block grant to allow for fiscal powers.  These aren’t in fact separate issues – they’re the two ends of a single thread.  And as the Assembly has already resolved, unanimously, to endorse the Holtham recommendations (previously discussed HERE), there aren’t really any excuses for inaction.



Filed under Conservatives, Devolution finance, Lib Dems, Wales

4 responses to “Danny Alexander’s day out in Cardiff

  1. Jeff Jones

    Alan no one would describe what happened yesterday as a’grilling’. Instead Danny Alexander shot the Assembly’s fox and posed them a question which no one in the Weslh political class wanted to hear. He knocked for six the idea that any sort of vote next March will lead to reform of Barnett. The 300 million reasons to say yes leaflets which have been produced by Labour are now heading for the blue recyling bin. How anyone actually believes that any Scottish politician is ever going to agree to a review of Barnett has always puzzled me. To even suggest it would be an act of political suicide and Scottish Liberal Democrats and more importantly Labour know this. Logic would suggest ironically that the only government that could look at the whole issue objectively might be a majority Tory government. On the issue of fiscal powers Alexander ‘s offer to consider this and the implication that it would need a referendum must have sent a shiver down the spine of every AM . They are not interested in tax varying powers because they don’t know the political fallout from such a change. Why do you think that they are all arguing that it would require another referendum? Basically they are saying that they don’t want such a change in their political life time. Anyone who believes in democratic accountability would obviously support such a change. The odds of it happening are probably pretty slim because it could completely change the dynamics of Welsh politics. How for a start can anyone agree to be taxed by a legislature where 20 of the legislators are not directly accountable to the electorate? The introduction of Calman in Wales would have to be accompanied by a change in the electoral system in my opinion. What is also amazing is that anyone should have been surprised by Alexnader’s comments yesterday. Politicians after all decide policy not academics. The first rule of politics is to get elected or reelected and reform of Barnett is an issue at a UK level which will concern only the 29 or 30 MPs who represent Wales in 2015. It might not be fair but politics isn’t and never has been fair.

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