I’ve thought all along that the Tories’ proposal for legislation mandating the elimination of the budget deficit was just a silly gimmick. In the first place, no government can ever tie the hands of another – any law passed can equally easily be repealed - and in the second place, whether, when, and to what extent the deficit should be reduced depends on economic circumstances. Making it an absolute priority regardless is poor economics.
I’m afraid that I don’t think that Plaid’s proposal for a law mandating fair funding for the north (as noted by Cai Larsen last week) is any more sensible. The first objection still applies – no Welsh government can ever bind its successors. And a variation on the second also applies – whether equality of funding is the right thing to do at any point in time depends on the circumstances at the time.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a problem with the way the Welsh government is spending our money at present – there clearly is. And it doesn’t only affect the north; there are those of us out here in the wild west who also feel that a Cardiff-centric government is replicating the centralist tendencies of the UK and concentrating spending in and around the capital. It’s just that legislating for equality of spending isn’t the right answer.
In the first place, it might well be that in some years, depending on projects and priorities, it might actually be right to spend more per head in the north than in the south-east. And what do we mean by the ‘north’ anyway? If equality was achieved by spending all the north’s money in Wrecsam (nothing against Wrecsam, by the way), how does that help Ynys Môn? And demanding equality of spending, carried to its logical conclusion on a village by village basis, might also mean that no large projects could ever be undertaken – anywhere. Over what period would this ‘equality’ be mandated? The shorter the period, the harder it would be to finance large projects; but the longer the period, the more meaningless the proposal becomes in practical terms.
No, I simply don’t think that the proposal for legislation to control the way money is spent in different parts of Wales is a sensible response to the problem. It looks like a gimmick; just like Osborne’s deficit law. What we really need isn’t legislation, it’s an economic plan for Wales with a vision for improved infrastructure and for boosting the economy of all parts of the country. It’s not exactly a new idea, of course (although the 1970 version might need more than a little dusting off). But real, hard proposals will do more for the north and west than any amount of meaningless legislation.