Friday, 26 October 2012

How to spend it

There’s a sort of a rule in politics which says that the publicity given by Ministers to their decisions is in inverse proportion to the importance of those decisions.  It’s probably the influence of all the Sir Humphreys in the background somewhere. 

Anyway, the announcement this week that the National Assembly will be allowed borrowing powers seems to fit the pattern, in terms of timing if not of principle.  Three busy minsters from three different parties and two governments assembled to tell the world that the Welsh Government will be allowed to borrow some money at some point in the future if and when they can find a way of supplementing the block grant with monies raised locally.  In the short term, it’s not much of a deal at all.
It may just be a bit of clever politics; tying three parties into the deal may make it harder for any of them to reject any tax-varying powers proposed by the Silk Commission.  Clever politics by whom is another question, with at least two of the parties involved lukewarm at best over the idea of transferring any real revenue powers to Wales.  A sort of mutual assured torture, perhaps.
It could also turn out to be a double-edged sword for most of Wales as well.  Many of the schemes being touted for funding through borrowing are highly Cardiff-centric.  We’ve already seen a pretty naked attempt by Cardiff-centric commentators to grab Convergence funding from the poorest areas of Wales and spend them in the richest, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see any available borrowed funds being appropriated in similar fashion.
It’s part of what I’ve noted before – whilst Welsh politicians are quite happy to criticise the London-centric economic policies of the UK, they seem equally happy to replicate the same phenomenon on a smaller scale here in Wales.  As we saw in another report today, it’s probable that when the statisticians say that the UK is coming out of recession, what they really mean is that London is starting to boom whilst the rest of the UK continues to be in recession.  It’s not a good outcome, and I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to replicate that in Wales.
It underlines the fact that winning borrowing powers, even if the Government were in a position to use them, is only part of the picture.  Making sure that we use them for the benefit of the whole of Wales is another matter entirely.
PS – Much of the reaction to the announcement was predictable, but I have to admit to being surprised to read an article by the former leader of Plaid in today’s Western Mail in which he described Scotland as a “white elephant”.  I can’t imagine that going down too well in SNP HQ!

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