Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Laws aren't the answer

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  In the first place, no government can ever tie the hands of another – any law passed can equally easily be repealed - and in the second place, whether, when, and to what extent the deficit should be reduced depends on economic circumstances.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.


Anonymous said...

You suggest that it is "clearly" the case that the Welsh Government currently provides funding to the different parts of Wales in an unfair way. But is it clear that it does? Where is the hard and fast evidence to back up that assertion? And if your suggestion is that Cardiff receives an unfairly large slice of the cake (which is what I think you are saying when you refer to the Government as Cardiff-centric) what would be the Government's motive, political or otherwise, for creating this unfairness. You are usually very cautious when it comes to presenting opinion as though it were fact. On this occasion, however, I think you may have fallen into that trap. Ask your average Cardiff resident whether they get a good deal out of the Welsh Government and they're likely to tell you that all the money goes to the valleys, North Wales or wherever. The grass is always greener on the other side.

John Dixon said...

I think if you look back over this blog over a period, you will find several examples of posts where I have criticised the way in which the capital city and the south-east more generally seem to be getting a higher priority than the north and west. Whether it's buying airports, M4 relief road, rail electrification, new metro systems - the government in Wales seems to me to be replicating the pro-capital city (and hinterland) attitude of the UK Government.

As to what the government's motive might be - I'd phrase it rather differently, and have done in a number of previous posts. It's about how you measure what you are trying to achieve. The Welsh Government wants to be seen to be improving the overall economic state of Wales, but seems content to measure that by using an overall average. The problem with an overall average is that it doesn't matter where the growth occurs; if it all occurs in one small corner, it is as good for the average as if the same growth was more widely spread. It can often be easier to concentrate on one small corner, so that's what they do. Spreading the benefit around is a much harder way of achieving the same overall result, but if we are really interested in Wales as a whole it's what we need to do.

G Horton-Jones said...

The Romans centralised power in London, just as Rome was the center of their Empire
We should not be surprised that power is centralised to dominant population centers
Wales always seems to have lacked a center at least until the rivalry of Swansea and Cardiff led to the preeminence of Cardiff in population terms
The problem is that there are always countervailing forces at work so the more centralism there is the more demand for Regionalism there is
I believe that a fair and just distribution is absent in England Britain the UK and Wales and this needs to be addressed urgently

Anonymous said...

John - I'm not sure that the four rather selective examples that you quote of an unfair distribution funding, count has hard evidence. Three of them haven't even happened yet (and may never do so)!