Friday, 20 May 2016

Avoiding differences

I’m not sure that the ‘compact’ between Labour and Plaid lives up to the hype surrounding it.  Whilst Plaid seem to be playing up the headline policy gains, I suspect that the most important part of the agreement will be the setting up of three liaison committees.  This ability to influence government proposals before they become public looks likely to have more impact than the headline policies themselves, and may well do more to advance the national project.  If Plaid is to have more influence than the sole Lib Dem will have as a result of being appointed to the cabinet, it will probably be through these committees rather than as a result of the policies announced so far.
One of the policies which has been announced was the new treatment fund, but it has always looked to me like something of a gimmick.  It will no doubt be popular with those who benefit from it, and with the pharmaceuticals industry.  It’s not clear yet how it is to be funded (is it money diverted from elsewhere in the health service and then ring-fenced, or is it additional funding which is ring-fenced?) but there are two problems with ring-fenced funding like this in the health service.
The first is that whilst the ‘winners’ are easily identifiable, the ‘losers’ are much harder to identify, but losers there will be; and the second is that the funding available will never actually be enough to satisfy all of the potential beneficiaries, given the continued advent of new treatments and their very high cost.
However, it was the Plaid claim that this will end the “postcode lottery” which means that people in Wales and England are subject to different rules when it comes to access to certain drugs which caught my eye.  The phrase “postcode lottery” is one I’ve posted on before; it suggests that people are treated in a random way based on where they live, and that there’s an element of luck involved.  That is a complete misrepresentation of the truth. 
The reality is that the differences in approach stem from different administrations adopting different policies and setting different priorities.  Whether either or both of the administrations are setting the ‘right’ priorities is an entirely proper subject of debate, but this isn’t a question of ‘luck of the draw’.  Differences are a direct consequence of devolution, leading to the election of governments of a different hue.  Advocating identical outcomes is, in essence, an argument for more centralisation, not devolution, and sounds strange coming from a party with a theoretical vague long term aspiration to increase the policy divergences between Wales and England.


Pragmatic Nationalist said...

Disagree John. There is value in communicating in terms that voters use. In any case, Plaid doesn't stand for increasing policy divergence just for the sake of it. This fund looks identical to the Scottish Government one and different to the English one; although I have heard that the English cancer drugs fund will be closed and replaced by a Scottish-style one too.

If there's policy convergence happening here it's with Scotland.

The deal is sound. Plaid had to allow Carwyn Jones to become First Minister and didn't have an alternative government, but having some agreed policy areas and those potential committees establishes a pragmatic (ha) footing, whilst retaining Plaid's independence. Not sure it does the same for the Lib Dems!

John Dixon said...

"Plaid doesn't stand for increasing policy divergence just for the sake of it"; but I didn't think that it stood for "not being any different from England" either.

I don't agree with this particular policy; but the real point here was more about the terms being used to describe it than the policy itself. Referring to differences between policy on the two sides of the border as being a "postcode lottery" is playing into the hands of those who argue that there should be no differences.

Anonymous said...

I understood Plaid's use of the term 'postcode lottery' to refer to the situation within Wales, and in particular the different ways that the current exceptional funding guidance is applied in different health board areas, rather than differences between Wales and England.

John Dixon said...


The unnamed Plaid source was quoted by the Western Mail (I can't find the quote in the online version) as saying "It can't be right that patients have to move to England to get the treatment they need, or that different decisions are taken according to where in Wales people live". I don't see how that can be interpreted other than as referring to both situations.