Archive for April, 2013

Letters of state

photo12The last time Wales’s First Minister put pen to paper to a senior minister in the UK government was to no less a person than the Prime Minister himself. Jones’s purpose,  a constitution convention.

It was his hope that such a convention might bring about a different form of governance in these islands of ours.  It might also spike the nationalist bubble north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Cameron’s reply, well he didn’t. But there’s no constitutional convention. An answer of a kind. But not one that falls within what you might call the “respect” agenda.

Indeed it would seem that Cameron regards Carwyn Jones’s government with some distain. PA0500015Indeed he called the Welsh Government the Muppets show only just this weekend.

But Jones is clearly a man of letters and is not easily put off putting pen to paper. This time he’s winged a letter off to George Osborne.

In it he wants George Osborne to implement the Silk Commission’s recommendation in full and soon. Why you may ask? Well as an example to those restless Scots that independence is not necessary, to get more powers.

Now Jones’s view is that the UK can demonstrate its support for devolved government by giving the total Silk package the OK.  Not only the OK, but also action on full implementation before the next election.

Now of course early action on this would certainly give the pro-unionists another argument to deployed in the referendum campaign in Scotland.

The odds are that the wily Alex Salmond will not be best pleased by Carwyn’s correspondence.

My guess is that there will be someone even less pleased than Salmond. Name names, I hear you say. OK then, young Owen Smith MP, the shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

It’s one of Wales’s worst kept secret that he’s being briefing hard to undermine Carwyn Jones’s aims of getting the assembly powers over finance in general and is particularly against income tax varying powers.

In this he’s only acting as cheerleader to the majority of the parliamentary Welsh group. They don’t like giving Cardiff Bay more powers. More powers for the Bay, less for them, Simple. And then someone will ask the uncomfortable question what are they for. The poor dears feel unwanted and unloved and this latest request just plays to their paranoia.

Now back to the letter. Clearly Carwyn Jones is not pussy footing about cherry picking the Silk proposals he wants the lot. Equivalent of a two-finger salute to MPs of his own party.

He’s had enough of them trying to undermine him in Westminster. He was elected by the whole party in Wales and is now reminding them that he’s boss. So it would very much suit his agenda to get the proposals on the statute book this side of the general election.

The First Minister knows that should there be a Labour government in Westminster and Owen Smith as Secretary of State for Wales. He has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting the full package.

So George, do the lad a favour and write back and say yes and soon.

 

 

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A little ray of sunshine for George.

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The sigh of relief from Number 11 Downing Street could almost be heard throughout the land. Why? The economy has grown all be it by only 0.3%. By the skin of its teeth avoided falling back into recession.

It’s a bit like a dog walking on two legs, not that it does it well but it’s a miracle that it can do it at all. Similarly the economy this 0.3% growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the first three months of the year is a small blessing for the Chancellor. It allows him to claim that there are encouraging signs in our economy.

The economy by the barest of margins avoided two consecutive quarters of contraction, which of course is the definition of a recession.

Many economists worried that the UK would enter into a triple dip recession this has been avoided but the country’s economy is far from healthy. It has flat lined since the financial crisis of 2008.

Despite these figures the overall state of the economy is still a cause for real concern. The IMF as called on the Osborne to rethink the austerity programme and we’ve been stripped of our triple A credit ratings by two international rating organizations.

A more detailed look at the figures shows that construction activity fell by 2.5% in the quarter, a sector that is a good barometer of the real health of the country.

Although the headline figures will bring some comfort to delegates attending the Welsh Conservative conference in Swansea. It won’t take much of a gift of prophesy to imagine that this small change in fortune will be much trumpeted from the platform that the economy has now turned the corner.

The uncomfortable reality is that the economy as a whole remains 2.6% below its pre-crisis peak and many Welsh households have experienced job losses and a fall in living standards as real pay goes down and benefits are cut. The Office for National Statistics noted that the economy is no bigger now than it was eighteen months ago.

The pain will be around for a while yet, me thinks.

 

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Tax and cash for Wales?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Cardiff Council can borrow to invest in capital projects – but not the Welsh Government.  The Scottish Government can vary income tax rates – but not the Welsh Government. The Welsh Assembly is unique across the world, it can make laws, it can spend money, but it can’t control how much it raises in tax.” So said Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury to the faithful attending the Liberal Democrat Welsh conference.

 He said that the coalition aimed to put these things right. He wanted “a new model of devolution for Wales.” Alexander wanted greater accountability by giving the Assembly additional responsibilities for raising revenues. He also wanted that model to have significant income tax powers so that it would unlock commensurate borrowing powers for Wales.

These new powers over finance were outlined in the first report of the Silk Commission. But what was interesting was the resolve that Alexander was expressing in backing the changes. “I will not allow a response to Silk that doesn’t meet these aspirations.”

In a speech that was probably cleared by the Treasury it seems that the Coalition are moving rapidly towards implementing proposals that will give  Wales the ability to raise some of its own cash. The question is, will it be in next month’s Queen Speech.

Carwyn Jones’s government would want legislation to implement Silk sooner rather than later. A view supported by all the parties in the Assembly.

It’s even got the support of the Welsh Secretary, who would be the one to steer the legislation through the UK Parliament. It’s said he’s looking forward to the opportunity of showing how effective an operator he is when he’s got a piece of legislation to get on the Statute book.  He won’t have an easy ride from some of his own back-benchers, some are not enamoured with granting any more powers to Cardiff Bay. Even if those plans make a reality of taxation following responsibility for spending.

But alas its not just backbench Tories that are unhappy with the prospect of the additional powers over finance coming the Assembly’s way.

Labour in Westminster also are less than happy that Carwyn Jones should have more powers. Some have even being briefing against the prospect of tax raising powers.

Welsh MPs see the chipping away of more powers as a threat to the Union.  But the principled stance is simply a cloak to hide the fact that the poor dears fear for their futures. It won’t be long before a future government asks what are they for and why we need so many of them.

 

 

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