“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.