Panic all round for middle class parents they may have to pay more in fees to get their kids through university, but not just yet. Huw Lewis has chosen to set up a review of the current policy of Higher Education funding. But it’s not going to report back until after the next Assembly election in 2016. Degree courses take three years, but do inquiries have to be as long? Meanwhile the architect of the current policy ex Education Minister Leighton Andrews was criticized by the Welsh Audit Office of not telling the full cabinet of the potential costs of the policy. Not so says Andrews described the WAO’s conclusion on cost estimates as a “glaring error”, insisting the government was aware of the potential extra costs of fees being charged at the maximum £9,000, rather than an estimated £7,000. Despite the spat it still an awful lot of cash and in these austere times, unlikely to continue. So parents had better start putting money aside in their piggy banks if they want little Johnny and Jane to have a three year ball, sorry, University education.
The Welsh government produced its first Housing Bill. It aimed at: helping access to affordable homes and ensuring those at risk of becoming homeless receive help; raising standards in the private rented sector and placing a greater emphasis on action to prevent people from becoming homeless; providing local authorities with the power to introduce an increased rate of council tax on empty homes; placing a duty on councils to provide sites for the Gypsy and Traveller communities; assisting the expansion of co-operative housing; setting standards for those local authorities that retain their housing stock on rents, services charges and quality of accommodation and supporting the achievement of the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and abolishing the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy system to enable stock retaining local authorities to become self-financing. It hits all the buttons, very worthy, but there hasn’t been a Housing Act passed yet, that hasn’t unforeseen consequences and the suspicion is that this one is no exception.
A bill to recover the costs of treating Welsh asbestos patients from businesses or insurers has been passed by assembly members. The bill was a pet project of Pontypridd AM Mick Antoniw. Before being elected he was a solicitor who had acted for asbesto victims. The bill was passed despite the insurance lobby expressing serious concerns about it. Well , they would, wouldn’t they. Never heard of an insurance company paying out without a great deal of bother.
Joel Barnett’s formula’s under the cosh again, this time not by the whinging Welsh but the English. According to the Local Government Association, England’s communities are being “short-changed” by £4.1bn a year under the model used to allocate central government funding across the UK. This money needed to be “repatriated”. The UK government disputes the LGA analysis. Well, they would, they’ve no intention of upsetting the Scots this side of the referendum. But after then, all bets will be off.
The Scottish Affairs select committee took evidence from Jane Hutt on the guidance the Welsh Government had given on the practice of employers blacklisting workers for their trade union activities. She admitted that because the area had not been devolved they could only issue guidance had this had the potential open up the government to legal challenge. Despite not having the legal powers the MPs were told that the Welsh Government was committed to eradicating blacklisting. It must be the week that Welsh Ministers are telling the Scots to wise up.
Lord Ashcroft’s warned his party to get its act together on the basis of his own polling and it seems that this week’s polls underlines his point of view. On the average of current polls (Con. 31% Labour 39% Lib. Dems. 10%) Labour would gain an overall majority of 92.
A long way to go yet, but it doesn’t seem that the economic news is helping the government, Miliband’s message on the cost of living and the goodies not reaching the punters is helping his party greatly in the polls.
Populus CON 32%, LAB 41%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 9%.
YouGov/Sun CON 32% LAB 39% LDEM 11%,
ComRes/Independent CON 29%(-3), LAB 35%(nc), LDEM 10%(+1), UKIP 17%(+1).
Opinium/Observer CON 28%(-3), LAB 37%(nc), LDEM 9%(+2), UKIP 16%(nc)
YouGov/Sunday Times CON 33% LAB 39% LDEM 10%, UKIP 12%.
Populus CON 31%, LAB 40%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 10%.
Ipsos MORI/Standard CON 32%(-3), LAB 38%(+3), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 8%(-2).
TNS-BRMB CON 30%(-4), LAB 38%(+2), LDEM 8%(-1), UKIP 12%(-1).
There will not be a referendum in Wales to give the Assembly tax varying powers, unless Wales has a fair funding regime. That is the view of the Welsh Government.
A few months back Carwyn Jones said he would not be minded to help the No vote in Scotland until the government in Westminster accepted the recommendations of the Silk Commission on financial powers for Wales.
This week the UK government responded accepting the bulk of Silk’s conclusions and almost immediately Carwyn Jones takes the high or is it the low road to Scotland to tell them up there, what a good thing the Union is.
Indeed much of the theme music in the press conference to launch the UK government’s response to Silk was that we’re all “better together.”
Now whatever message Jones delivers over Hadrian’s Wall it is unlikely to be “vote no” and get your budget cut.
But there’s every danger that if the Welsh government gets its way the Scots will suffer a massive cut. Why? Well it all comes down to “fair funding.’
Carwyn Jones and his Labour colleagues say they will not go for a referendum on tax varying powers unless they get a better deal in funding from the UK government. They say Wales’s is being short changed under the Barnett formula to the tune of over £300 million pounds a year.
Like all things political, the Barnett formula was a political fudge. Devolution was on the horizon in 1979 and a way of funding Scotland had to be found. So in 1978 Joel Barnett, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, determined the slice of the cake the Scots would get according to a formula. The same method of dishing out cash was extended to Wales and Northern Ireland in 1980 and with only minor changes has remained the same ever since.
It was a population based formula although the Treasury did some work on a needs based formula no agreement was reached. Politics again, the Scots had more clout. Wales would do a great deal better if the formula was to take account of deprivation.
So Wales is being short changed and Scotland is doing quite nicely thank you.
The irony is that if the Scots heed Mr Jones’s message that “were Better together” and vote no, the very same Mr Jones will be pushing for financial changes that will see the Scots loose out.
A situation that has not gone unremarked by the SNP who claim that changes would mean a £4 billion cut to their budget.
Linda Fabiani MSP said: “Carwyn Jones has never been shy about his desire to change the Barnett formula in a way that would disadvantage Scotland.
“The Welsh first minister has the perfect opportunity to use his visit to Scotland to spell out to people here just how much he wants Scotland’s budget cut by if there is a no vote next year.
Perhaps it would be better for Jones to keep out of Scottish politics and concentrate on getting things right in Wales.
Yet, another historic day for Wales. Well not quiet as historic as when the Prime Minister announced taxation powers for the Assembly but a minor note in history when the principle players explained the detail. There’s only so much history that a man can take. it seems everyday in Wales is history happening
Perhaps it would be better be describe it as a love-in between the two governments or to give it its true title “we’re better together.” Take note, you Scots.
Indeed Jane Hutt Wales’ Finance Minister said as much when she said it “shows how much can be achieved by working together, and how devolution can thrive in a spirit of genuine partnership.”
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and the Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones came all the way down from London to announce a detailed response to the Silk Commission on financial powers.
Their aim was to make Carwyn Jones and his Merry band not just to spend money, but to be really adult about things and raise some of his own cash. Or to put it into Whitehall speak to increase the financial accountability of the Welsh Government and National Assembly for Wales.
It certainly was a first, David Jones sounded positively enthusiastic about giving the Assembly powers.. All be it, about the prospect of an early referendum on tax varying powers.
His devious plan was that a future Welsh Conservative government would lowerincome tax. But it was an all or nothing policy, no varying of the higher rate taxes alone. “So take that. Andrew RT Davies, forget your plans, I’m making Conservative policies in Wales.”
So in a spirit of peace and harmony these are what the two Governments have agreed. There will be legislation to allow a referendum on tax varying powers. Although Labour don’t want to use these powers until “Wales is fairly funded.” When will that be? In the fullness of time.
All are agreed that the reforms mean the Welsh Government will be able to borrow to invest in new infrastructure projects across Wales – which will create jobs and support the economy. This includes early access to borrowing to help fund an enhancement of the M4, subject to the ongoing consultation.
The devolution of Stamp Duty Land Tax and Landfill Tax will go ahead. Carwyn Jones will have full control over business rates for the first time. Powers will be given to the Assembly to introduce new taxes and associated tax credits, opening a new avenue for policy development in the longer term. Yes, but only with the agreement of the UK Government. God knows what this socialist government might tax if they were given a completely free hand.
And there is no way that the People’s Airport of Cardiff was going to get a competitive advantage by devolving air passenger duty. There’s sweetness and harmony, and a step to far, and that is certainly a step to far. Although Jane Hutt vowed to continue the battle,
All will come to pass before the next General Election in May 2015.