'To Westminster, Wales remains an afterthought'
4 min read
"In Wales we can only look in envy at the Republic of Ireland where growth is projected to be 8% - it is clear our economic wellbeing is being damaged shackled to a sinking Westminster ship," says Plaid Cymru's Treasury Spokesperson Jonathan Edwards MP.
The normal Wednesday date of a Budget was jettisoned for fear of headline writers talking about a box of horrors or a trick or treat approach to taxation and spending. The more significant rescheduling is the movement of the Budget forward to October, in the full knowledge that if the big Brexit votes go wrong over the coming weeks the Chancellor will be back within months with another emergency Budget – unless the British Government chooses a more sensible Brexit path.
By the weekend after a Budget, u-turns are a plenty and the numbers are unravelling as the detail is dismantled by the experts. A Monday budget, however, has seen the typical choreography fly out the window and by Thursday we saw a government resignation. Sports Minister Tracey Crouch bowed out over delays to new curbs on high stakes betting machines. Within the theatre of Westminster, this principled approach has been met with considerable cross-party commendation.
And I am sure more screws will come loose in the coming days. But in the clear light of day I want to look back at what the Budget means for Wales – the country my party is proud to represent.
In truth, the vast majority of announcements were England-only. It is no accident that the section on public lavatories took up more time in the Budget speech than measures relating to Wales. To Westminster, we remain an afterthought.
It also confirms that the major fiscal event as far as Wales is concerned is the annual Budget of our national government in Cardiff. This is to be welcomed. Much work, however, needs to be done by politicians and the media to ensure the Welsh Budget is covered in a manner which befits its impact upon the public services we use in Wales.
Latest polling puts the number of people aware that it is Labour that run our NHS in Wales at less than 50%. How can we have a healthy democracy without the media informing our citizenry?
Lazy UK journalists continued to confuse matters on Monday. They talked about a £500m plus bonanza for Wales in the Budget, oblivious to the fact that these were Barnett consequentials resulting from British Government spending in England. A giveaway on the magic money tree it was certainly not, and no coverage of the inherent unfairness to Wales as to how the funding formula is applied. In any case, 80% of the money was old news – already announced in other statements by the British Government.
The headlines in Wales focused on extra borrowing capacity for the Welsh Government, tied to the British Government's preferred route for a billion-pound-plus motorway expansion in the south of Wales. The sinisterly named ‘black route’ expansion of the road that makes up the southern corridor of Wales will hoover up the entirety of the Welsh Government’s infrastructure spending for years. Due to accounting errors, they have already had to ask for the extra borrowing capacity from Westminster, which is at the root of this latest dispute.
Regardless of whether the black route is the right option or not, devolution ensures this is a decision for Wales’s national parliament in Cardiff. Westminster, however, seem intent on ensuring that they have the final say, by linking the borrowing powers needed to build it to their preferred option. Blackmail for the black route.
Absurdly it transpires that the Labour Government of my country asked for this arrangement.
With tax and spending powers now shared between Westminster and Wales, disputes like this will only become more commonplace and complex.
It seems quite clear to me that the British Treasury cannot be both judge and jury. We need an independent body to arbitrate between taxation and funding disputes which will arise in future. This independent body would also determine funding allocations between the four countries of the British State on the basis of fairness. It cannot be right that Wales gets less public spending per head than the already wealthy London.
As ever, the most interesting figures surrounding the Budget came with the Office for Budget Responsibility – the independent agency charged with assessing and forecasting public spending and the economy. Its growth forecasts were particularly grim – the bottom of all advanced economies at around half the levels seen pre-recession. Eight years of austerity has permanently sucked demand from the economy, and now we face the greatest act of economic self-harm committed by a democratic country – Brexit.
In Wales we can only look in envy at the Republic of Ireland where growth is projected to be 8% - it is clear our economic wellbeing is being damaged shackled to a sinking Westminster ship.
Jonathan Edwards is Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.