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Friday, 17 July 2009

Barnett, Holtham, fair funding and the Lords

Major reports are now named after their chair or co-ordinator and often have no reference to their purpose, what did 'Wanless' do? How about 'Dearing'? The same is true for the 'Barnett' formula and reports about it such as 'Holtham'. This doesn't understate their importance, they are extremely important and relevant. According to the Surname Database 'Barnett' is a surname describing one who lived on "land cleared by burning" (Baernet) or a personal name "Bernhard" meaning "brave-bear". It isn't difficult in Wales to make the conceptual jump from 'slash and burn' to the deficient funding produced by the Barnett formula. 'Holtham' on the other hand is an Anglo Saxon locational surname from Hampshire describing someone from a farm in the hollow and often attributed to one who has moved elswhere. In modern parlance - 'gone native'. City merchant bankers, even if they are born in Wales, are not known for 'going native' outside the City of London, so when it happens there must be an issue worth considering. (I taking a liberty with the 'going native' point as it fits with the descriptor for 'Holtham' so please don't accuse me of 'over-egging' the argument!)
In the last fortnight we have had the Holtham Report and a major Lords Report on 'Barnett'. Both conclude that the formula doesn't work, tell us something new you say, but that is not the point. To successfully change a complicated part of Treasury work you have to build a consensus, independent reports like Holtham are worth their weight in gold but reports from the 'great and good' on the Lords Committee are equally powerful since they speak the same language as Treasury Officials responsible for the Barnett formula. It is part of the same process for change.
During the last 13 years Westminster Welsh Labour have had the opportunity to instigate change but have chosen not to do so. They argue like Paul Murphy that no change is necessary and Wales will lose out, again put the frightners up when no other arguments exist. I find a simpler argument, the majority of Welsh Labour MP's are apathetic at best and usually antagonistic toward devolution lest it affect their status. The more the Assembly has to scrabble for cash and run a pressurised public health and education service then the more unsustainable devolution will appear. With years of Tory rule ahead after the General Election it is a dinosaurial strategy that they will live to regret.

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