Baroness Anita Gale is a Labour Whip and speaks from the frontbench on Wales matters in the Lords
Today in the Lords, Welsh Peers and others have been debating the progress of the work of the Silk Commission. This was established by the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan – MP for Chesham and Amersham in Buckinghamshire – to consider the case for the devolution of fiscal powers which would improve accountability, and to look at the powers of the Assembly and recommend modifications to improve current arrangements.
A recent poll conducted by ICM showed that eight out of ten people support the idea of granting the Welsh Government borrowing powers, with and suggested a wide degree of backing in relation to capital projects such as schools, roads, and hospitals. There also appears to be approval for “nudge” taxes such as the carrier bag levy, the introduction of which has proved a success and has altered people’s attitudes – with an almost 90% fall in the usage of such bags, and the money raised going to charity.
It is anomalous that that the Welsh government is the only elected body in the UK at any level that does not have the ability to borrow. This needs to be addressed, and is especially important given the 41% real term cuts on capital spending that the Coalition government at Westminster is inflicting on the Welsh government in Cardiff Bay.
The Barnett Formula has served Wales well for many years, but is now under-funded to the tune of £300m because the formula is population-based rather than needs-based. This need to be addressed urgently and intergovernmental talks are ongoing.
Coalition Ministers seem far more interested on constitutional matters than on addressing the real issues facing families in Wales, with the high cost of living, the economy in recession, and high unemployment. Jobs and growth are top priorities for Wales, with latest unemployment figures now standing at 9%; and an increase of 2,000 more people without jobs means more heartache for Welsh families.
The Secretary of State for Wales commenting on the increased unemployment said that she was “Disappointed but not surprised” and urged firms to seize the opportunies offered by rail electrification for Wales. Whilst these announcements are welcomed, it will take time for jobs to materialise. In the meantime, what seems to concern Ms Gillan more is the consultation on the electoral arrangements for the Welsh Assembly and the Commission on Devolution for Wales.
Neither of these will provide much needed work for Welsh people.