Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Public service blogging

Consensus politics lives, up to a point. Labour, Plaid Cymru and SNP politicians emerged from today's Joint Ministerial Committee at Westminster to declare unity on the issue of the day - public spending.

Their cause - endorsed by the arrival of Gordon Brown towards the end of the meeting - was the need to keep spending high until the recession is over, a policy that isolates the Conservatives.

There were limits to the consensus. The Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition that runs the Welsh Assembly Government want an advance on their budget for 2011/2012 so they can carry on spending next April for the 2010/2011 financial year.

Will they get it? Welsh Secretary Peter Hain pointed out that "you can't keep bringing forward capital spending because it's within a fixed envelope over a period of years" although UK Ministers will consider the request. Ministers hope that economic recovery will be underway before next April, removing the need for a continued fiscal stimulus.

Plaid were also happy to get agreement for Ministers and officials to consider independent arbitration in deciding levels of public spending in Wales. At the moment the Treasury decides how the Barnett formula works and whether Wales gets a slice of extra spending in England, e.g. on the London Olympics.

Peter Hain offered limited hope to his nationalist partners/foes: "You cannot in the end settle issues of spending and finance and the distribution in our case between England and Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland by some independent court. You need to find a way of resolving disputes but in the end it'll come down to politics and what the public support and don't support."

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