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Archive for the ‘Calman commission’ Category

Now that the Welsh election and the powers referendum are behind us, thoughts are turning to what change is next for Wales.

Top of the list (for some) will be the much-anticipated ‘Calman-style process.’

Much-anticipated, that is, by  UK Government ministers ,  Conservatives and Liberal Democrat AMs but not much-anticipated by those in Labour and Plaid.

The coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Lib Dems states,

Depending on the outcome of the forthcoming referendum, we will establish a process similar to the Calman Commission for the Welsh Assembly.

It’s one of three specific promises to do with Welsh devolution in the coalition agreement, the other two being to introduce a referendum and to take forward the controversial bid for housing powers.

Back in March I said that there wasn’t much detail about what it would entail and there still isn’t. But here’s what I know:

1. It’s being driven by the UK Government.

A source close to the Welsh government told me: ‘We never asked for it, we were never consulted on it, we’ve never seen any detail about it.’

I understand though that it’ll be one of the first items on the agenda when the Secretary of State meets the First Minister shortly.

The Welsh Secretary is also due to meet the Treasury in coming weeks.

2. It will focus on ‘financial accountability’ and not funding reform.

A Labour source said ‘The important thing for us is fair funding for Wales. That’s the first stepping stone.’ Plaid figures have said much the same thing in the past.

But the wording in the UK coalition agreement is

We recognise the concerns expressed by the Holtham Commission on the system of devolution funding. However, at this time, the priority must be to reduce the deficit and therefore any change to the system must await the stabilisation of the public finances.

And nothing has changed since. Although not ruling it out, government sources are pouring cold water on the idea that reform of the Barnett formula will be included in this review.

‘There are things that can be done around Barnett,’ is what I’ve been told.

3. ‘Financial accountability’ hasn’t been defined yet.

The Calman commission is being used by the UK Government to change the way Scotland is funded, reducing its block grant and giving the Scottish government more responsibility for the tax raised in Scotland to plug the gap.

It’s not yet clear what it could mean for Wales. Gerry Holtham, who’s led an in-depth Commission into Welsh public finances has some interesting thoughts here as does Plaid’s economic adviser Eurfyl ap Gwilym.

4. It’s unlikely to consider any other devolution of powers.

The Government has said that any further transfer of power, such as criminal justice or the Crown Estates, is not a good idea so soon after a referendum which has introduced direct lawmaking power to Cardiff Bay.

5. It may not be a Commission.

Before the election, Carwyn Jones said that he felt a full Commission wasn’t needed because of the amount of work already done in this area by Gerry Holtham.

Although a decision on what form this process takes hasn’t yet been made, I gather the Wales Office feels similarly and recognises that a lot of evidence has already been gathered.

It’s also not been decided yet how long it will take.

6. No-one’s been chosen to lead it yet.

I gather possible names have been discussed informally but no more than that. Sources within Whitehall say it should be someone who understands devolution, finance and who understands Wales.

Anyone have Gerry Holtham’s number?

7. There will be a row over it.

It’s interesting that the original Calman commission was imposed on the SNP Scottish Government by Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems.

Political dividing lines on the Welsh Calman have already been drawn. Labour and Plaid (even if they’re not in government together) will portray it as an imposition particularly without  The Conservatives and the Lib Dems will see it as an opportunity for further devolution.

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There was much talk at the Welsh Liberal Democrat conference and the Conservative Spring Forum at the weekend about the ‘Calman-style process’ that the UK coalition government promised would follow a Yes vote in the powers referendum.

Now that there’s been a Yes vote, leading Westminster politicians including Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Cheryl Gillan, lined up to say that promise would be kept.

There’s very little by way of detail, but I’ll tell you what I can.

The Calman commission was set up by MSPs to look at ways of ‘improving’ the Scottish parliament’s ‘financial accountability.’ It was seen by many as a way of wrong-footing the Scottish National Party government which didn’t support the commission.

It’s not clear whether or not what will happen for Wales will be a commission or some other form of review.

The First Minister Carwyn Jones told AMs he hoped it wouldn’t be a commission because he believed the Holtham commission on funding and finance for Wales, which published reports in 2009 and 2010, has already done most of the legwork on funding.

He said he’d ‘urge the UK Government to look at Holtham as THE commission.’

The Wales Office won’t commit itself one way or another, apart from noting that a lot of evidence has already been gathered and it doesn’t want to duplicate that evidence.

What about a figurehead like Calman or Holtham to lead whatever form of inquiry or review is carried out? Names have been discussed I’m told but no decision has been made.

What about terms of reference? Too early to say – no decision has been made.

On timing I can be a little more clear. I’m told the Wales Office won’t do anything until after the Assembly election on May 5th.

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