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Wales needs a fair deal

Devolving some tax and borrowing powers to Wales is to be welcomed

Westminster government approval of most of the Silk Commission recommendations on devolving some tax and borrowing powers to Wales is to be welcomed.

The greater access to borrowing that the Welsh government has, the greater its capacity to meet the needs of the people of Wales and temper the effects of the conservative coalition.

While the debate over whether the people of Scotland should opt for independence has generated interest across Britain, the issue of national rights for Wales has attracted less publicity.

Partly this is because there is no widespread demand for Welsh independence but also that England's conquest of Wales was so far-reaching as to ensure no equivalent of Scotland's indepedent legal and educational institutions.

However, well-attested attempts to eradicate the Welsh language were unsuccessful and its equal status was defended by measures passed by the Senedd, most notably by the previous Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition, based on their One Wales agreement.

Wales is the only nation in Britain where Labour has been constantly in office since the onset of devolution.

The party's position in Wales has been strengthened by a refusal to genuflect before the neoliberal fads favoured by new Labour at Westminster, which led inexorably to Labour's defeat in 2010.

Former Labour first minister Rhodri Morgan spoke tellingly of "clear red water" flowing between Welsh Labour and new Labour.

Current First Minister Carwyn Jones's minority Labour government continues in similar vein, rejecting the private-sector penetration of the NHS and imposition of academies/free schools on the state education system favoured jointly by the Tories, Liberal Democrats and new/one nation Labour.

Welsh government has suffered, as other parts of Britain have, from the savage cuts imposed by the coalition on devolved administrations.

Welsh Labour has prioritised spending on health and education, but the reduced cash flow from Westminster has had an effect, especially on grants to local government.

This throws into stark relief the reality that, while the government in Cardiff Bay depends solely on the Westminster block grant, local authorities at least have the possibility of raising council tax to fund services while some are also sitting on substantial cash reserves.

Devolved Welsh government must have additional tax-raising powers to meet people's needs and distinctive priorities.

Wales TUC general secretary Martin Mansfield is correct to identify the need for finance to invest in jobs and growth since Wales is still in transition from heavy industry, coal and steel, to a knowledge-based economy.

The Welsh government has concentrated much of its funding case on plans for an M4 corridor around Newport, but the country's rail network also cries out for investment.

Wales is the only country in Britain without a direct north-south railway line, forcing passengers travelling from one end of the country to the other to go via England.

Returning the railways in Wales to public ownership should be a priority for a government that has already agreed to buy Cardiff airport to redress years of private-sector neglect.

Westminster should have accepted Silk's recommendation that air passenger duty be devolved to Wales along with landfill tax and stamp duty revenues.

It should accept too the unfairness to Wales contained in the current Barnett formula and change it to reflect social need.

Devolution of financial powers is a democratic principle but also a lever for social justice. The Welsh government's battle for greater access to funding will continue.


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