Henry Hill is a Conservative and Unionist activist and writer.
Jones attacks Cameron and Clegg ‘St David’s Day Agreement’
Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, has denounced as inadequate Coalition proposals for a Welsh settlement designed to clear the way for the devolution of income tax.
In a letter to Stephen Crabb, the Welsh Secretary, he criticised the latter for failing to take “a strong position in promoting Wales’ interests” and claimed that the deal fell “far short” of what was needed.
He also refused to endorse an income tax referendum until the Prime Minister’s proposal for a Welsh “funding floor” had been clarified, alleging that Westminster might actually use the reorganisation to strip Cardiff of some of its responsibilities.
The First Minister concluded that the process behind the agreement had been “slow to start, ad hoc and poorly prepared”, and complained that Wales was not being given the same “respect” – i.e. powers” that Scotland is.
This is a common refrain amongst Welsh devolutionaries, despite the very different attitudes of the Welsh and Scottish people towards constitutional issues and devolution’s supposed role in allowing the home nations to be more distinct.
Crabb, whose position has recently been examined on this site by Paul Goodman, warned Cardiff that the momentum behind income tax devolution – a subject on which polling suggests the Welsh public are ambivalent – might be lost if the Welsh executive failed to engage positively with the Government’s proposals.
He further claimed that said proposals met the demands that Jones and Jane Hutt, the Welsh finance minister, had lain down for implementing a referendum on the income tax plan.
Brown calls for the nationalisation of the North Sea
Gordon Brown has called for the part-nationalisation of North Sea oil fields which face financial difficulties.
With the price of crude slumping from $110 to $48 a barrel in recent years, oil firms are wary of continuing to invest in the area, and some fields reportedly face mothballing.
Brown argues that the Government should create a fund to maintain essential infrastructure and support companies who wished to continue operating in uncommercial fields, and would help to address challenges to the industry which were “structural” rather than “cyclical”.
Intervention would also help to prevent job losses and provide a source of highly skilled industrial employment to a Scottish economy where traditional manufacturing continues to decline.
The intention behind outright nationalisation would be to ensure that, if a field did need to go out of operation, the infrastructure was in place to return to the field if it became viable at a future date without facing fresh capital costs.
Stewart Hosie, the SNP’s deputy leader, denounced the former Prime Minister for treating Scotland as an “oil cash cow” whilst he was Chancellor, including the setting and then doubling of a supplementary tax on the North Sea oil industry.
He called on Brown to endorse the nationalist plan for the area, which centres upon cuts to production taxes and a series of government incentives to reward new exploration.
Brown also reportedly took the opportunity to call once again for “a modern equivalent of Scottish home rule within the UK”.
The phrase – a favourite of his – is unhelpfully imprecise given that, as Ruth Davidson has pointed out, after the current tranche of new powers Holyrood will already be one of the most powerful non-sovereign legislatures on earth.
NI government prepares for the bite of austerity
After years of stonewalling and intense pressure from London, the Northern Ireland Executive is at last bracing itself for some painful adaptations to the current state of public finances.
The Financial Times reports that Peter Robinson, the First Minister, has announced a reorganisation of the Executive which will cut the number of government departments from twelve to nine, at the cost of around 20,000 public sector jobs.
Local trades unions have already organised a one-day strike to protest the changes, which are being enacted late after a years-long standoff over the Coalition’s welfare reforms left the Executive incapable of enacting reforms.
Financial penalties imposed by the Treasury during that time totalled some £200m, and despite adopting a tough negotiating position the Ulster parties were unable to force London into refunding them as part of the Stormont House Agreement which ended the deadlock.
However, the UK government did agree to a ten-year financial package to cushion the worst of the blow to a province whose economy is more dependent on the public sector than anywhere else in the British Isles: no less than 70 per cent of Northern Ireland’s GDP is generated thereby.
Nonetheless Northern Ireland’s 2015-16 budget will be the toughest passed since the restoration of devolution in 1998 – and due to the delay, it falls just one year before 2016’s Stormont elections.