Silk: Prix fixe or a la carte?


It's @TobyMasonBBC here, keeping the blog warm for a few weeks until a new political editor is appointed.

I'm sure Betsan would have very much liked to have signed off as political editor by bringing you news about which taxes Wales will get control over in future, following last year's landmark report from the Silk Commission, paving the way for a major shift in the way Welsh politics and policy operates.

But despite variations on a theme of "in the Spring" "soon" "shortly" "before the summer" "very soon" and even "imminently" from the UK Government since its publication in late November last year - her move to pastures new came before we found out how many of the Silk proposals will be made into reality.

Paul Silk Paul Silk

You can recap on the details here. The question is how a report from a cross party Commission that was set up by the UK Government and welcomed by all sides, which produced a report which was unanimously supported by all Commission members, and then unanimously backed by all four parties in the Assembly, is still in limbo.

The answer may well be that while Cardiff Bay sees Paul Silk's recommendations as a kind of prix fixe menu, the UK Government has been treating it as much more of an a la carte - hence - possibly - the delay.

The Commission chairman is certainly more of a table d'hote diner on this. Here's what Mr Silk told my colleague Carl Roberts on yesterday's Sunday Politics programme: "When we look at what the response is, I hope, because we produced our report as a package, we would like it all to be accepted as a package.

"It may be that there are one or two elements of it where there are good reasons why the UK Government might not want to go along with them - and if they explain those reasons well I don't think I will be so disappointed."

"We don't necessarily recommend that everything we recommend to be taken hook, line and sinker. But we came up with a package that we thought hung together very well and we would clearly like to see the whole of that package accepted."

He added that if many of the recommendations were not implemented, then this would be a "disappointment" to the Commission.

Disappointment will be a mild word to described the response from Welsh Ministers if, when the UK Government finally publishes its report, they get the crumbs from the table rather than the full three courses.

Carwyn Jones' line throughout the Silk process has never wavered. He will only accept new financial powers if they are clearly in Wales' interest.

What's wrong with that, you might ask?

Well it's might be popular with the Welsh public, but equally it's going to ring some alarm bells in Whitehall - never keen on giving power away at the best of times, the impression of a devolved administration effectively pulling a fast one to cream off "useful" taxes and nabbing borrowing powers while shunning unpopular ones has surely introduced yet another layer of caution into their decisions.

And that's what goes to the nub of all this. A case can be made, as Silk and his fellow commissioners did, for devolving some individual taxes on the grounds of economic benefit, accountability, policy development, or even more effective administration.

But does there come a point at which devolving policy levers in the form of specific tax powers instead turns into handing one part of the UK what could be seen as an unfair competitive advantage over another?

This is why the suggestions - and they're only suggestions - coming out of Westminster is that Air Passenger Duty on long haul flights won't be transferred to Cardiff. Stamp duty is one that's in the balance also apparently. Both transport and housing are devolved, and on issues like building regulations and buying Cardiff Airport, for example, the Welsh Government's carving out a very different approach from England.

So you can see why Bristol Airport, and others near the Welsh border, haven't been exactly enthusiastic about Cardiff getting another potential advantage via the devolution of APD and have probably made that very clear to both the Treasury, the Department for Transport and the Wales Office.

We'll have to wait and see what the final outcome is. When might it come? Speaking earlier today, Secretary of State David Jones said the response would come "in the very near future" adding he was "not able to give you a precise date but it is very close indeed now."

Watch this very well-watched space.

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    ... there's a UKIP tendency here in Caerphilly Boxer, at least for the regional vote, just to keep the "spend, spend, spend brigade" on their toes.

    Elsewhere in Wales there is a tendency to disbelieve the antics at the Assembly, who would deliberately cause conflict when there are three million people needing good governance ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Why, John, from the UKIP tendency in England. That has always been the problem with the DevoMax brigade. They have thought that they can start breaking up the Union, promoting the centrifugal tendency, then just stop the process when it suits them. Much like those that start wars with a clear objective. I doubt the Kaiser had a German republic as a war aim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    ... "Pressure for independence" Boxer ?

    From who, the English or Welsh, for sure the pressure won't be from the little people in Wales.


  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The other problem facing Carwyn & Co is that if tax devolution were to be madly successful, say a lowered business rate, and firms doing business mainly in England started to queue to register in Cardiff, there would be a mighty backlash. Pressure for independence rather than DevoMax would increase. Then the question that some of us have asked "Can Wales afford independence?" becomes crucial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    ... Come what may from the silk(en) purse, very soon WAG will be forced to explain to the electorate why tax varying powers have forced it to either cut services or raise taxes, the peanut taxes of Lyn will be a wake up call of what would be in store if nationalism walked Wales over the independence cliff, the abyss.

    Silk might be a friend of the Union after all is said and done .....


Comments 5 of 27


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