A taxing 24 hours in the Senedd

 

It's been a busy 24 hours at the assembly.

Let's start with income tax.

Carwyn Jones used a debate on the Wales Bill, which will lead to the partial devolution of income tax, to re-affirm his opposition to the tax model on offer.

He said: "There needs to be in place a mechanism for the future devolution of income tax.

"We support that. We do not say that income tax should never be devolved, that clearly is not the case.

"But there are obstacles that need to be overcome. The lockstep is useless, it makes no sense at all."

The lockstep is the model which means that no one band can be targeted.

Instead, any changes up or down will have to be reflected in tandem across the 20% basic rate, the 40% higher rate and 45% additional rate bands.

A one pence reduction in income tax would result in a significant £200m fall in revenue for the Welsh government.

He also went on the attack against the Conservatives, accusing them of being in disagreement with each other on this issue.

The Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, has already been involved in a public disagreement with the Welsh Secretary David Jones over the use of the lockstep.

Andrew RT Davies says it's unworkable while David Jones supports it.

In what had been a routine debate, the chair of the Conservative group at the assembly, Nick Ramsay, livened things up when he said it was better for the assembly to have some element of control over income tax, even with the lockstep, than to have no powers at all.

Now we don't know exactly whether Andrew RT Davies would say it's better to have the lockstep than nothing at all, but he's been deeply critical of it and, frankly, more in tune with Carwyn Jones than David Jones on this.

It appears some within the group, like Nick Ramsay and Antoinette Sandbach, are more loyal to the Number Ten position.

Things could change.

One AM told me this morning that there is a hope that the lockstep condition in the Draft Wales Bill could be relaxed when the result of the Scottish referendum is known.

Council re-organisation also raised its head at an unlikely moment.

During First Minister's Questions, Carwyn Jones responded to attacks from Kirsty Williams on his education record by saying: "Will she support the re-organisation of local government and the strengthening of education or is the voting system more important to her than the education of our children?"

The background to this is that the first minister is attempting to generate cross-party support for proposals to halve the number of councils in Wales.

The Lib Dems are insisting on voting reform as a condition for supporting any changes, something which would never be accepted by rank and file Labour Party members.

Carwyn Jones specifically linked the under-performance of education authorities with the fact that he believes there are too many of them.

It'll be interesting whether he continues to use this strategy to try to force through council changes in future.

He also took a hard line on the pay of council chief executives, which has been used by many people to justify re-organisation.

A Wales Audit Office report has this week shown the huge variation in pay levels.

For example, the chief executive of Pembrokeshire County Council is on one of the largest financial packages of nearly £200,000, despite the council's budget being around a third of the size of Cardiff.

When he was asked about this, Carwyn Jones said: "It's inappropriate that councils are paying as they are.

"I am not angling for a pay rise, but I suspect that people will be surprised to see the chief executive of Pembrokeshire earns £65,000 a year more than the first minister of Wales.

"I think it's very difficult for them to justify.

"I think there are questions that councils have to answer in terms of the way they have paid senior officers and as a government we will give further consideration to what needs to be done in order to restore public confidence."

The big question is what exactly those confidence-restoring measures could be.

 
Nick Servini Article written by Nick Servini Nick Servini Political editor, Wales

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