Devolution: where next?

So what have we learnt from the concentration of speeches and debates on the future of devolution this week?

On one level, not that much, in that most of what has been said has been the reaffirmation of long-held standpoints.

For example, we already knew that the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, was unhappy with how much money the Welsh government gets to spend every year from Westminster.

In a speech, in London, he repeated this as he attempted to take advantage of the moment to try to shape the fluid situation that has emerged after the Scottish referendum.

The question is whether anyone will listen to a country that doesn't appear to have the appetite or the finances to threaten to break away from the Union.

There are all sorts of further powers being devolved and being discussed, but there are two big ticket items which will have most impact with the public: income tax and policing.

Off radar

In other words, pay packets and law and order. For now I'm going to focus on income tax.

Proposals to partially devolve income tax is going places, and going nowhere at the same time.

Legislation paving the way for the control of some of the tax to be handed over to the assembly after a referendum is working its way through Parliament.

But Carwyn Jones doesn't want it unless, to put it bluntly, he gets more money from Westminster.

Last week, I was in Downing Street speaking to David Cameron and he gave the clear impression that extra funding for Wales wasn't even on his radar.

After I reported it, Conservatives at the Wales Office quickly phoned me after to stress that no final decision had been made and it was being looked at by the cabinet committee chaired by William Hague.

Lukewarm

That suggests some kind of deal could be reached if the Tories are still in government next year, but at this stage there is no obvious sign of it.

A few years ago the economist, Gerry Holtham, wrote a report saying that Wales was under-funded, and came up with a figure of £300m.

Incidentally, he believes it's now likely to be less.

But the point is we're really not talking about a lot of money for the Treasury which has much bigger headaches, such as finding £7bn to fund David Cameron's pledge to raise the level which workers start paying 40p income tax.

That could mean it's relatively easy to find some extra money for Wales, but it also means the extra cash is not as transformational as you could be forgiven for thinking, given some of the rhetoric surrounding a better financial deal for Wales.

Carwyn Jones has been lukewarm on devolving taxes and on the prospects of winning a referendum on devolving income tax, but there was a shift in tone in the speech.

He said : "There is a good case that different parts of the UK should be able to influence the balance between levels of personal taxation and levels of funding for public services, provided they bear the cost of variation. Partial or full devolution of income tax, if underpinned by a fair overall settlement, would be one way of achieving that goal."

Given that statement, it seems that if a deal on the money can be done then Wales will be looking at a referendum on income tax.

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