UK government to miss its deadline on Assembly powers

Labour MPs have taken to calling it "Springwatch" - the wait for the UK government to give its response to a report that suggested the Welsh government be given the power to vary some tax rates in Wales.

The deputy prime minister told us in January that the UK government aimed to respond to the Silk commission report "by spring this year". He was echoing an announcement made in last year's autumn statement. Welsh Secretary David Jones confirmed the deadline as recently as last month.

With the summer solstice this Friday, the clock is ticking, and ministers have admitted that for them spring is delayed. David Jones told me: "We had hoped to deliver our formal response to Silk and as you rightly say that ends in a couple of days' time. We will not in fact be able to complete that schedule.

"However, we will be issuing a response very shortly. We've made extremely good progress in considering all the Silk recommendations and we have our responses prepared again to most of those recommendations. There are one or two matters however that require further discussion within Treasury and within government as a whole so although we will not be delivering it this spring we will certainly be delivering it in the reasonably near future."

So why the delay?

"Of course it relates to fiscal matters that affect not just Wales but also have an impact across the UK as a whole and it's a question of balance within the UK. Those discussions about the proposals are detailed and they are wide-ranging so they have taken longer than we'd hoped but we will certainly hope to be able to issue our response in the very near future."

"The very near future" would appear to rule out the response being given by the chancellor in next week's spending review. George Osborne will set out the Welsh government's overall budget for 2015-16 and ministers at both ends of the M4 hope he will also set out ways in which plans to ease congestion on that motorway can be funded - a scheme that may involve the Welsh government being able to borrow money to pay for it, which strays into Silk territory.

UPDATE: Mr Jones's Labour shadow, Owen Smith, has given his response:

"David Jones has repeatedly promised to deliver borrowing powers to Wales by the Spring, which he generously extended to June 21. Now we learn that the government's response to the Silk commission has been delayed indefinitely and the gaping hole in Wales' capital budget still isn't being addressed by giving Wales the power to borrow to invest.

"It is hard to know if this is simply incompetence or whether our secretary of state's antipathy toward devolution is blocking the borrowing powers. Either way, it is Wales and the Welsh people that are losing out as David Jones continues to deny the Welsh government the tools they need to kick-start the Welsh economy that is being failed by the Tory-led coalition.

"What on earth is David Jones doing? Responding to the Silk commission is the most pressing issue he's had to deal with since taking office. It's been sitting in his inbox for over seven months without resolution, and it's no wonder that with this secretary of state, even his own backbenchers are questioning his role and the future of the Wales Office."

That would appear to be a response to a report from Tory MP Dominic Raab in which he suggested merging the Wales Office and other territorial departments into the (English) Department for Communities and Local Government.