Weathering the storm, and those Barnett consequentials

It's the question I get asked - and ask - more than any other: what's in it for Wales?

Today, MPs have been asking the same question of (UK) Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who was summoned to the House of Commons this morning to answer an urgent question from his Labour shadow on the disruption caused by the weather.

The question - asked several times - has been prompted by confusion over the prime minister's "money no object" pledge on the flood relief effort. If it's genuinely new public spending, will Wales get a share of the extra cash? (Jargon alert: stand by for our old friends, the Barnett consequentials).

Labour's Huw Irranca-Davies asked: ""As the secretary of state will know, if there is genuinely new money, there will be discussions about the Barnett consequentials. Are such discussions going on? If he cannot reveal a figure, will he at least confirm that the announcements over the past couple of weeks have been about new money? If so, there will be Barnett consequentials?"

Patrick McLoughlin: "Network Rail serves Wales as well, so Wales will get its share of the money that Network Rail is investing in the whole railway structure."

Clear enough? And good news for those who rely on the Cambrian coast rail line between Barmouth and Pwllheli, damaged in January but not expected to open until May.

'Agreed formulae'

But, inevitably, it's more complicated than that. Labour's Kevin Brennan tried again: "I would like to be clear about the exact figure on the cheque. I think the secretary of state announced spending of about £125 million in his statement. How much of that is actual new spending, and how much of it relates to devolved competences?

Mr McLoughlin: "You are fixated on new spending, but I do not see anything wrong, when coming to the end of the financial year, with looking at any underspending in the department and using it. If there is cause for new money, I will have discussions with the Treasury about it. Likewise, the natural consequences of any decisions taken by the government will flow through to Wales under the agreed formulae."

Caerphilly Labour MP Wayne David had a go: "Given that the secretary of state obviously has difficulties with Barnett consequentials, may I simply ask him how much extra money will be coming to Wales?"

Mr McLoughlin: "I think that that is a question for the secretary of state for Wales—[Interruption.] I do not have any problems whatever with the Barnett formula. The point that I am making about Network Rail is that it serves England and Wales."

So let's ask the Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones, helpfully passed the question by his cabinet colleague but excluded from the cabinet's flooding committee. I'll let you know when I get an answer, hopefully before I - and Parliament - disappear for the half-term break tonight.

Mr Jones's predecessor, Cheryl Gillan spoke during this morning's exchanges, leading calls for Britain to access money from the European Union's solidarity fund, which paid Britain £127m after floods in 2008.

Mrs Gillan said the fund "in exceptional circumstances can be used for regional disasters and help with clear up work and infrastructure restoration".

She asked Mr McLoughlin: "Will you work with the Welsh government and other parts of the country to make sure we unlock the maximum from this European fund during these terrible times?"

He told her: "I can re-assure you that this was a matter which was discussed last night in the COBRA meeting. The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Francis Maude) is looking at all the avenues that are available to us to collect any money that we may be able to."

UPDATE: A UK government source said: "The funding the UK government is providing to improve flood defences in England is being found from within existing departmental budgets, to which the Barnett formula has already previously been applied.

The money being provided for road repairs required following the flooding in England is being reallocated from within existing budgets.

"There will therefore be no Barnett consequential for this expenditure."