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Dragons, mice and lions

Betsan Powys | 10:54 UK time, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

What's the biggest story in Wales today?

Andrew Davies finally lifting the lid on the millions of pounds that make up the Strategic Capital Investment Fund?
What is SCIF? It's a big pot of money for which the Finance Minister held the key and for which the Assembly Government, in these tough economic times, now hold out much hope.

He always intended to dole out £50m this year, £100m next year and go out with a bang of £250 the year after that. But he had a cunning plan: to spend it strategically.

In other words so far, the government had failed to do that. No more. Andrew Davies and a group of experts would scrutinise each bid for a slice of capital from each department, consider it in a strategic, cross-cutting kind of way and spend the money in a way that gets the biggest bang for the Welsh buck.

Was it a bit like Dragons' Den we wondered?

Did each Minister venture into the Finance Minister's den with a trestle table, a few props strategically hidden under a black cloth to be whipped off at just the right moment to win him over? A living statue or two? A bit of rap to make their bid stand out?

And did he sit there in a black leather chair with £350m on the table next to him, fingering it thoughtfully, toying with each candidate, scoffing at their projections for efficiency savings in the year 2010-2011? "I'm out!"

Andrew Davies seemed to like that thought but no, it had been rather more prosaic than that. Ministers put their bids forward, he discussed them with his expert committee, took an overview of priorities and doled out the money to 19 projects. Business cases haven't been finalised and the details announced so far are sketchy. "£70m towards a major investment to enhance hospital services in Swansea" wouldn't get past Peter Jones and the gang. Nick Bourne and the gang point out they'd like to know more.

What are the headings? Regeneration - tick. Climate change - tick. Sustainable transport - tick. Skills - tick. Resilience? Positive lifestyles? Sounds a bit Dragons' Den to me.

And what's the upshot?

See above. The government, as far as I can see, still intend to spend £50m this year, £100m in the next and have kept back just £50 of the final tranche of £250m in case disaster strikes.

What they have done today is announce early where the money will go. That means plans can be put in train to attract matching millions from the public, private and voluntary sectors. It means the money will be spent sooner.

Or would you plump for Ieuan Wyn Jones' statement this afternoon to the Assembly on The Rail Programme and re-prioritisation of the Trunk Road programme?

A vote for the laying of the final budget? Or even Mike German's very last appearance at First Minister's Questions as Lib Dem leader? I can think of two who'd vote for that.

But how about looking further north - to Scotland and the publication of the Calman Commission's interim report?

Cautious? Yes. Read all about it here and here.

Two quick thoughts: firstly Sir Kenneth's clear conclusion that "devolution certainly is working." Make note. He means, I imagine, that devolution in Scotland is working for Scotland. It has been a success in Scotland. I wonder what he'd say about Scottish devolution viewed from England, the bit of the consitutional jigsaw you suspect is actually at the heart of this whole exercise?

And follow the money. The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, has already dismissed the Commission's report - which rules out any thoughts of handing full financial pwers to Scotland - as "a constitutional mouse". What Scotland needs, he says, are financial powers to build "a lion economy".

Prepare for battle. And bear in mind that any proposals for a needs assessment of Scottish spending levels in the future would of course be a UK wide assessment of needs.

And that means us.

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