Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard talks Welsh economy

Here's a "good news" economic story. Well, up to a point.

On one measure, the Welsh economy outperformed that of two neighbouring countries in two successive recent years. "The good news in terms of Wales," said UK government spokesman Lord Newby, "is that in 2010 and 2011 GVA (gross value added) grew faster per head than in either England or Scotland, so there is a bit of progress.

Lord Newby wears many hats. He is captain of the Yeoman of the Guard (the sort of job you might think had died out with Gilbert and Sullivan). He is also deputy government chief whip and Lib Dem chief whip in the House of Lords.

But as a government spokesman in the Lords he acknowledged the great disparity between GVA per head in the richest parts of London and some of the poorest parts of Wales. Former Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley had asked him: "Are you aware of the figures for the inner London west area that show a GVA per head of over £111,000 compared with a figure of £11,000 or £12,000 for Anglesey, the Gwent Valleys, the Wirral and Durham?

"Is this not a gross disparity and should the government not give much greater priority to overcoming this?"

Lord Newby pointed out that economic development is a devolved responsibility in Wales (where Plaid Cymru held the portfolio between 2007 and 2011). He said Welsh Secretary David Jones is working very closely with Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones (no relation) at "a raft of specific measures", among them possible new borrowing powers for Wales or the business case for electrification of the north Wales railway.

Whenever two or three peers are gathered together to discuss the Welsh economy, by tradition one of them raises the Barnett formula (which links changes in spending in English departments to comparable areas in Wales).

Yesterday it was Lord Elystan-Morgan's turn to call for change: "My lords, would the minister not agree that, given the parlous condition of the Welsh economy, there would seem to be an unanswerable case for a reappraisal of the Barnett formula in the light of its incapacity to serve the acute needs of the land and nation of Wales?"

Lord Newby told him: "The government are not planning to change the Barnett formula during the course of this Parliament".

That was the inevitable cue for Lord Barnett to rise: "My lords, the Barnett formula, which, sadly, bears my name, should have been changed a long time ago, as a powerful select committee of this house, chaired by Lord Richard, and many other senior members of the House have recommended.

"When is that recommendation going to be put into effect by the government."

Lord Newby: "Not during the course of this parliament, my lords."

You can read the full exchanges here.