Silk: Prix fixe or a la carte?


It's @TobyMasonBBC here, keeping the blog warm for a few weeks until a new political editor is appointed.

I'm sure Betsan would have very much liked to have signed off as political editor by bringing you news about which taxes Wales will get control over in future, following last year's landmark report from the Silk Commission, paving the way for a major shift in the way Welsh politics and policy operates.

But despite variations on a theme of "in the Spring" "soon" "shortly" "before the summer" "very soon" and even "imminently" from the UK Government since its publication in late November last year - her move to pastures new came before we found out how many of the Silk proposals will be made into reality.

Paul Silk Paul Silk

You can recap on the details here. The question is how a report from a cross party Commission that was set up by the UK Government and welcomed by all sides, which produced a report which was unanimously supported by all Commission members, and then unanimously backed by all four parties in the Assembly, is still in limbo.

The answer may well be that while Cardiff Bay sees Paul Silk's recommendations as a kind of prix fixe menu, the UK Government has been treating it as much more of an a la carte - hence - possibly - the delay.

The Commission chairman is certainly more of a table d'hote diner on this. Here's what Mr Silk told my colleague Carl Roberts on yesterday's Sunday Politics programme: "When we look at what the response is, I hope, because we produced our report as a package, we would like it all to be accepted as a package.

"It may be that there are one or two elements of it where there are good reasons why the UK Government might not want to go along with them - and if they explain those reasons well I don't think I will be so disappointed."

"We don't necessarily recommend that everything we recommend to be taken hook, line and sinker. But we came up with a package that we thought hung together very well and we would clearly like to see the whole of that package accepted."

He added that if many of the recommendations were not implemented, then this would be a "disappointment" to the Commission.

Disappointment will be a mild word to described the response from Welsh Ministers if, when the UK Government finally publishes its report, they get the crumbs from the table rather than the full three courses.

Carwyn Jones' line throughout the Silk process has never wavered. He will only accept new financial powers if they are clearly in Wales' interest.

What's wrong with that, you might ask?

Well it's might be popular with the Welsh public, but equally it's going to ring some alarm bells in Whitehall - never keen on giving power away at the best of times, the impression of a devolved administration effectively pulling a fast one to cream off "useful" taxes and nabbing borrowing powers while shunning unpopular ones has surely introduced yet another layer of caution into their decisions.

And that's what goes to the nub of all this. A case can be made, as Silk and his fellow commissioners did, for devolving some individual taxes on the grounds of economic benefit, accountability, policy development, or even more effective administration.

But does there come a point at which devolving policy levers in the form of specific tax powers instead turns into handing one part of the UK what could be seen as an unfair competitive advantage over another?

This is why the suggestions - and they're only suggestions - coming out of Westminster is that Air Passenger Duty on long haul flights won't be transferred to Cardiff. Stamp duty is one that's in the balance also apparently. Both transport and housing are devolved, and on issues like building regulations and buying Cardiff Airport, for example, the Welsh Government's carving out a very different approach from England.

So you can see why Bristol Airport, and others near the Welsh border, haven't been exactly enthusiastic about Cardiff getting another potential advantage via the devolution of APD and have probably made that very clear to both the Treasury, the Department for Transport and the Wales Office.

We'll have to wait and see what the final outcome is. When might it come? Speaking earlier today, Secretary of State David Jones said the response would come "in the very near future" adding he was "not able to give you a precise date but it is very close indeed now."

Watch this very well-watched space.

Betsan Powys, Political editor, Wales Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    ... I've never found taxation complex Lyn, although the amount and frequency is a burden.

    If Westminster does not reduce the block grant by an amount that equates to a devolved tax, allowing WAG to set and collect the devolved tax, it becomes unfair upon the remainder of taxpayers living elsewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    oh dear oh dear. Time foir another lesson. Listen carefully. George has huge debts but has huge tax revenue and a good credit rating (at the moment) and so the markets lend George pocket money. Carwyn has a very greedy public sector to feed, has a tiny potetntial tax base, no credit rating and zero chance of borrowing much at all. Simples surely? Not sure Silk gets it though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    #19 Taxation might not be complex enough for you now, John, but see what devolved powers may bring. Mainly a bonanza for lawyers as crooks exploit anomalies. Businesses will set up both sides of the border, and ensure profits and costs appear wherever most favourable HMRC will challenge occasionally. Wales as the Channel Islands for Amazon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    7 woodsey - it appears that you are wrong in just about every statement you make. I am not a staunch unionist. However unlike you I am not blind to the failings that devolution has brought to Wales.

    My point about AM,s salaries/expenses remains. They are excessive compared to those of an MP. I regret that you have taken "hook line and sinker" Silks report. Fish and idiots?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Toby - this line in your blog should cause concern. "We don't ...expect everything to be taken hook,line and sinker".
    Only fish and idiots take the hook line and sinker which is why PC have so readily agreed with arch devolutionist Silk.
    I am not sure that the Welsh Public want CJ or any other Welsh polititian getting their hands on tax powers. It is only the AM's and PC that want that.


Comments 5 of 27



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