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Holding your breath

Betsan Powys | 13:15 UK time, Thursday, 26 November 2009

So what has Peter Hain announced this morning?

If you're in his shoes, the answer is "a major breakthrough for Wales".

If you're in Adam Price MP's, it's "a betrayal of the people of Wales".

What is 'it'? It's the UK Government's response to this man's report. Gerry Holtham chaired an independent commission that looked at the way Wales is funded. It concluded that by the end of the next decade, without reform, Wales could have lost out by more than £8 billion pounds - the equivalent to £2,900 per Welsh resident - due to the formula being used at the moment to work out how much public money comes to Wales - the Barnett Formula.

The Holtham Commission report also said there should be an immediate "funding floor", so that Wales doesn't slip any further behind, ahead of the whole system being fundamentally reformed.

That was the wish-list. What's been delivered?

Mr Hain is clear that the Barnett formula so far has delivered a fair deal for Wales but that if in future it does, then he's got a commitment from the Chancellor Alastair Darling - for the first time as he points out - that "the UK Government will take action if Wales becomes disproportionately disadvantaged by the Barnett Formula".

What does that commitment amount to?

It's not Gerry Holtham's "floor" - the interim measure whereby the Treasury would amend the Barnett formula to effectively freeze funding at the current level.

There is no specific floor in this commitment and it's not clear either to what extent a future Conservative chancellor, should there be one any time soon, would be bound by Mr Darling's Welsh deal.

Gerry Holtham isn't talking major breakthroughs but neither is he talking betrayal. He's welcomed the promise "to take steps to ensure that Wales is not 'disproportionately disadvantaged' in the future". He is clearly on side.

Then comes the qualifier: "Evidently there is work to be done to make the pledges operational, and also to consider the other recommendations that are not covered by the UK Government's statement".

So what of those who see in Mr Hain's statement a betrayal?

They hone in on one word in the key statement and cry foul: "if Wales becomes disproportionately disadvantaged by the Barnett Formula". If? It already is disproportionately disadvantaged, they argue. That's exactly what the Holtham Commission concluded after all and the UK Government don't seem to be saying he's wrong.

No ifs. No buts says Adam Price.

"They recognise implicitly that Wales is 'disadvantaged' by the Barnett Formula, as it has been for decades and for which we are acutely suffering, but will only step in once Wales is 'disproportionately disadvantaged', whatever that means. Quite simply, this is a betrayal of the people of Wales and, in every area of Wales, people will now know that Labour has simply let them down".

I doubt somehow whether you were waiting for a cheque for £2,900 to land on your mat - or even appear in your account in instalments. IF you were by any chance, now's the time to stop holding your breath and start wondering just what the Conservatives would do about reforming the Barnett Formula.


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