Public spending in Wales goes up (sort of)

The easiest story to write in Welsh political journalism is along the lines of "Wales loses out" or "slap in the face/snub to Wales".

I should know. I've written more than my fair share of them during the 24 years I've spent covering Welsh politics at Westminster.

In politics, there is always someone with a grievance who can stake a claim to be a victim of someone else's decisions.

I tend not to get involved in debates about the Barnett formula, which decides changes in the Welsh government's budget, partly because I don't have the right anorak - and others do it better.

But in these days of what opposition politicians call "savage cuts", the Barnett formula is only part of the story of public spending, even in Wales. The latest analysis from the Treasury suggests - contrary to popular belief, perhaps - that "total identifiable expenditure on services" in Wales has actually gone up (in cash terms) under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition.

In the last year of Gordon Brown's government, the figures (which include the cost of "social protection") stood at £29.022bn, and it has been £29.621bn and £29.842bn in the years since then. In real terms, spending has fallen, although it is still higher than it was in 2008/09.

In real terms, public spending is higher than at any time under the Blair government. (Incidentally, those figures suggest the Welsh government receives and spends around half of public spending in Wales).

The latest figures equate - in real terms - to spending of £9,740 per head in Wales - more than the £8,941 in England but less than the £10,088 in Scotland. That may explain why many English MPs want to scrap a formula many Scots want to keep.

Several of today's newspapers have done the maths and concluded that the English continue to subsidise the Scots.

The Daily Mail calculates that across the UK, spending in real terms fell by £213 last year or 2.13 per cent. In Wales, the comparable fall was £204 or 2.05 per cent - in Scotland, by £117 or 1.15 per cent.

Spending in Wales and Scotland has fallen by less than in England partly because of the much-criticised Barnett formula.

When public spending rises, spending in England and Wales tends to converge. When public spending falls, the formula tends to protect Wales from the scale of the cuts in England.

Keep your eyes peeled for that "slap in the face to England" headline.