Wednesday, March 05, 2008

At long last....

Just when you thought that the Brown Government was going to do absolutely nothing to address the English Question...up pops today's Telegraph with the revelation that that Prime Minister has ordered a review of the infamous Barnett Formula.

The figures on how the formula awards Scotland an extra £1,500 per head in public spending per year speak for themselves, but a good practical example of how this operates was recently uncovered by the Newcastle Journal which revealed that the £16bn Crossrail project would automatically mean an additional £1.6bn for Scotland - irrespective of whether it needed it.

I have to confess I had given up hope of anything being done about it this side of the general election. In a Journal Column last November, I argued that Labour's real opportunity to reform the formula came in 1999/2000 when the party was riding high politically and public expenditure as a whole was rising so sharply that the adjustment could effectively have been concealed. Now, the politics of the situation have changed utterly, with the SNP now very much in the ascendant, while public spending is no longer rising anything like as fast.

I can only imagine that Mr Brown has either become convinced that the formula is wrong in principle - a view that would be hard to reconcile with his treatment of the issue while at the Treasury - or that he has concluded that the rising level of English discontent over the issue outweighs the obvious political risks from north of the border.

March 6 update: There appears to be some doubt over whether the Telegraph story is actually true, but if so I wouldn't blame the newspaper for that. The Government has been speaking with a forked tongue over this issue for at least a decade. My hunch, for what it's worth, is that while there may be no changes planned to the BF as yet, something is rumbling in the Whitehall undergrowth.

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4 comments:

John Adams said...

There's this story as well in the Times - http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article3486816.ece.

It dismisses the Telegraph report, but not categorically. It also has the interesting extra info that it's a paper to Wendy Alexander's Commission, which i think means that it'll be a key player and reform might have as much to do with Scottish politics as anything happening in England.

Sadly the Barnett formula has a tendancy to outlast all criticisms, but I also sense that this time there might be movement.

Alfie said...

Hmmm, interesting use of 'principle' and 'Gordon Brown' within one sentence.....(nice bit of creative writing there, Paul)

Personally, I believe it was always going to happen once the SNP got into power. Brown, if nothing else is a very vindictive man.

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Addressing the Barnett, even if he's serious, doesn't resolve the West Lothian, Paul.

lettersfromatory said...

Come off it, Paul. He has announced a 'review', which will take years to report and conclude that minor changes may need to be made at some point in the future, at which point the Government will set up a taskforce of some description to 'investigate the matter further' at which point Labour will have been kicked out of power.

Brown is trying to tap into the voters' psyche and failing miserably. You cannot wait until Year 11 of being at the top of the Labour Party to suddenly realise that something is wrong.