Devolution: A Decade On - Justice Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Sustrans Cymru, BMA Cymru and the NAHT Cymru


  A coalition of leading experts in the transport, health and education fields are calling on whoever forms the next Welsh Assembly Government to set up an independent inquiry into how Wales is funded.

  Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, The British Medical Association (BMA Cymru Wales) and The National Association of Headteachers (NAHT Cymru) are demanding a fresh look at the workings of the Barnett formula: the mechanism used to decide levels of public spending in Wales.

  "Too few people understand the way the Barnett formula works. We need to clear the dense funding fog to see if Wales is being well served" said Dr Tony Calland, Chair of BMA Cymru Wales. "Could the Welsh NHS be missing out on millions because the formula is out of date? We need to know".

  The organisations have joined forces to urge the next Welsh Assembly Government to set up a high-level inquiry modelled on the independent Richard Commission to examine if the `Barnett' formula is still fit for purpose.

  "Until now the debate over the Barnett formula has been party political. Our call for a transparent examination of the way Wales is funded comes from civil society. This is too important an issue to be left to politicians alone." says Lee Waters, National Director of Sustrans Cymru.

  The cross-party body would commission independent research into the way Welsh public services are funded by the Treasury and take evidence from both experts and people in all parts of Wales. The committee would be drawn from civil society and appointed by nomination from the parties and from open advertisement.

  "Arguments about the fairness or otherwise of the Barnett formula have been raging for years. It's time for all sides to sit down and examine the facts together and try to form a consensus view" said Anna Brychan, Director of NAHT Cymru. "We think that the establishment of a Richard -style Commission will help us end the claim and counter-claim nature of the debate so far" she added.


    —  Sustrans is the UK's leading sustainable transport charity. Its vision is a world in which people choose to travel in ways that benefit their health and the environment. It is achieving this through innovative but practical solutions to the UK's transport challenges.

    This year Sustrans celebrates its 30th anniversary, it was founded in Bristol on 7 July 1977. During 2007 there will be a variety of activities to mark the year, including a "Change Your World" campaign to encourage people to switch a car trip to a more sustainable method and a celebratory cycle ride and party.

    —  NAHT Cymru—The Association for All School Leaders.

    The NAHT represents more than 28,000 school leaders, including virtually every Special School head, 85% of all Primary School heads, and over 40% of all Secondary School heads in Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

    —  BMA Cymru Wales

    The British Medical Association represents doctors from all branches of medicine throughout the UK. It is a voluntary association with about 80% of practising doctors in membership. Its membership of almost 127,000 includes 12,000 medical students and nearly 4,000 members overseas.


  The funds are unfair.

  Treasury forecasts suggest tough financial times ahead for the Welsh assembly—prompting fresh questions about the way it is funded.


27 March 2007 3:59 pm

  This afternoon the Welsh first minister, Rhodri Morgan, will get to his feet in Richard Rogers' debating chamber for perhaps the last time. After today's question time assembly members will pack up their offices and head out on the campaign trail.

  Elections used to be predictable in Wales. Not any more. With an all-time low turnout expected, Labour's minority administration face an enormous challenge. A coalition of some kind in Cardiff Bay is all but assured. The question is, between who? Will the combined might of Labour and the Liberal Democrats be enough to govern? Or will there be a rainbow coalition, bringing the Conservatives into power with Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems?

  Whoever governs will find tough financial times ahead. Treasury forecasts show that year-on-year increases in the assembly's block grant during its third term will be half the current 3%, leaving very little room for manoeuvre. This will inevitably provoke fresh questions about the way Wales is funded.

  The current formula drawn up by Joel Barnett, a treasury minister in the late 1970s, is population based. Wales has roughly 6% of the UK's population and gets an uplift of about 6% when spending increases are announced for England. So an extra £100 million for the NHS, announced by Patrica Hewitt, will feed through to a boost of about £6 million to the assembly's budget for Welsh ministers to spend as they see fit.

  But is it fair? The formula doesn't take into account the fact that Welsh income levels are among the lowest in Europe. Nor does it factor in the legacy of ill health left over from heavy industry. In short, the formula takes no account of Welsh social and economic need. Indeed, experts reckon that Wales is losing out on between £300 million and £800 million a year.

  But the real point is that nobody knows.

  That's why a coalition of leading experts in the transport, health and education fields are calling on whoever forms the next Welsh assembly government to set up an independent inquiry into how Wales is funded.

  The sustainable transport charity Sustrans, the British Medical Association (BMA Cymru Wales) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT Cymru) have joined together to show that Welsh civil society is no longer content to allow a conspiracy of silence to dictate the pace of the debate.

  Too few people understand the way the Barnett Formula works. Journalists have difficulty explaining it and can't persuade their editors it's "sexy" enough. And much of the political elite don't want to rock the boat. As a result, no one is talking about it.

  The last time a "partnership government" was formed in the Welsh national assembly it set up an independent commission on the future of devolution under the former leader of the House of Lords, Ivor Richard. It commissioned research, took evidence from experts and held public meetings. And most importantly, it formed a consensus on the way ahead.

  It's time for a similar body to look into the Barnett formula. This is too important an issue to be left to politicians alone.

March 2007

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