The Barnett Formula - Select Committee on the Barnett Formula Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580 - 583)

FRIDAY 20 MARCH 2009

Dr Eurfyl ap Gwilym, Professor James Foreman-Peck and Dr Gillian Bristow

  Q580  Lord Moser: Chairman, on this slightly more marginal point, but not really on the data quality/availability: as your papers have been extremely helpful in going into a great deal of statistical detail, is there anything we should be worrying about from a Wales point of view in terms of the data you are playing with both on the actual distribution of public expenditure, what comes to Wales, the effects thereof, the tax revenues, and indeed the sort of data one might need for the sort of indicators that we are talking about? It would be helpful to know what you think we should be worrying about on data.

  Professor Foreman-Peck: It is quite difficult to work out what is going on, or I find it difficult working out what is going on. It would be nice, and I think in the public interest—

  Q581  Lord Moser: Can you expand the three words "what is going on"?

  Professor Foreman-Peck: The calculations that I have done—and I have learnt a lot from Eurfyl in doing them—are based on the Treasury public expenditure statistical analysis that comes out every year. They do not correspond exactly, and it is very hard to make them correspond exactly with devolved budgets it would be helpful if it was possible to get, in the calculations we have done, equivalents to devolved budgets in England, so that we can see how comparable expenditure goes. For example, a difficulty we have in working out why Scotland has managed to by-pass the Formula seems to be a consequence of inadequate statistical data, and that may be the reason of course.

  Lord Moser: Chairman, may I, across you, ask our expert adviser, who has made heroic attempts to solve this problem, his answer to what we have just heard, because you have tried in this table.

  Q582  Chairman: I am told by our Specialist Adviser that we have been relying principally, so far, on PESA data and on such other data as we can obtain from the Treasury, which has recently, and without publicly—recently assisted the territorial offices in Scotland and Wales Offices in including some figures back into Scotland and Wales on this annual report. It is not exactly the sort of place one would normally look to find Treasury data about public expenditure across devolved parts of the UK, which, on a snapshot basis for the specific year that they cover go a bit further, and I would hope give some clearer idea about the relationship between UK Government spending and spending by the devolved administrations. Part of our concern generally remains, that the data we want are not published yet and remain unpublished in any one place, and the Treasury so far has not disclosed the sort of data we require.

  Dr ap Gwilym: Chairman, it is interesting: recently I wanted to know what the block grant to Wales had been for each year since 1999-2000 for part of my exercise. I went to the back of the Wales Office annual reports, because they set out data for four or five years at a time. You do not have a full run of ten years, so I asked the statistical department of the civil service here, who were very helpful by the way, whether they had that time series, and they could not produce it for me; so I still do not have a time series for something as elementary as the Welsh block grant from 1999-2000 up to the current year.

  Q583  Lord Moser: That must be available. It simply must be available!

  Dr ap Gwilym: All I can report back is my failure to get that information. The civil servants have been very helpful in other areas, I must say, so I am not being critical of them, but I was unable to get that information. In terms of PESA, something as elementary—you can sound a bit of a wonk on this, but if you look at table 9.17 it shows the expenditure in Scotland, in Wales and Northern Ireland, split down in the case of Wales by the Welsh Assembly Government expenditure, UK direct expenditure in Wales, things like social protection and local authority spending—it is very helpful. It would be rather helpful if one had the equivalent numbers for England. I am not sure why we cannot. You would have data for the four countries. Part of my thesis has often been that now we have got some devolution—a little bit like in the private sector where you have inter-firm comparisons, you could start having inter-country comparisons with the UK, even more if you look at policy differences and policy outcomes over a period of five or ten years. It is complex, I know. You might say that Scotland has done rather well with that policy in that area; but that means you have a fuller set of data. In fairness to the Government, probably since 1997—though I stand to be corrected—they have produced the statement of funding policy and set out all the comparables in the back of that document. The only thing is that there I do wonder, because some of the factors are quite bizarre. One of the examples I gave you was that Wales enjoys a Barnett consequential for the money the United Kingdom Government pays towards decommissioning nuclear power stations in the Former Soviet Union. You think: "Why is Wales getting a Barnett consequential for that?" I am not wanting to turn away gifts, but there is a whole series of these, and those are more clear-cut ones. In the larger spending areas of course you are not sure. If those comparability factors are faulty—they appear to be faulty—are the other comparability factors fair and correct or not? We do not know.

  Lord Moser: It may be very helpful—maybe it will be recorded—if we could know from Wales where your particular defects of data are felt. Maybe it will be covered in the record.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for coming. It has been very helpful. Part of the fascination about this particular Committee is that it is a learning process for those of us who are on it. I have to say you have advanced the learning process very considerably this morning. Thank you very much for coming.





 
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