by Henry Hill
Thursday, 3
February 2022
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08:00

Don’t bother asking Mark Drakeford for help

A data-sharing body with devolved governments is pure fantasy
by Henry Hill
Credit: Getty

Given the state the Government is in, Boris Johnson will be hoping that the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper will refocus media and public attention away from his various self-inflicted wounds and back onto what is supposed to be an exciting domestic agenda.

It is a slim hope, not least because he himself has once again poured kerosene on a fire he’s supposed to be putting out with his ill-judged remarks about Jimmy Saville.

Even setting that to one side, Michael Gove’s proposals seem unlikely to be sufficient to revive popular enthusiasm for the Conservatives.

For starters, early reports suggest that there is very little by way of new money, and the UK already spends a fraction of what nations such as Germany have spent boosting their regional economies.

In fact, some in Whitehall have described it to me as “400 pages of academic [redacted]” and that if anything it is teeing up a turf war for control over existing budgets, such as the Shared Prosperity Fund.

Yet maybe the most disappointing report so far is this, from the BBC, that the Levelling Up Secretary has written to Mark Drakeford to suggest setting up a new body to “share evidence and analyse success in devolved policy areas across the UK”.

On the face of it, this is perfectly sensible. After all, if Gove really intends to unleash a ‘devolution revolution’ in England, as the paper promises, some sort of evidence based on how our existing devolution settlement has actually worked seems like an excellent idea.

One might even suggest that gathering such evidence ought to precede concluding that a ‘devolution revolution’ is a good idea. But the notion that this should be done on a collaborative basis with the devolved administrations is nonsense. And there are few people in Government who should know this better than Gove himself.

After all, it was in response to a perfectly reasonable article which the then-Education Secretary penned for the Western Mail, contrasting school performance in England and Wales, that Cardiff Bay ministers attacked him for harbouring “indestructible colonial attitudes”.

This fit of hysterics is merely a particularly memorable example of how the devolved administrations tend to react to any effort to scrutinise their records.

As I have noted before, both the Scottish National Party and Welsh Labour have actually used their control over data-collection to make comparative analysis of things such as public sector performance across Great Britain almost impossible, opting out of standardised international metrics and deliberately collecting data on a non-comparable basis.

Good data is something a stronger Union desperately needs. But the first ministers are not going to collaborate in a programme aimed at undoing all their hard work in drawing a veil over their records.

Westminster has the authority to task the ONS to collect comparable national statistics and mandate compliance across the country, not to mention retake control of the census from the Scottish Government. That’s the ‘devolution revolution’ we really need.

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Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
6 months ago

I am in favour of encouraging Wales and Scotland to leave the UK. A referendum across the whole of the UK – Would you like Wales and Scotland to leave? – would seal it.

But if Wales and Scotland stay it should be clear that more money has to go to Northern England. At the moment, the situation gives Wales and Scotland billions of pounds and allows second-rate people to decide how it should be spent.

Either tighten up or let it go.

Last edited 6 months ago by Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

In fact, and I can’t believe I’m sayimg this, a devolved English Assembly might do the trick.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I don’t wish an extra layer of politicians on anyone but for matters “England Only” why can’t the English MPs sit as a Grand Committee similar to the Welsh Grand Committee before devolution. If I was an Englshman I would be quite pixxed off at having MPs from devolved countries having a say in “English Only” deliberations. The SNP have certainly threatened to vote against “English affairs” if it suits them.

Andrew Currie
Andrew Currie
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“if Wales and Scotland stay it should be clear that more money has to go to Northern England” – so you think that Wales and Scotland are responsible for the Barnett Formula then?
“the UK already spends a fraction of what nations such as Germany have spent boosting their regional economies” – there’s your problem right there. Westminster made it, Westminster should own it.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Currie

No. I am allowed to be subjective. The biggest advantage that Wales and Scotland have is low population. The North of England, where I have spent a lot of my life, is clearly desperately poor as an entirety.
On a per capita basis, the way the Barnett formula works, the effect in a particular community varies depending on population density. Either this was not seen when the formula was set up or, more likely, was seen in a reverse way.
If you get in a car and tour Wales and Scotland and Northern England you will see the difference. The North has been devastated. Politicians in Wales have for ever been jealous that Scotland gets more than Wales with the Barnett formula. They should actually visit these places and see for themselves. They would have a shock.
Remember that Yorkshire has the same population as Scotland.

Last edited 6 months ago by Chris Wheatley
Andrew Currie
Andrew Currie
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I don’t in fact disagree with the points you are making, I am rather suggesting that you should place the blame for the current situation fairly and squarely where it lies. There is an implication in this article, and every other one written by the same author, that Wales and Scotland are in the position that they are because they somehow demanded money with menaces. The fact that the Barnett formula was the Treasury’s baby seems to have escaped him. This approach leads to bad feeling being targeted against Wales and Scotland, rather than against the institution that implemented it (and has retained it for over 40 years).
The Barnett formula is clearly flawed and should be scrapped. Using areas along the lines of the old European Objective One regions etc, would be a more balanced way of “levelling up”, across all the parts of the UK that needed it, within England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Westminster government has for decades, if not centuries, allowed the UK to become one of the most regionally unequal states in Europe. That’s where any anger at unfair treatment of the poorer parts of England should be directed, not at Drakeford and Sturgeon.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Currie

Yes, OK. But on this site I try not to blame but to suggest improvements. I live in Wales and believe that independence is the only solution. The Barnett Formula gives excuses for politicians and I agree that it should be scrapped.
I was born in N England and spent a lot of time in Rotherham. I wouldn’t like to live there now.

Andrew Currie
Andrew Currie
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

It is difficult to see how independence for Wales would benefit the north of England, unless the suggestion is that money currently spent in Wales would be spent there instead. However, this would no doubt just give the excuses you mention to a different set of politicians, and make tomorrow’s north of England like today’s Wales. If independence really is the only solution for Wales, then, in principle, it should be the only solution for the north of England also, as suggested by this organisation: https://www.freethenorth.co.uk/

R Wright
R Wright
6 months ago

Devolution was, somehow, Blair’s biggest failure.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
6 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Not as big a failure as going to war with Iraq. But I understand what you are saying.

R Wright
R Wright
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I believe Iraq will be forgotten about in a few decades, like Sudan, Ashante or Murmansk. Devolution has already done more damage to this country’s fabric than the Jacobite rising.

Andrea X
Andrea X
6 months ago

Very likely Surgeon would spit in his face and kick him where it hurts most, however, if there are the means to have harmonised data collected, why is it not being done? It sounds like an obvious thing to do. The moaning devolved assemblies can still have their propaganda data.

Last edited 6 months ago by Andrea X
Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
6 months ago

Drakeford made a series of extraordinary allegations against the English government in response to the decision not to go into a further lockdown after Christmas: reckless with the lives of the citizens etc. etc. Of course, now that it is apparent that it was the correct judgment, there has been no acknowledgement of error, leave alone apology. And Sturgeon is no better.

Heather Scammell
Heather Scammell
6 months ago

The Welsh Government does not do scrutiny; opposing voices are stifled and bodies which are supposed to perform this vital function are ‘reconfigured’ and packed with their own sycophants to ensure the desired outcome. We have plenty of carefully drafted ‘consultations ‘ but I have yet to take part in one which actually changes the predetermined course of action. But people still tell me I should be pleased to have a ‘safe pair of hands’ in charge unlike in England. At least there is the opportunity to change the regime in Westminster, the voting system in Wales is heavily skewed to favour the Labour heartlands, so that is where resources are concentrated at the cost of swathes of rural areas, although a few sweeteners are thrown to Plaid Cymru to keep them on board. The creation of a dependency culture where votes count ensures that Labour will continue on their trajectory for the foreseeable future.