6 September 2011

In this post I am briefly looking at two related devolutionary issues: the constitutional and financial arrangements of the UK. PESA is the annual Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses by the Treasury.

PESA 2010-2011
The PESA figures for 2010/2011 (tables 9.2 and 9.4) are a catastrophe for the present financial (and constitutional) arrangements of the UK. They show that the latest percapita identified public spending for the four countries of the UK in £:
Northern Ireland 10 706
Scotland 10 212
Wales 9829
England 8588

As an index the figures are Northern Ireland 121, Scotland 115, Wales 111, England 97, UK 100.

Although there are regional figures there are no separate ones for Cornwall.

This imbalance is the result of the discredited 1978 Barnett formula which redistributes tax money on the basis of population not need. The differences above have continued over many years.

The main publically noted contrast is between England and Scotland though there are Barnett distributive effects in Wales and Northern Ireland.

People in England, including Cornwall, are increasingly aware that through the Barnett formula Scotland gets more UK identified public spending per head than England and is enabled to provide a range of free public services that charge in England. For example, prescriptions are free in Scotland but each item on a prescription costs the patient in England £7.40 (though there are exemptions); and compare tuition fees at the university at Falmouth which are to be £9000 a year, and no tuition fees at a Scottish university for a resident of Scotland. The financial differences are there in everyday life.

There is an England again
As for constitutional devolution, the debate for some years has been dominated by the issue of Scottish independence. While the Scottish nationalists prepare for a referendum on independence in a couple of years’ time, slowly, very slowly but discernibly, people in England are now questioning whether the present devolutionary (and financial) arrangements benefit England and are just. People in England are beginning to think positively about issues like English devolution, English-only votes on English-only matters in the Commons, an English parliament, and even independence from the UK. If, as seems possible, Scotland chooses independence outside the UK, the total effect on the other three countries of the UK is difficult to forecast. Parliament at Westminster would become in effect an English parliament with a handful of MPs from Wales and Northern Ireland but that assumes Wales and Northern Ireland choose to remain in the UK on the present terms.

Anyway, after years of manufactured invisibility there is an England again.

Putting aside Scottish independence and the consequent permutations for the remnant countries, the Barnett distribution and Labour’s asymmetrical devolution, which left England out in the cold, look set to be the end of the UK if the main parties continue to turn away from the England question – the twins of the financial and constitutional issues. This double issue won’t go away.

For Cornish nationalists too all this brings difficulties. There are two central weaknesses in claims for Cornish devolution.

First, exactly what status for Cornwall do nationalists want? I think they are seriously divided: independent British country outside the UK, independent country in the UK, semi-independent part of England, souped up county, an assembly, a parliament? How do they envisage the UK: separate countries, a federal UK with federal and independent institutions, pretty much the present set up with England and Cornwall joining the other three or two, a republic, still a monarchy …? It’s time the nationalists set out their status vision clearly.

Second, the economy and finance. Who will pay for an autonomous Cornwall? That depends to an extent on the shape of desired Cornish constitutional devolution. No one seriously believes Cornwall can live only on the money it could raise; the devolution schemes produced so far certainly do not suggest a financially self-sufficient Cornwall but rather one dependent on others’ largess. A Barnett formula solution? Really? A Guernsey-style offshore model? Really? I don’t think either is now politically practical. This is a pressing question for nationalists: how would Cornwall be financed?

So, Cornish nationalists should be crystal clear what it is they seek in terms of constitutional status and accompanying financial arrangements. The questions are simple: What constitutional status for Cornwall? Who pays?

Earlier posts
Hokey kokey devolution 14 December 2009

How should Cornwall be governed? 24 October 2009

Don’t mention the formula 1 June 2009

Cornwall pays 5 January 2009

Barnett formula to go 25 May 2008

External sites
Letter from the City of London 3 March 2009 to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Barnett formula

Memorandum by CEBR March 2009 (Centre for economic and business research) to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Barnett formula

Unequal shares: the definitive guide to the Barnett formula 2008

Yougov poll August 2011, page 12 of the poll