Forgot to mention the late fringe meeting, arranged by Positif Politics in my conference round-up. Speaker was Gerry Holtham, who has a nicely relaxed manner, as well as being expert on how Treasury funding is allocated to the devolved nations and the English regions. There were so many questions I'd like to have asked. Got in just one. Top table was too big for a fringe meeting. It should never be more than two, or the audience has little chance to engage.
I've blogged on this issue before - after reading reports of Gerry Holtham's appearance at the Plaid Cymru Conference a few weeks ago. Won't go through the figures again - except to note that Treasury subventions to Wales are a bit on the low side, to Northern Ireland are a bit on the high side, and massively, humongously generous to Scotland - when compared with what it would be if it was all based on the same 'needs' distribution formula that the Treasury already uses in England. The figures also make it clear that England as a whole is underfunded - though its not clear by how much.
The obvious way to sort the problem out is a simple redistribution of the money. But the hit on Scotland would be too great, and could lead to the happy Scots going their own way. I would not like to see that - but I do wish the SNP wouldn't whinge so much. They've got a very good deal indeed. Gerry Holtham's answer to this (actually, I'm being a bit previous here, because its not yet a finalised report) is to transfer some tax raising powers to Wales. This is what has been proposed for Scotland by the Calman Commission, so its more a 'natural progression' rather than 'new thinking'.
What bothers me here is that the imbalanced funding is there now, and it will take years to agree on a satisfactory way of transferring the tax raising powers - if ever. It also seems to me a hugely complex solution (tax raising powers) to what is a simple problem (unbalanced devolved budgets). But it will serve one purpose. Gerry Holtham has taken away Plaid Cymru's 'victim suit' by his calculation about current expenditure patterns, but has given them a new 'cause' which could go on for years - and which no-one would understand. A win-win position for them. There is one good argument for tax raising powers though. It would increase accountability. It would consign the begging bowl to the recycling bin for ever.