I've never received an invite to a Plaid Cymru conference. Never thought I'd have wanted one - but I missed a damn good session today, according to Tom Bodden of the Daily Post. The subject under discussion was the Barnett Formula - that's the mechanism by which the block of money that passes from the Treasury to the National Assembly for Wales is calculated. The interesting stuff came from Mr Gerry Holtham, who we can all agree is a seriously big noise. He's currently reviewing how the Barnett Formula works, from a Welsh perspective.
Lets begin with the figures, and compare what the Treasury doles out to the nations that make up the United Kingdom, compared with what Mr Holtham thinks is 'fair'. For every £100 that the Treasury spends in England, it should spend £114 in Wales, £121 in Northern Ireland, and £105 in Scotland to be 'fair'. What it actually spends is £112 in Wales, £125 in Northern Ireland and £120 in Scotland. So Scotland is massively over subsidised, Northern Ireland is moderately over subsidised, and Wales is slightly underfunded. Mr Holtham's view is that the Treasury will consider this 2% to be 'within the margin of error', and dependent on how the figures are calculated. I can imagine the sputtering in the Conference Hall as this basinful of reality pudding was poured over the audience. But worse was to came - according to Tom's blog.
The next issue was the completely 'bonkers' plan to raise the higher rates of tax in Wales to pay for extra services. Anyone with any knowledge of economics would know this idea does not stand up to a minute's serious scrutiny. Mr Holtham informed the assembled Plaid Cymru members that any rise in the higher rate of income tax would simply drive taxpayers over the border, and any significant rise would lead to a serious drop in revenue. The only way to raise revenue would be by increasing tax on standard rate payers. Now that doesn't sound much of a vote winner to me. I wonder what effect this information (coming from someone that Plaid are in thrall to) had on conference goers. A wheelbarrow load of reality pudding I'd say.
And then there's the old chestnut. Lets charge the English for our water. "They'll knock it off the block grant" said Mr Holtham. By now there must have been a lorryload of reality pudding being tipped up outside the Hall entrance. By all accounts, Mr Gerry Holtham is a personable fellow, but I'd bet Plaid Cymru are sorry they invited him along to lay waste their dreams. Or at least sorry they let sharp media types like Tom Bodden inside to listen.