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Unformatted text preview: itical mandates, with devolved administrations looking to their
own electorates who may behave differently in UK and devolved elections. A further complication arises from
proportional representation to the devolved bodies, together with coalition government which is a likely consequence. In
Scotland and Wales, this has facilitated a revival of the respective Conservative Parties, making UK commitments to roll
back devolution highly problematic for a UK Conservative leader.
What is obviously lacking is institutional machinery within which intergovernmental relations can be conducted. The
devolved Executives are remote from the UK level of decision-making, relying both on internal party links and on the
operation of the Scotland and Wales Offices, whose heads at present retain UK Cabinet Minister status. There is no
clarity as yet as to how this machinery might develop.
For example, the aborted devolution plans of the 1970s produced an Expenditure Needs Assessment conducted by an
interdepartmental committee chaired by the Treasury (1979). This work provided the context within which the Barnett
formula was adopted. Although nothing has ever been published, the Treasury has periodically updated its assessments
of the relative needs of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Understandably, the devolved Executives do not trust
either the Treasury’s ownership of public expenditure data or the potential uses to which such calculations might be put.
Such concerns will have been magnified by the Deputy Prime Minister’s promise during the 2001 General Election
campaign that there would be ‘blood on the carpet’ about the Barnett formula (Hetherington, 2001).
Given this context of suspicion and of poor data, only a body independent of the UK Treasury would command consent
in the context of any future needs assessment. There is presently a remarkable amount of confusion about even basic
facts, stemming in part from an apparent failure to understand the difference between relative and absolute changes.
The Barnett formula is characterized in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as a means of depriving them of equal
percentage increases to those in England, whilst in England it is synonymous with feather-bedding of the territories.
Territorial politicians and media work themselves up into a lather, sometimes about things which are unimportant or
irrelevant. To what extent this is playing political games, and to what extent there is genuine ignorance, is sometimes
difficult to assess.
What the United Kingdom will need is some kind of forum for minimizing areas of conflict over factual matters, and a
mechanism for resolving disputes. Different federations deal with this matter in various ways: for example, the Australian
Grants Commission plays an important role in the operation of fiscal equalization among the states, and the Supreme
Court has regularly been involved in taxation disputes. In Germany, the Fiscal Equalization Law is currently under
revision after the Federal Constitutional Court deemed certain a...
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