John Osmond puts the four party policies for the May election under the spotlight to discover the key fault lines
If the four party leaders find themselves contemplating coalition negotiations as the final election results come in on the afternoon of Friday 6 May, where will their red negotiating lines be?
My analysis of the four manifestos published last week has highlighted some policy differences between the parties in key areas, but not that many. Table 2 below highlights some the party positions on the key areas of the economy, education, health, the environment, student fees and rail connectivity. In all these areas the parties differ in some things, but generally it is more about the relative importance they give to issues. Generally speaking most of the suggestions offered would be acceptable in one form or another across the board. I’ve only been able to find three examples where the parties are seriously out of kilter in a fundamental way. All three have the Conservatives differing from the other parties in the following ways:
- On the economy the Conservative commitment to public private partnerships as a way of levering in more capital spending would not be countenanced by the other three parties. Instead, Labour opts for a ‘Capital Infrastructure fund, working collaboratively with other public service bodies’ as a way of tapping into local authority borrowing powers. Plaid Cymru would create Build4Wales, an arms length company it says would invest £500m over four years and create up to 50,000 jobs. The Liberal Democrats suggest establishing a jobs and growth innovation fund.
- On health the Conservatives propose re-introducing prescription charges in order to enhance funding for hospices.
- On education Welsh Conservatives want to follow England in charging full top-up student fees, up to £9,000.
In a potential Rainbow coalition negotiation would Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats allow the Conservatives to have one or other of these policies in order to strike a deal? Would the Conservatives sacrifice all three of their ‘red lines’ in order to get into government? Certainly, these would be tipping points in reaching a deal.
Which must at least partly explain why the Welsh Conservatives have been so forthcoming in the other major part of the territory of coalition negotiations in Wales – the ‘process’ areas of the funding and constitutional advance for the National Assembly. These were key to the creation of the One Wales deal between Labour and Plaid Cymru after the 2007 election. On funding the agreement was to establish the Holtham Commission on the funding and finance of the Assembly, which built the case for changing the way the Assembly’s block grant is calculated – a case now accepted by all four parties.
On the constitution the clinching deal was the agreement to hold the referendum on more powers for the Assembly, which was successfully carried through in March this year.
Would the constitution be an equally powerful deal breaker in any coalition negotiations that take place following the forthcoming election? Table 1 provides the beginnings of an answer. Again, in most of the areas there is a good deal of agreement across the parties. However, as with the policies in Table 2 there are three major variances, but here it is Labour that is out of kilter with the other parties, as follows:
- On the constitution the Labour manifesto is silent. So, for example, while both Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives raise the issue of the need to move towards a separate Welsh jurisdiction (with which I have no doubt the Liberal Demorats would concur), Labour has nothing to say. And, while Plaid, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats all suggest areas where the Assembly should add to its powers, Labour’s manifesto has no ideas of this kind.
- On taxation, Labour’s manifesto declares against, while the other three parties all have ideas of one kind or another of extending the Assembly’s powers in this critical area.
- On local government elections, Labour sticks with first-past-the post, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru opt for the Single Transferable Vote, while the Conservatives don’t have a position either way.
It might be expected that Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats would all be closer together on policy matters, it is arresting to say the least that the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats are close on constitutional change. In addition, the Conservatives have more to offer than Labour since the UK Government, which will prove critical in the delivery of any pledges in this field, is led by the Conservatives.
So, if the election results in a requirement to form a coalition – as is most likely to be the case – policies point in one direction, while issues of process around funding and constitutional change point in another. I suspect that this time it won’t be the Liberal Democrats that at the last minute pull the rug out from under the prospect of a Rainbow alternative to a Labour-led government.
The 2011 party manifestos: fiscal and constitutional priorities
|Funding||Continue to press UK Government to reform Barnett Formula to ensure fair funding for Wales.||Will seek reform of the Barnett Formula||UK should move to a fair needs-based formula for the funding of devolution.||Will campaign for a needs-based funding formula.|
|Taxation||We will not seek powers to vary income tax.||Tax powers should be devolved to Wales, including the power to lower corporation tax.||We will take forward discussions on all aspects of the Holtham reports on fair and accountable funding for Wales, including taxation.||Tax-varying powers, similar as being proposed for Scotland, will give the Welsh Government more opportunity to improve Wales and act as an incentive for economic success.|
|Constitution||Will create a Welsh legal jurisdiction so that the administration of justice is tailored to the social and economic needs of Wales.
Will press for transfer of responsibility for the police and criminal justice system.
Secretary of State for Wales should be replaced with a Secretary of State for the devolved countries.
Will seek to devolve powers over coastguard services to National Assembly.
|The legal jurisdiction of Wales needs to be made more distinct and partly accountable to the National Assembly. Will publish a White Paper on the legal jurisdiction of Wales.
Will support the retention of the Wales Office which acts as a strong voice for Wales in Westminster and ensures Welsh interests are represented in the UK Cabinet.
Will make the case for devolving power over energy projects up to 100 MW.
|National Assembly needs greater powers from the UK Government… we will make the case for powers over larger energy projects and policing and justice.|
|Civil service||Anomalous that the Assembly Government senior civil service is not accountable to Welsh Ministers… will seek realignment of the governance and performance of Assembly Government civil service, better to reflect the developing requirements of devolution whilst remaining part of the Home Civil Service.||Will seek powers to establish a National Public Service.
Will seek powers to appoint the Permanent Secretary as the Head of the National Public Service.
|Local Government||Will establish an Independent Commission to review the governance and delivery arrangements of public services in Wales.
We believe that the current voting system works for local government and have no plans to change it.
|A wholesale reorganisation of local government would be costly and a distraction from the effort to improve service delivery.
Will establish an independent commission to review local government funding.
Will introduce STV as voting system for local government.
|Will hold referendums for directly elected mayors in Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham.
Will make it easier for residents to trigger local referendums on issues such as council tax hikes, car parking business rates.
|Will introduce STV for electing unitary and community councils.
Will repeal the powers that allow Ministers to merge councils without proper consultation.
Local authorities should collect and retain business rates to address local needs.
|Broadcasting||Press for a full review of the operation and governance of S4C and seek a line of accountability to the National Assembly.
Will explore possibility of a Wales Committee of the BBC Trust being established.
Ofcom’s Wales Advisory Committee should become sub-committee of main Ofcom Board which should have a Wales member.
|Will seek the devolution broadcasting to protect and develop S4C as well as English and Welsh output from Wales on TV, radio and online.
Will seek the transfer of responsibility and funding for broadcasting and broadcasting regulation to the National Assembly along with control over radio licences.
|Will support a review of Welsh language broadcasting to protect the independence and financial security of S4C beyond 2015.
Seek to establish a joint mechanism with Westminster to keep S4C fully accountable in areas where devolved matters are affected such as support for creative industries and promotion of the Welsh language.
|Will support the Editorial independence of S4C within the new funding arrangements, but ensure governance reforms and develop links between S4C and smaller production companies.|
The 2011 party manifestos: some policy priorities
|Economy||Tackle youth unemployment by creating a young people’s jobs and training fund.
Establish a single Welsh Assembly Government Capital Infrastructure fund, working collaboratively with other public service bodies, the third and private sectors.
Review entrepreneurial support for SMEs.
|Create Build4Wales arms length company to invest £500m over four years to create up to 50,000 jobs.
Will appoint Minister of Economic Renewal with overall responsibility for business, infrastructure, skills, higher education and innovation.
|Establish a Welsh Public Private Partnership scheme.
Create four Enterprise Zones.
Will abolish business rates for businesses below £12,000 rateable value.
Use next round of EU Convergence funding to promote private sector projects.
Establish Welsh business hub in London.
|Create jobs and growth innovation fund.
Offer 5,000 training grants (worth (£2,000 each) a year to new businesses that set up in Wales and take on unemployed people.
Freeze business rates for a year.
Establish a Welsh Stock Exchange.
|Education||Raise schools funding by 1% above the percentage change in the block grant year on year.
Introduce national system for grading schools to drive up standards.
Double the number of pre-school children benefiting from Flying Start to 36,000.
|Halve illiteracy and innumeracy rates in children leaving primary school by 2013.
Direct Estyn to play greater role in improving standards of failing schools.
Review school hours and term times.
Seek devolution of pay and conditions for teachers.
|Introduce ‘Teach Wales’, a two-year programme to encourage talented people into teaching science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.
Fund head teachers directly from government to boost attainment.
Develop a middle 8t o 13 phase in schools.
|Establish a pupil premium to target £2,500 each of the poorest children in Wales.
Formalise partnerships between primary and secondary schools to ease pupil transition.
Scrap the General Teaching Council for Wales.
|Health||Improve access to GP surgeries in the evenings and Saturday mornings.
Instigate annual health checks for all over 50.
Require Health Boards to produce a national specialist services strategy.
Publish new targets for cancer, cardiac and stroke treatments.
Ensure every person diagnosed with cancer has their own care plan
|Committed to district general hospitals providing services as close as possible to people’s homes.
Will cut the number of NHS middle managers by 10%.
Renegotiate contracts with GPs and dentists to improve their accessibility.
Create a National Pharmacy for Wales to reduce payment and optimise supply chain.
|Protect NHS spending in real terms for the next four years.
Re-introduce a charge of £5 per prescription for those who can afford it.
Establish a cancer drugs fund and implement a cancer screening services.
Provide hospices in Wales with three-year funding cycles with money raised from prescription charges.
Clamp down on annual £1b waste in health spending.
|Use small hospitals and health centres to provide 24-hour GOP and nurse led care for minor injuries and illnesses.
Implement a national cancer plan.
End the ban on using private money in the health service.
Negotiate a pact with UK government on cross-border treatment of patients.
Improve collaboration between social care and NHS.
|Student fees||No student ordinarily resident in Wales will pay higher fees, in real terms, during the lifetime of the next Assembly than if they had been students in 2010-11.||Will meet the extra cost of top-up fees for Welsh domiciled students, wherever they study.||Universities will be permitted to raise fees to a maximum of £9,000 subject to Welsh Government approval.||Pay any additional student fees above the present level for students from Wales, wherever they choose to study in the UK.|
|Environment||Look to merge the Environment Agency Wales, the Countryside Council for Wales, and the Forestry Commission Wales.||Will seek the full devolution of the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission.||Will make National Parks accountable through direct elections to National Park Authorities.||Will merge the Forestry Commission Wales, the Environment Agency Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales.|
|Rail||Will argue for the electrification of the main south Wales-London Paddington line through to Swansea. We will also develop the business case for the electrification of other parts of the local rail network in Wales.||Ensure electrification of the Great Western Main line to Swansea, the Valley Lines Network, the North Wales Main line, and the Marches line.
Will create a not-for-distributable-profit company to run the Welsh rail service.
|Work with UK government to extend electrification to the Valleys network and west along the Great Western Main line to Swansea||Make the case for electrifying the Valleys Lines to begin in 20914 ensuring the right rolling stock is available.|
|Poverty||Will ensure that children are not disadvantaged by poverty.||Until redistribution is recognised as the key to tackling child poverty by the UK Government in its taxation and welfare policies, then reaching the widely agreed aim of eradicating the problem by 2020 will remain a challenge.||Will eliminate child poverty by 2020 – starting with the most severe cases||Reaffirm our ambition to eliminate child poverty.|