Early discussions taking place on establishing a Welsh community bank

(Title Image: Starling Bank)

This afternoon it was the turn of Finance Minister and Trefnydd (Leader of the House), Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower) to face questions from AMs.

Groundhog Day on Income Tax

In something of a wasted question in light of last week’s debate, the Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth), returned to the issue of the Welsh Rate of Income Tax, asking for the Minister to reaffirm a commitment not to raise the rate of Welsh income tax for the remainder of the Fifth Assembly.

Her answer essentially boiled down to, “Yes”.

Nick Ramsay said the “vocabulary has changed” and the door has been left open by comments from the First Minister – there being “no intention” of doing so rather than an outright commitment not to do so.

The Minister accused the Tories of scaremongering:

“Businesses and the public I think deserve better than to have unreal fears raised on a series of hypothetical questions and hypothetical scenarios, which have been raised by yourselves on the Conservative benches. I’ll just be very clear again, we have a manifesto commitment not to raise income taxes during this Assembly, we have no plans to do so.”
– Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans

Barnett consequentials from Crossrail

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) asked for an update on talks between the Welsh and British governments over possible additional money for Wales (known as a Barnett consequential) as a result of London’s Crossrail project.

“We know that transport infrastructure spending in Wales is way behind the curve, compared certainly with the south-east of England and the London area and, in fact, if capital spend here in Wales had kept up to pace with capital spend per head in the south east of England and London, an additional £5.6 billion would have been spent here in Wales over the past 20 years. Now I see that as £5.6 billion missed.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Rhun told the chamber than in an answer to an inquiry from Plaid’s Jonathan Edwards MP, the UK Government made an offer of Barnett consequentials to the devolved administrations but it was a decision for Wales, Scotland etc. whether to take it up.

The Minster said talks were ongoing regarding the extra funding and promised to update AMs, but she rejected comparisons between Wales and south-east England; it was far fairer to compare Wales with regions of a similar population and income-per-head. On those measures, Wales wasn’t doing that badly, with an additional £266million in spending on new projects announced in the current financial year alone.

Talks to set up a Welsh community bank “at a very early stage”

In light of Barclays and Santander’s intention to close a number of branches in Wales, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) stressed the importance of post offices in filling the gap. What support was the Welsh Government offering post offices?

The Minister said, essentially, “not much” – post office support was a non-devolved matter, though the UK Government have made £2billion available to modernise post offices.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) was disappointed with that answer. While accepting the Welsh Government had few powers in the area and the financial agreements between banks, ATM operators and post offices were complicated – she asked for some clarity.

The Minister called for the UK Government to take a more strategic approach to banking, but told AMs of developments regarding the possible establishment of a community bank for Wales:

“We know that, actually, six banks in total that we’re aware of are due to close later this year….which is one of the reasons that we’re interested in exploring the idea of a community bank for Wales. So, we’re in some very early-stage discussions with a number of stakeholders who are keen to explore with us….of establishing that community bank and that work will be led by partners (including the Development Bank) who will prepare a full market assessment and business plan with the intention to submitting it then to the Bank of England later on this year.”
– Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans

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