Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s finance questions.
Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), asked about the Development Bank’s Economic Intelligence Unit and could play an important part in the development of tax policy in the future. In the present though, what work had the Welsh Government done to model the impact devolution of income tax will have on the Welsh economy?
Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), said the unit didn’t fall under her direct responsibility but has had discussions about procurement. A “lot of work” has been done with the Chief Economist on mapping out current and future tax bases.
Preparing the ground of devolution of welfare administration
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) referred to recent Wales Governance Centre research which showed that devolving administration of welfare to Wales could (but not necessarily would) result in a £200million surplus. Isn’t it now right to pursue these powers as a matter of urgency?
“But really the thrust is that this is a no-brainer, especially when the report from the Wales Governance Centre made it clear that there are elements of welfare that you can safely predict, that there won’t be fluctuation, or too much fluctuation, in coming years, where we can very confidently say that there is no real risk to the public purse in Wales.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM
The Minister said the report and its conclusions were being taken into consideration, but it was important to base any decision on a growing evidence base. It was right and reasonable to take a cautious and measured approach as the idea of welfare administration being devolved would cause trepidation. It’s not an issue that can be solved quickly.
Confusion over discretionary business rate relief
A number of AMs contributed to a discussion on the Welsh Government’s business rate relief scheme.
Michelle Brown AM (Ind, North Wales) argued for business rates to be reformed to encourage start-ups, while Mandy Jones AM (BXP, North Wales) argued for below inflation rate increases to help struggling high streets – though Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) argued that Labour was already doing a lot.
The most important contribution came from Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), who suggested Bridgend Council hasn’t properly engaged with businesses to tell them discretionary rate relief was available:
“….two of the councils within my region (are) proactively seeking out businesses that could benefit, advising them and then administering the mitigating monies straightforwardly. And, yet, another of them don’t seem to be telling very many people about it….as a result, in one particular council, only a third of those eligible for this relief are getting it.
“So, I wonder if you have any idea why Bridgend doesn’t seem to be following what I hear is good practice in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot….to ensure that people in Bridgend get the benefits in the way you intended them to get. And if you don’t have any idea why they’re doing that, can you explain why not?”
– Suzy Davies AM
The Minister didn’t have much to say on exactly why but promised to take up the matter with Bridgend Council’s leader, Cllr. Huw David, to understand what the situation was and whether rate relief has been properly promoted.