Scottish finance secretary says time is running out for agreement
THE CHAIRMAN of the parliamentary committee in charge of scrutinising negotiations between the UK Treasury and the Scottish Government on Scotland’s new financial arrangements has said that “hostility” to the Barnett Formula may be influencing the Treasury’s judgement.
SNP MP Pete Wishart, who heads-up the Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC), raised the idea at a session of the cross party group yesterday which was convened to question Finance Secretary John Swinney about ongoing negotiations over Scotland’s fiscal framework.
The framework agreement will decide how Scotland’s block grant is reduced relative to new tax and spending powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament, in such a way as to avoid financial loss to either Holyrood or Westminster.
“The Treasury is at least listening to these concerns [about Barnett] and this is perhaps informing their approach to the fiscal framework.” Pete Wishart MP
Questioning Swinney, Wishart asked the deputy first minister if he believed that the treasury would seek to “undermine” the Barnett Formula, by which funds for the Scottish parliament are currently apportioned, due to “hostility” in the House of Commons.
Swinney replied that maintaining the Barnett Formual had been “central to the vow” which had been “agreed by the leaders of three major parties” before the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and was therefore non-negotiable.
Speaking to CommonSpace after the SAC hearing, Wishart said: “I don’t think you’d have to try hard to find opposition to the Barnett formula in the Commons and it is a regular feature in any debate about Scotland. My suspicion is that the Treasury is at least listening to these concerns and this is perhaps informing their approach to the fiscal framework. This will be put to the chief secretary next week when he appears before the committee.”
The frank comments were made despite a general convention whereby senior parliamentary committee members do not comment extensively on matters which are before the committee.
“The treasury may favor a block grant adjustment that could lead to some of the convergence that might blunt Barnett. This may be what is leading to the deadlock.” Pete Wishart MP
Asked how the Treasury may try and undermine the Barnett Formula, Wishart said: “They are pretty constrained as it is all over ‘the Vow’ and Smith [Commission]. They might get round this by favouring a block grant adjustment that could lead to some of the convergence that might blunt Barnett. This may be what is leading to the deadlock.”
Swinney also made clear during the committee meeting that as far as he was concerned the negotiations over agreeing a fiscal framework were running out of time, saying that an agreement had to be reached within two weeks in order for the process of further devolution to move on to the legislative stage.
He said: “We are not at that moment of ‘no agreement’ yet. We have got a couple of weeks.
“If we don’t conclude this process, we won’t be able to legislate. We are getting kind of close to the end of the road and we have got a lot of distance to travel.”
Failure to reach an agreement would produce a deadlock in negotiations, he added: “Without an acceptable fiscal framework there will be no Scotland Bill.”
The UK Treasury was contacted to reply to the remarks but did not respond by the time of publication.
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