Two-thirds of Welsh want greater powers for assembly
Two-thirds of Welsh people believe the assembly government in Cardiff should be able to set its own income tax rate and have the power to borrow, a major survey has revealed.
The survey, the most comprehensive of its kind undertaken in Wales, found that most of its citizens believed the economy would be boosted, public services enhanced and the Welsh government made more accountable if more fiscal powers were devolved. However, when told that spending on public services in Wales was greater than money raised through taxation there, only a third of those surveyed said they would be prepared to pay more taxes to make up the shortfall.
According to the survey, carried out by ICM, the number of people favouring an independent Wales remains steady at 8% but it suggests that if Scotland broke away the number would rise to 11%.
The research was undertaken on behalf of the Silk Commission, the body set up by the British coalition government to study the future of devolution in Wales. Its first task has been to look at fiscal devolution and its members have been travelling the country speaking to voters, politicians, businesspeople and academics. The survey is another key element.
When presented with a simple yes or no option, two in three (64%) of those questioned thought income tax levels should be determined in Wales.
Younger people seemed keener, with 84% of 18-24-year-olds agreeing that such tax-raising powers are a good idea. The percentage dropped steadily in higher age groups, with only 49% of people aged over 65 favouring a change.
The report says support is consistent across the country, from areas close to the border with England to rural Welsh-speaking heartlands.
Replies to questions about the introduction of a charge on single-use plastic bags in Wales – an initiative introduced last year – adds weight to the idea that voters could be ready for the Welsh government to have more tax-raising powers. Almost three-quarters (72%) of people supported such “nudge” charges designed to encourage a change in behaviour.
The survey found that the reason most Welsh people favoured change was because they felt they and the country would be better off, not because it was a move towards independence. Around 60% per cent agreed or tended to agree that the Welsh economy would be healthier and public services improved if Cardiff could set tax rates. In addition, 56% were convinced that the Welsh government could be held more accountable.
However, other answers muddied the waters. When told that present spending on public services in Wales is greater than the money raised from taxes in the country – the shortfall is made up from taxes raised elsewhere in the UK — then 57% felt resources should be directed to Wales from more prosperous parts of the UK.
Asked which level of government should have the most influence over taxes that Welsh people pay, the results seem to contradict the bottom-line conclusion, with a slim majority (53%) saying it should be Westminster. The Welsh government was a distant second with 35%.
A report drawing together the results of the survey concludes: “A picture is emerging of a Welsh public that if forced to choose between yes and no on the devolution of taxation powers, would opt for yes; but this may disguise the fact that there may be little in the way of grievance with the status quo. An alternative view is that people think that the UK government should still have the most influence over taxes even though they also believe that the Welsh government should be able to influence taxation in Wales in some way.”
The report says the Welsh public has “niggling doubts”. “They accept the potential for positive change, but worry about the consequences. In particular, there is a concern that differential tax and spend levels could cloud relationships with the English next door, fuelling a tension that could become unhealthy.”
However, the picture over borrowing is much clearer. As many as 80% of the Welsh public believes its government should have the power to borrow to fund hospitals, roads and other projects.
Commission chair Paul Silk said the ICM report was an “important piece of evidence.” He said: “While the results show clear support for the devolution of tax and borrowing powers, we must be mindful of the concerns they also reveal.” Silk said it was clear that there still is a “limited understanding” of taxation issues.
Welsh Labour, which runs a minority government in Cardiff, is against setting income tax rates believing it would be impractical, partly because the porous border makes it so problematic.
The Welsh nationalists, Plaid Cymru, want the Welsh government to be able to raise income tax, believing this could help kickstart the economy
The Tories and Liberal Democrats argue there would be more accountability if the government that was spending the money had more control over the raising of the funds.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010Follow @CaerphillyObsvr