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Call for funding change 'tribute' to Lord Barnett

Peers paid tribute to the late Lord Barnett while debating funding to Wales Photo:

Members of the House of Lords have paid tribute to Lord Barnett, who's died at the age of 91, while at the same time calling for an end to the funding formula he invented.

Joel Barnett was Labour's Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the late 1970s when he drew up the formula as part of efforts to hold back public spending. In recent years he was prominent amongst those calling for the arrangements to be updated, calling the formula named after him a 'national embarrassment.'

Former Plaid Cymru leader Lord Dafydd Wigley paid tribute to Lord Barnett calling him a 'lovely, gentle, intelligent colleague.

But he told peers it would be a 'fitting tribute' to scrap the Barnett Formula and give Wales the same level of funding as Scotland, something Plaid claims would lead to a £1.2bn annual windfall for Wales.

Watch his comments and the reply by the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chief Whip in the Lords, Lord Newby.

On the surface that's a straightforward defence of the Barnett formula and the agreement between the UK and Welsh Governments that the situation will be looked at at each spending review.

But behind the scenes there are signs that more immediate moves are being considered.

The Liberal Democrat Wales Office Baroness Jenny Randerson told me that there's an agreement between the UK and Welsh Governments that, while for the current period the funding is more or less fair, that it's likely that a shortfall will reappear from 2018 onwards.

The discussions between the Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb, the Welsh Government and the leaders of the four Welsh parties in parliament as well as the agreement between the four party leaders in the Assembly have all revealed concerns at how to address the funding shortfall.

Baroness Randerson said her party policy is to update the Holtham report's estimate of the amount by which Wales loses out and to ensure 'rapidly after the general election' that fair funding is in place for Wales regardless of what's agreed for Scotland.

And she pointed out that Northern Ireland, which is also funded using the Barnett Formula gets additional funding from time to time.

'There are ways of dealing with this,' she told me. 'They may not be neat and tidy but there are ways of dealing with it.

That's backed up by sources close to the Deputy Prime Minister who've told me that the party's general election manifesto will look to address the imbalance in funding to Wales.

As for a fresh estimate of the shortfall, something I'm calling a Holtham Review Review, there are hints from several sources that that could be announced sooner than expected.

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