The governments in Westminster and Wales are today locked in a stand-off, after First Minister Carwyn Jones made an impassioned demand for powers over energy projects.
The Labour leader said it was “wholly inappropriate” and “incomprehensible” that the Government in Cardiff was not responsible for energy schemes of more than 50 megawatts.
At a meeting of the British- Irish Council in London’s Lancaster House he also pressed the case for funding reform, claiming the Welsh Government could be losing out on £300m a year. Mr Jones will make a statement in the Senedd today on his fiscal priorities for the coming years.
Deputy First Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who chaired the meeting of leaders from across the British Isles, declined to back his call for energy devolution and appeared to rule out reform of the Barnett formula, used to allocate Treasury cash during the lifetime of this parliament.
A UK Government source rejected the call for new energy powers and denounced it as a “smokescreen” intended to deflect attention away from Labour decisions.
Last month around 1,500 people demonstrated against plans for a 19-acre substation and new turbines in Mid Wales outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.
The UK Government source said that Mr Jones, Minister for Environment, Planning and Countryside from 2003 to 2007, had failed to request new powers when Labour were in government in Westminster and argued recent controversies could be traced back to his decisions.
A spokesman for trade body Renewable UK said: “[Planning guideline] Tan 8 is a Welsh Government policy – wind farm developers are only building where we have been told. Since Tan 8 was introduced in 2005, the Welsh Government has doubled the target for onshore wind but not identified any new sites beyond the [strategic search areas].”
In a demonstration of the tension building at the two ends of the M4, the source said it was “unacceptable” that Mr Jones was conducting “diplomacy through the media”, adding: “He’s been repeatedly told we won’t devolve those powers over energy so why is he still pressing this? There should be no confusion. He’s been told often enough.”
Referring to the new powers the Assembly has gained as a result of the March 3 referendum, the source continued: “The Welsh Government has been handed a significant package of legislative tools and it needs to get on and use them instead of wanting more.”
The UK Government is expected to announce plans within five weeks for a study of Wales’ financial situation, similar to the Calman commission which recommended new fiscal powers for the Scottish parliament.
Mr Clegg gave no hint that the UK Government was minded to move quickly on major reform of the way that the Welsh Government is allocated its block grant.
Sitting to the right of the First Minister, he said: “There may well be a case for long-term reform of the Barnett arrangements but we have made it very clear as a Government that certainly in this parliament the absolute priority has to be getting on top of the fiscal crisis and that takes precedent. That doesn’t mean we can’t deliver on our coalition agreement that we were to establish a sort of Calman-type process in Wales.”
The Barnett formula is widely seen to under-fund Wales and benefit Scotland but Mr Clegg declined to identify the source of key opposition to reform.
The Lib Dem leader showed no more enthusiasm for devolving energy powers.
He said: “I think devolution is not a tablet of stone, it’s a constant process… I think the key thing is to always listen in mutual respect.”
However, Mr Jones said: “It can’t be right that new energy infrastructure and power stations can be imposed on the people of Wales without due reference to their Government and, indeed, to themselves. We take the view we should have the same powers over renewable energy consents that the Scottish Government has, the Northern Ireland executive have, and indeed the UK Government has with regard to England. The present situation we believe is wholly inappropriate and we look forward to seeing those powers being devolved in the near future.”
Turning to finance, he said: “I will be making a statement [on Tuesday] in the Assembly that will outline the Welsh Government’s position with regards to the fiscal situation in the years ahead. It’s important to understand that we do take the view and have always taken the view that the Barnett formula needs to be revised. We know from the work of the Holtham commission there is a case for Wales to receive £300m a year more in funding but I [understand] it’s important the impression isn’t given that all we are asking for in Wales is more money.”
Mr Jones re-stated his willingness to look at the case for new taxation powers but ruled out taking on the ability to raise or lower income tax.
A spokesman for Conservative Energy Minister Charles Hendry, who met with the ministers yesterday, denied that energy devolution was on the horizon.
He said: “A referendum on further powers for the National Assembly in the 20 devolved areas was held in March, and there are no current proposals to make further changes to the Welsh devolution settlement. The policy on devolving energy powers to the Assembly remains the same as it did under the previous Westminster Government.
“Charles Hendry explained he had set out the position in November and it remained the same today.”