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FRONT LINE FIRST - FINANCE

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It is St David's Day today (Friday). Appropriate perhaps to remind ourselves that not only does Wales have its own ...
It is St David's Day today (Friday). Appropriate perhaps to remind ourselves that not only does Wales have its own saint's day, but also its own financial system for its 22 unitary councils.

The Welsh revenue support grant system has the following characteristics:

-- No service hypothecation

-- A simple (but by no means universally accepted or understood) standard spending assessment formula

-- No area cost adjustment

-- Lower council tax levels for councils which spend at SSA

-- No collection fund

-- Higher gearing - taxpayers contribute about 16% towards total spending

-- Different property valuation bandings for council tax purposes

-- A lower business rate poundage

-- Grant changes damped by a separate general grant rather than a system of floors and ceilings.

Welsh councils also receive a large and increasing number of grants for particular services, despite pressure from Welsh councils and the Welsh Local Government Association to abolish or at least reduce them. Specific grants for schools and education training and support are much lower per pupil. It would be a comfort to have a 'post-16 education budget support grant', not to mention a 'teachers' performance pay progression grant' and 'teachers' threshold grant' as in England.

Most of the distinctive financial arrangements pre-date the Welsh Assembly. What is becoming apparent is that as the Assembly matures as an institution and gains confidence, it will develop and use its powers to make arrangements even more distinctive.

This will be made evident when the Assembly publishes its white paper on local government.

It is reassuring to see CIPFA rising to the challenge and setting up a new CIPFA in Wales organisation. Not only will CIPFA be able to develop services for its members and students in Wales, it will also engage with the Assembly and act as the professional voice on public finance matters concerning Wales.

Martyn Scholes

Director of finance & information services,

Wrexham CBC

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