Gordon Brown is expected to be up on his hind legs again in the Commons today – a second appearance in a week that’ll almost certainly be the mainly-absent opposition backbencher’s busiest period of activity in Parliament since the 2010 election.
He’ll be inexplicably getting time to lay out his views on devolution again, despite having absolutely no power to implement them, and it seems reasonable to imagine that he’ll spend a fair bit of time on the contents of the infamous “vow” he brokered days before the Scottish independence referendum.
One line of that vow ran “We agree that the UK exists to ensure opportunity and security for all by sharing our resources equitably across all four nations”. And as “pooling and sharing resources” was Mr Brown’s catchphrase during the campaign, we thought it might be worthwhile taking a look at what that means in practice.
Readers of this site are probably well aware by now of the functions of the Barnett Formula, which allocates public spending to the four constituent parts of the UK. But there’s also UK government spending that’s exempt from Barnett rules, and which therefore does NOT generate funding for Scotland (known as “consequentials”), because it’s deemed to be for the benefit of the whole UK.
Such projects are contained within the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP). It’s not all that easy to get a detailed regional breakdown of what’s in the plan, but an alert reader pointed us to the diagram below, which comes not from a UK government website but that of the law firm Clyde & Co.
(The full document can be found here.)
You’ll note that at a glance it’s possible to see that almost none of the £377 billion due to be spend on NIP projects is earmarked for Scotland. Other than a largely incidental benefit from investment in the Trans-Pennine railway, which mostly serves the north of England, the only one is the carbon-capture plant at Peterhead.
HM Government, while reluctant to break spending down regionally, does however, supply some public data about NIP. It can be found at a hub on gov.uk, and financial details are available in this PDF document. It explains the sources of funding, and Tables A.1 and B.1 reveal that of the £377bn total, just over £136 billion will be taken completely or substantially from the public purse, which means that around £12bn of it will be provided by taxpayers in Scotland.
The tables also allow us to deduce how much of the spending Scotland will get.
Readers can study the fine detail for themselves. But to cut a long story short, Scotland will get just £1bn of public spending back in return for its £12bn. The rest of the UK will “pool” £136bn and “share” almost every penny of it straight into England. The only thing in Wales is a new nuclear power station at Wylfa funded mainly by the private sector (although taxpayers will almost certainly be expected to subsidise the corporate investment for decades by paying well over the odds for the electricity produced, as they will with Hinkley Point C), and Northern Ireland gets nothing at all.
Projects paid for by the public and deemed to be benefitting the whole UK include an extension of the London Underground, a bridge in Liverpool, the Lower Thames Crossing in London, the Thameslink and Crossrail networks in London, various roads (most notably including the A14 from Warwickshire to Suffolk, but none in Scotland, as road-building in Scotland is a devolved responsibility) and of course the HS2 rail line, speeding passengers from as far north as Birmingham to (surprise!) London.
But we’re sure that Scottish taxpayers will be more than happy to send £11bn to the Treasury in London to fund lots of projects that Gordon Brown can make use of during the rare occasions when he actually turns up for work at the Palace of Westminster. After all, imagine where we’d be without him.