Fiscal Policy

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The much-anticipated report of the Commission on Local Tax Reform may take Scotland one small step closer to the end of Council Tax but, says David Eiser, agreement on a replacement is just as far off as ever.

Council Tax should be abolished and replaced with an alternative form of local tax that is fairer and that strengthens local democracy. That is the key recommendation of the Commission on Local Tax Reform, which delivered its report on Monday 14th December.

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In headline terms, the Spending Review looks little different from the public finance forecasts in the summer budget. The Government will achieve a fiscal surplus by the end of this parliament (the first time that this has been achieved since 2001). And total public spending as a percentage of GDP will fall from 40% currently to 36%.
 
But Osborne has managed to achieve this whilst simultaneously being more generous on the spending side.
 
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The Scottish government’s block grant allocation between 2015-16 and 2020-21 was set in the 25th November spending review delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Current spending will increase from £25.9 billion now, to £26.5 billion in 2019-20. This represents a 5% real cut (equivalent to £1.3 billion). In contrast, due to the UK government’s decision to increase capital spending by £12 billion compared with its plans last July, Scotland’s capital budget will increase from £3 billion to £3.5 billion by 2020-21, an increase of around 10% in real terms.
 
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The proposals within the Scotland Bill - as well as the associated fiscal framework currently being worked out by the UK and Scottish Governments - represent big changes to Scotland’s political system, says Nicola McEwen. However, has enough room been left for the public at the negotiating table? 
 
“With great power comes great responsibility” – in Uncle Ben’s memorable last words to Spiderman. But is the reverse also true? Do great responsibilities bring great power?
 
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Popular pressure for further fiscal devolution from Westminster to Holyrood is less a matter of wanting to pursue a different policy agenda, says David Eiser, and more a matter of who the electorate trusts. 
 
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Why should Scottish MPs vote on English issues, when the same matters are devolved to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh? The famous “West Lothian question” became a major theme for the Conservative Party during an election (2015) that might have seen SNP MPs holding the balance of power. Following its victory, the Conservative government produced proposals for “English votes for English laws”. 
 
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  • 19th February 2019

    Over the course of the UK’s preparations for withdrawing from the EU, the issue of the UK’s own internal market has emerged as an issue of concern, and one that has the potentially significant consequences for devolution. Dr Jo Hunt of Cardiff University examines the implications.

  • 12th February 2019

    CCC Fellow Professor Daniel Wincott of Cardiff University examines how Brexit processes have already reshaped territorial politics in the UK and changed its territorial constitution.

  • 7th February 2019

    The future of agriculture policy across the United Kingdom after Brexit is uncertain and risky, according to a new paper by Professor Michael Keating of the Centre on Constitutional Change. Reforms of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy over recent years have shifted the emphasis from farming to the broader concept of rural policy. As member states have gained more discretion in applying policy, the nations of the UK have also diverged, according to local conditions and preferences.

  • 4th February 2019

    In our latest report for the "Repatriation of Competences: Implications for Devolution" project, Professor Nicola McEwen and Dr Alexandra Remond examine how, in the longer term, Brexit poses significant risks for the climate and energy ambitions of the devolved nations. These include the loss of European Structural and Investment Funds targeted at climate and low carbon energy policies, from which the devolved territories have benefited disproportionately. European Investment Bank loan funding, which has financed high risk renewables projects, especially in Scotland, may also no longer be as accessible, while future access to research and innovation funding remains uncertain. The removal of the EU policy framework, which has incentivised the low carbon ambitions of the devolved nations may also result in lost opportunities.

  • 1st February 2019

    The outcome of the various Commons votes this week left certain only that the Government would either secure an amended deal and put it to a meaningful vote on Wednesday 13 February, or in the overwhelmingly likely absence of this make a further statement that day and table another amendable motion for the following day, the Groundhog Day that may lead to a ‘St Valentine’s Day Massacre’ for one side or the other. Richard Parry assesses the further two-week pause in parliamentary action on Brexit

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