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Weekend Review

December 12, 2010

Here’s an idea of what’s been going on this week in the world of devolved politics.

1) WAG passes new language law

The Welsh Assembly unanimously passed a law this week which made Welsh an official language in Wales, putting it on an equal footing with English. It also means that public bodies and some private companies will have to provide some services in it.

The measure was part of the One Wales Agreement between Labour and Plaid and has already been described as “historic” and “momentous”.

It certainly wasn’t easy: more than 70 amendments were proposed and the debate was expected to last four hours. In any event, it didn’t and the AM’s got off lightly, coincidentally in time for the Welsh Political Awards that evening.

Scottish Parliament

2) Scottish transport is snow joke

Apologies for that. It had to be done.

Stewart Stevenson resigned this week over the handling of the severe weather in Scotland, despite having the backing of First Minister Alex Salmond.

Stevenson had been under pressure for his handling of the crisis and he said: “I could have done much more to ensure the public, who were caught up in a difficult and frightening set of circumstances, were better informed”.

Labour leader Iain Gray claimed that Scotland had lost confidence in Stevenson.

Salmond says that Stevenson was wrong to quit but that Stevenson, who had offered to resign earlier in the week, was worried about becoming a “weapon” for the opposition. Keith Brown has since been named as his replacement.

3) Should corporation tax be cut in Northern Ireland?

David Cameron has been urged to cut corporation tax in Northern Ireland alongside the bailout that is being given to the Republic.

The UK will be giving £7bn to the Republic of Ireland as part of an international bailout package, but some, particularly First Minister Peter Robinson, have said that this is unfair given the Republic’s much more competitive corporation rates.

As the Belfast Telegraph points out, it boils down to the fact that British taxpayers’ money could be used to kick start an economy that has a major tax advantage over a region of the UK on its border.

However, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson has warned this week that cutting corporation tax could mean a cut in the block grant to Northern Ireland of £310m.

This led to Northern Irish Finance Minister Sammy Wilson describing such a cut as “totally unattractive” and Wilson said that the government would have to come up with other ways of dealing with the budget shortfall of a tax cut.

Sammy Wilson, Northern Irish Finance Minister

4) Wales is UK’s poorest nation

Figures from the Office of National Statistics have shown this week that Wales is bottom of the prosperity pile in the UK.

Wales has a Gross Added Value (GVA) per head of £14,842, which is down 2.5% from last year and is 74.3% of the UK average.

Scotland’s GVA is 98.8% of the UK average, while Northern Ireland’s is 79.1%.

Ieuan Wyn Jones, the Welsh Deputy First Minister and Minister for Economic Development and Transport wants to transform the business in Wales and said: “What we want to do is create the right conditions for the private sector to flourish”.

The figures mean that Wales might qualify once again for the highest level of European funding.

5) Irwin Armstrong resigns

The Chairman of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland resigned this week following the announcement that his party will not be fielding any candidates in the upcoming Assembly elections.

The decision not to field any candidates comes as part of an agreement with the Ulster Unionist Party, and the statement from the UUP can be read here.

Armstrong claimed that he had been assured by Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that the Conservative Party would fight the election, but when it became apparent that wouldn’t be the case, Armstrong came to the conclusion that his position was no longer tenable.

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