THE Assembly Government was under attack last night after a New Labour think tank showed how health and education budgets have grown far more dramatically in England than Wales since devolution.
Figures released by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) show how between 1999 - the year the National Assembly was set up - spending in Wales on health and education has risen by 55% and 47% respectively. In England, however, the comparable increases were 65% and 56%.
Over the same period, spending in Wales on agriculture, fisheries and forestry went up by 36% against just 18% in England. Likewise, spending in Wales on recreation, culture and religion went up by 32%, nearly three times the rate of increase in England, which was 11%.
The statistics appear in a book out today called Devolution in Practice 2006: Public Policy Differences within the UK. The book is edited by John Adams and Katie Schmuecker, who jointly wrote the chapter on post-devo-lution spending in the four countries of the UK. Mr Adams worked as a special adviser at the Welsh Office when Ron Davies was Welsh Secretary in 1997-98.
Plaid Cymru's deputy leader Rhodri Glyn Thomas, pictured below, said, "The way Wales is funded puts the people of Wales at a disadvantage. Plaid Cymru knows that if Wales was funded according to need, Welsh public services would be better off. Welsh teachers, nurses and doctors are not getting their fair share from New Labour's UK government.
"This week's Audit Report shows that money is misspent on initiatives and bureaucracy rather than frontline services by the Labour Assembly Government.
"The findings from this think tank are similar to concerns expressed by a recent NHS confederation report. The report shows the increase in health spending in England outstripped the increase in Wales."
Plaid's Shadow Education Minister Janet Ryder said, "These figures confirm why Plaid Cymru was correct in ensuring that the National Assembly set up a committee to look at school funding to see through the education funding fog. They also demonstrate that UK education initiatives need to be properly funded in Wales, to a similar level as those in England."
The Welsh Conservatives' Assembly finance spokesman Glyn Davies said, "This revelation by the IPPR that spending on health and education in England has outstripped spending in Wales has totally undermined Rhodri Morgan's claims that his Government has been fair to the NHS and education in Wales.
"Lavishing tens of millions of pounds on the new Assembly building and wasteful bureaucracy has inevitably meant that more people have to wait for operations and more schools have to wait for essential repairs.
"Budget figures expose 'reality' rather than 'spin' and we can see that when it comes to public services, Labour in Wales has been long on talk and very short on delivery."
Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly leader Mike German said, "We should celebrate the differences between our countries - that's what devolution is all about. The government of each country has to decide what it needs and spend money where it most needed.
"We should not lose sight that Wales still spends more per head than England.
"This research by the IPPR, a think tank at the heart of New Labour thinking, has put its finger on the essential problem of the Barnett Formula - the Barnett Squeeze.
"The outdated way in which money is given out across the UK was always designed to narrow differences in spending over time. What the IPPR has done is shown how the Barnett Formula is holding Wales back. A new formula - where money was distributed according to need, rather than a temporary solution which has endured for 25 years - would allow Wales to spend more on health, to deal with our higher level of need.
"If people in Wales have more sickness than those in England, then it makes sense that we should be able to spend more money addressing it.
"Welsh Liberal Democrats have long been campaigning to scrap the Barnett Formula and bring fair funding to Wales. Hopefully this research will encourage the Labour Party to join the campaign."
An Assembly Government spokesman said last night, "We have not yet seen the report, so we cannot comment in detail.
"It seems that the figures are some way off the mark. For example, the press release suggests that culture spend has increased by 32%, and environment by 36%.
"In fact it is 96% and 154%. As a devolved government, we manage our policies and our portfolios in a different way than in England.
"This may have led to the IPPR's confusion - but if they contact us we will be quite happy to clarify the situation."
Devolution in Practice 2006: Public Policy Differences within the UK is published by IPPR Books, priced £12.95