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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008, 16:40 GMT
Q&A: Welsh devolution
The row over the Welsh Assembly Government's decision to scrap car parking charges in most of Wales' hospitals from next month has highlighted how the nature of the UK has changed since devolution was introduced.

The ending of prescription charges in Wales was another policy which aroused strong feelings on both sides of the English-Welsh border.

Q: How can such different policies be pursued in Wales?

Responsibility for areas such as health, social services, education, economic development and local government in Wales now rests primarily with ministers in the assembly government rather than the UK government.

Assembly government ministers can pursue different policies from their counterparts in London and defend the success or failure of those policies at assembly elections every four years, just as Gordon's Brown's government will at the next general election.

Q: Are people in England paying for patients in Wales to enjoy policies such as free parking in hospitals and free prescriptions?

The assembly government will not be sending an invoice to the UK government to pick up the bill for particular policies. The administration in Wales is funded through a formula based on government spending in England and has to find money for its initiatives from its own spending pot.

In the case of car parking, assembly government Health Minister Edwina Hart expects NHS trusts in Wales to find the money to scrap the charges themselves.

Q: But don't Wales and Scotland receive more than their fair share of public spending, allowing them to introduce "free goodies" that can't be afforded in England?

There are many critics of devolution who argue people in Wales and Scotland do get a better deal than those in England.

Senior figures in the Welsh Labour party long argued that any review of the way Wales is funded could result in Wales losing out, although a review of Wales' funding formula was eventually announced by an assembly government Labour minister last summer.

However, there are also politicians in Wales who claim a fairer formula, based on the true needs of the population, would bring more cash over the border.

Q: Have many other different policies been introduced in Wales?

Yes. Examples from the Welsh health service have received much more coverage throughout the UK but there are also alternative approaches underway in areas such as schools, rural development, transport and many of the other areas the assembly government is responsible for.


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