I have a lot of sympathy with Conwy County Borough Council's claim that it has been given a raw deal by the Assembly in the current financial settlement.
Conwy is the county with the highest percentage of pensioners in Wales. Because it has a large urban conurbation on the coast, the fact that most of the county is extremely rural isn't given due weighting and because the poor in the county live in the same council wards as the super rich (some wards contain more than 50 square miles) the poverty levels in the county are largely ignored when funds are allocated. Economic inactivity is higher than average in Conwy and wages are much lower than average. Despite its problems Conwy is to receive a measly 1.1% increase in its grant from the Assembly coffers.
There is no doubt that council taxes will have to rise substantially whilst services are cut.
The Urdd National Eisteddfod is due to be held in the county next year. Because hosting the festival is likely to give a six million pound boost to the local economy, the county had agreed to support it with £300,000. However, because of the paucity of the Assembly grant increase, the council may be forced to renege on this promise as part of its cut backs.
If the council's support is withdrawn the Festival may have to be cancelled. The 15,000 children who take part in the Eisteddfod will be denied the opportunity to display their talents and 150,000 festival visitors will be deprived of the opportunity of enjoying the event. If this happens it will be a disaster for Conwy and for Wales as a whole.
Canceling the Eisteddfod for the sake of £300,000 won't just be a cultural disaster, it will also be a political disaster. One of the biggest threats to a yes vote in the proposed next step referendum is the perceived north/south divide. Whether this divide is real or imaginary is immaterial, it is perceived to exist. All too often this perception is created by the Assembly its self.
If Conwy and north Wales is unable to host Europe's largest annual youth event because of a mere £300,000 shortfall, after the Assembly has bailed out one of Cardiff's 5 concert halls to the tune of 13 million then a referendum on further powers will not be won for a generation.
Supporters of devolution, in all parties, must realise that if they want more powers for the Assembly then the Assembly must not only be fair to all parts of Wales it must also be seen to be fair.
Whatever the formula, whatever the justification, whatever the rational; giving Conwy, Powys and Anglesey a 1% rise in support whilst councils in the south are given up to 4% rises will never be seen to be fair to the north. Allowing the Urdd Eisteddfod to be cancelled because a north Wales council is too strapped for cash to support it, due to Assembly policy, will be seen as yet another example of a Cardiff centric government that has no interest in anywhere that is north of the Beacons.