KIRSTY WILLIAMS seems willing to risk martyrdom, writes Clive Betts from the Assembly press gallery.
The Lib Dem leader launched a cutting attack on the size of the health budget, its wastefulness and suggested the need for cuts.
Normally, health spending is absolutely sacrosanct for politicians. The only issue is how to find some more money; never how to cut the existing budget.
Much of the blame was placed by the Brecon and Radnor AM at the foot of health minister Edwina Hart – which sparked the query from a member of the press whether, if she couldn’t run her own department, how could be run the entire government as leader of the Labour group and hence first minister.
Ms Williams declined to comment on that point.
But her attack on Mrs Hart certainly raised questions about the minister’s competence.
It is not that Mrs Hart doesn’t make decisions. But that she rushes into them, without perhaps considering issues carefully enough.
Ms Williams claimed that that the health budget is spent very inefficiently; that about £50bn remains unallocated of this year’s budget. When asked in committee about that unallocated money, Mrs Hart had the gall to ask members whether they had any ideas of how it should be spent, according to the Lib Dem leader.
There’s also the big issue of cash savings from the massive reorganisation carried out last month, with number of NHS organisations reduced from around 37 to about 10.
Ms Williams said that no figure exists for expected savings. Perhaps that it because the rushed change was pushed through on the back of a no-redundancies agreement. How many senior officials are now sitting around doing nothing, but still getting paid, she asked.
Hence the Lib Dem demand for the NHS to face a need to meet during the coming financial year of efficiency savings which are 0.4 per cent higher than faced by other departments.
In return, the under-pressure further and higher-education sector would be given a better deal during the coming year. We certainly hear quite a few moans from FE and HE – not only from the Lib Dems passing on their pleadings, but direct from the sectors themselves. But both sectors are quite well organised for public relations.
I admit I am surprised at the Lib Dem willingness to attack the health budget. The only reason I can see them getting away with it is that the health minister is not the most popular of characters politically.
Which says something about who should become the new Labour leader …