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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Naughty Schoolboy

Questions to the Finance Minister in the Welsh Assembly yesterday were fairly hard-hitting with opposition politicians seeking to get to the bottom of how the Government are going to deal with a £400 million cut in their budget next year.

Throughout the session the Minister argued that the Government needed to be agile in the face of a difficult economic situation, that the Government could accomodate the cuts through efficiency savings despite evidence to the contrary and continuously stonewalled any attempts to get more detail. It was summed up by this exchange in which the Minister adopted a tactic first tried by the First Minister yesterday of going on the attack as the best form of defence:

Nick Ramsay: Members of the public will take that as a 'no’ to my answer. Clearly, the Minister is not prepared to be honest as to where he considers these efficiency savings will fall. I agree with him that devolution can be a tool to address the economic situation that we face today, but our concern is that the Assembly Government is clearly not using that tool effectively or taking the decisions necessary.

Finally, Minister, do you agree with your own former Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain, who said that the reason we now face this dire economic situation in Wales is because your Government failed to make the necessary efficiency savings over the past 10 years? They would have alleviated the situation that we now face.

Andrew Davies: Peter Hain is on record as complimenting me and the work that we are now doing as a Government on the efficiency saving agenda; he actually compliments us on the work that we are doing. I will come back to the point that had it been left to your party, we would not be having this debate in the Chamber, because you would be making the decisions at Westminster, and you would be dictating to public service providers. Therefore, these are really crocodile tears on the part of your party, the so-called defenders of local government. We, on this side of the Chamber, know what local government had to put up with when your party was in government from 1979 to 1997.

That led to a very effective put-down by Conservative AM, David Melding:

David Melding: Minister, after hearing your remarks about Peter Hain’s excoriating criticisms of the Welsh Assembly Government in this area, and that you accept those as a warm endorsement of your policies, I can only surmise that, when you were asked to visit the headmaster’s study as an errant schoolboy, you went along expecting to be asked to help run the school. [Laughter.]

It was the best line of the day and not one that the Minister is going to live down easily.
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