April 13, 2024

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Labour's rule of Wales has been so bleak that even the Scottish National Party looks good

Labour's rule of Wales has been so bleak that even the Scottish National Party looks good

It sometimes seems that devolved Welsh government was put on this ground to make the Scottish government appear competent. Vaughan Gething will begin his stint as First Minister under a very large cloud.

Healthcare, which was Gething's previous summary? The NHS in Wales was performing so poorly that English hospitals in 2022/23 found themselves treating 40,000 refugees from across Offa's Dyke. Waiting lists are longer – with patients waiting an average of 24 weeks for hospital treatment in 2022, compared to 13 weeks in England.

As for Covid, which happened under Gething, Wales continued to discharge hospital patients into care homes without testing them for two weeks after Matt Hancock finally did his job.

Education, where Scotland has recently made headlines because pupils' performance in international PISA tests has fallen sharply after the SNP revamped the school curriculum? The only consolation for the SNP was that Welsh pupils performed worse. In 2022, Welsh pupils were near the bottom of OECD countries in mathematics and reading – with a score of 466. Pupils in England scored 492 points in mathematics and 496 in reading.

Economics – What's the latest summary of Gething? Wales has the weakest economy in Britain. Council tax has risen faster in Wales too: it has risen by 32.4 per cent in Wales since 2018 compared to 29.8 per cent in England. Fortunately for Welsh taxpayers, the Welsh Government does not have the same powers as the Scottish Government to change income tax – otherwise they would undoubtedly be paying more on their salaries too.

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a crime? Yes, you guessed it. Recorded crime has increased faster in Wales than in England, rising by almost 50% since 2016. And so it continues.

Wales's dismal performance compared to England – and also Scotland – matters because we will soon be in an election campaign where Sir Keir Starmer intends to make efficiency a central issue. Presumably, it will depend on voters' lack of interest in the living laboratory in Wales, because it offers little to suggest that Labor can make a better fist of it than the Conservatives in England or the SNP in Scotland. He hopes that Scots, in particular, have not heard what is happening in Wales, given that Starmer may need a fair number of Scottish seats to ensure an overall majority.

The problem is that there is nothing in Gething's record to suggest that things will improve in Wales after he takes over, and there is a great deal of evidence that things could get worse.

The Welsh leg of the Covid Inquiry could not have come at a more unfortunate time for him. It's true that you can attack Boris Johnson's government for being a bit slow on the ball, but Gething admitted he had not even read the report prepared for Exercise Cygnus – which was carried out in 2016 to prepare Britain for a future pandemic. The Welsh Cabinet did not discuss Covid until 25 February 2020, a month after the country's chief medical officer warned the disease posed a serious risk. Much of the narrative that Gething and Mark Drakeford have tried to promote is that they were somehow wise and sensible people who had been dragged down by a bumbling Boris Johnson in London.

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Then there were the chips. In May 2020, Gething and his family were photographed eating bags of crisps on a picnic bench on Cardiff seafront – all very pretty except that at the time, Gething's government had banned people from sitting on a park bench for too long. It may have been a stupid and trivial rule, but as we discovered with Partigate, the public takes a very dim view of ministers who flout rules they have imposed on others.

Labor will advertise its goods at this year's general election by claiming to be the new broom that can sweep up the mess the Tories have left behind. However, in single-party Wales – which the party has governed for more than a quarter of a century – Labor is a very old broom, its few remaining bristles unable to make much of a dent in its waste.