The Welsh Labour First Minister has blamed Brexit and a lack of funding from Westminster for Covid failures.
Mark Drakeford has told the Covid Inquiry that the UK Government “didn’t give us any money at all” for additional responsibilities devolved to the Welsh government in recent years, which included its pandemic response plans.
The inquiry heard that in 2018 the Welsh government was handed responsibility for a number of functions that then sat with UK ministers.
This included the management of its own “risk register”, a document which provides information to the public on the “most significant risks” that the Government has assessed could occur.
But Mr Drakeford said that this “transfer of functions” to the Welsh government was not “accompanied by a transfer of funding” as would typically occur.
“So funding had to be found from wider Welsh government sources that would otherwise have been used for other purposes,” he said.
‘No additional funding for new posts’
Mr Drakeford said he created eight new posts within the Welsh government to “enable us to discharge these new responsibilities”.
“But they were funded – not from new money as you might have expected – but from money that was already devolved to Wales for the functions the Welsh government already possessed.”
Asked whether more funding would have resulted in additional personnel handling the pandemic response plan, Mr Drakeford said: “[That is a] very hard question to be sure, given that they didn’t give us any money at all. We would have cut our coat according to our cloth.”
Hugo Keith, KC, lead Counsel for the inquiry, put it to Mr Drakeford that his government had lobbied for the new powers, and so had “presumably” ensured the Welsh government was “ready to discharge the new functions which it would be allowed to carry out”.
Preoccupied with Brexit fallout
Mr Drakeford, at a later point in his testimony on Tuesday, said that when he became first minister in 2018 – the same year the Welsh government took control of its risk register – he had been preoccupied with the fallout from Brexit, which dominated his first cabinet meeting.
He told the inquiry: “Four days after becoming First Minister, almost the whole of our Cabinet meeting was devoted to preparations for leaving the EU without a deal.
“The system was already turning its sights very firmly to a danger that was right in front of you.”
Vaughan Gething, former Welsh health minister and current economy minister, also gave evidence to the inquiry, and confessed did not read a number of documents relating to pandemic preparedness and relied on briefings instead.
Mr Gething conceded when quizzed on several key documents that he had at the time of the pandemic not read the Wales Framework for Managing Major Infectious Disease Emergencies, the pan-Wales response plan and the Welsh government risk register.
Asked whether he could have done more as minister for health to prepare for a pandemic, Mr Gething said: “Looking back, I think it is fair to say that if I had put more ministerial time into this, then I may well have sped up preparedness.”
Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said: “As was clear in the evidence from Labour’s former health minister, Vaughan Gething, he hadn’t read any of the relevant papers in order to put a pandemic plan in place.
”Drakeford’s deflection tactics will not cut mustard. The failure to adequately prepare Wales for the pandemic falls squarely at the door of Labour Ministers in the Senedd.
”Don’t forget that Keir Starmer points to Wales as a blueprint for how he would run the UK Government.”