The Treasury on Saturday prevented an announcement pencilled in for Monday of the so-called "elective recovery plan", the multi-billion pound initiative to reduce the NHS's record backlog of treatments. Treasury sources insist the plan wasn’t ready and this was a joint decision with the NHS. “The NHS wanted to pause too”, said one. But this is disputed by those working for the Department of Health and the NHS. They believe the delay to its launch stems from mounting tensions between the chancellor and prime minister, and a reluctance on the part of the treasury to help a PM it views as a lame duck and living on borrowed time. According to senior Whitehall officials, the plan to make a dent in a waiting list of six million people had been worked out and was ready to go, and was pencilled in to be rolled out Monday, as part of the PM's relaunch.
The NHS recovery plan is viewed by the prime minister as possibly the most important initiative in restoring his credibility and popularity - partly because its massive cost is the justification for a controversial increase in national insurance that's intended to raise more than £12bn a year.
"The Treasury delayed the recovery plan" said an official. "The Treasury says that's because it wants to secure maximum value for money. But it's pretty obvious it's about Treasury reluctance to rescue the PM”. Another government source said this wasn’t so, that the delay was about the difficulty of agreeing a final document across government, as well as securing value for money. That said, an analogous point was made this morning by Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS confederation.
He tweeted: "Increasingly getting the sense that Johnson now faces the same (but more intense and short term) challenges Tony Blair had in his third term, namely that HMT is loath to agree to any No 10 plans involving money, as the chancellor sees these as opportunistic and wasted on a dying administration". Some ministers are furious with Sunak, for failing to show sufficient loyalty to the PM in his hour of greatest need. Last week the chancellor conspicuously distanced himself from Johnson's smear on the Labour leader Keir Starmer, the slur that Starmer when director of public prosecutions personally refused to prosecute the paedophile Jimmy Savile.
Sunak told a press conference he wouldn't have said the same as Johnson did.
As Taylor implies, there is a long history that such tensions between a chancellor and prime minister typically precede the resignation of a PM, but they are risky for both. Although the full recovery plan has been delayed, the health secretary will on Monday announce an element of it, called "my planned care", namely that patients will be able to in effect shop online to find hospitals with the shortest waiting lists.