Mark Drakeford defends Vaughan Gething criticised for not reading pandemic documents

Vaughan Gething gave evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry last week about Welsh Government planning in the months and years before March 2020.

The First Minister has defended his former health minister Vaughan Gething after criticism from the Conservatives over an admission that he had not read all pre-pandemic planning documents. Vaughan Gething was Health Minister at the start of the covid outbreak.

Last week, he gave evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry about Welsh Government planning in the months and years before March 2020.

Mr Gething told the inquiry that he had been given briefings by officials about a series of reports on preparedness, but hadn’t read them directly.

Mark Drakeford appeared before the UK Covid-19 inquiry for the first time last Tuesday. Credit: PA

And he acknowledged: "Looking back I think it’s fair to say that if I had put more ministerial time into this then I may well have sped up preparedness."

During First Minister’s Questions in the Senedd, the Opposition leader Andrew RT Davies asked Mark Drakeford: "Why would a minister who's responsible for the health portfolio not read his papers and make sure that he was making the best informed decisions to make sure that Wales was protected and have the best measures in place should we be hit by a pandemic?”

The First Minister said that he didn’t think it was right “to replay the events of inquiry here, or to offer a running commentary on the inquiry itself.”

But he then added: “All ministers, when they become responsible for a new portfolio, receive an enormous amount of information from their civil servants. 

"It summarises a huge amount of what they will need to know. It indicates to them where they will need to do further and more in-depth reading. And ministers follow that advice.

“Any suggestion that a minister could embark upon a back catalogue of documents produced over a period of 15 years, and at the same time, discharge their everyday responsibilities simply does not reflect the way in which government is conducted in Wales or in any other parts of the United Kingdom.”

The Conservative leader said that his question was "based on evidence given at a public inquiry, it is perfectly reasonable for members to come to this chamber with information that’s in the public domain and question the government's response on."

He said it raised questions about Mr Gething’s handling of his current portfolio which is the economy, on the day that unemployment figures showed higher rates here in Wales than the UK average. 

"If he's shown in other portfolios that he's not across his brief, how can we have confidence that he's going to be able to deal with the economic picture that's unfolding here in Wales? “For the third month running Wales has had the highest unemployment figures of any part of the United Kingdom. 

"So what is the government doing to address what is an emerging pattern that Wales does have the highest unemployment of any parts of the United Kingdom?"

Mark Drakeford hit back by saying that “What we learned from the economy of the United Kingdom and every part of it is that the Tories have crashed the economy and that people in every part of the United Kingdom face a future in which the Bank of England has decided to induce a recession in order to deal with the inflationary pressures that his government has allowed to gather inside the UK Economy.”

He added: “There are figures in the same series published today that show that economic inactivity declined last month in Wales again.

“The picture is mixed here in Wales as it is elsewhere. But the background to it is clear everywhere.

“The mismanagement of the UK economy is having an impact directly in the lives of families in every part of the United Kingdom and his party and his government in Westminster are responsible for it.”