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Minding the gap

Betsan Powys | 11:37 UK time, Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Our story today speaks for itself.

In hard cash terms, the growth in funding for the NHS in Wales over the past six years has been one-third lower than that for the NHS in England.

There's no argument about that. The Liberal Democrats say such an situation is "shocking" while the Conservatives claim it "shatters the cosmetic front of the Assembly Government and their claims that the NHS is a true priority".

I say there's no argument because the government accept the figures. They don't deny the gap is there. In fact they point to it, invite us to take a good look at it and argue that gaps like this open up because Wales, as a whole, is underfunded. It is, they say, the legacy of that £300m a year underpayment from the Treasury that Gerald Holtham and his team detected and spelled out in their report last year.

This is it, they say. This is what it means in real life. When we get less money than we ought to over the years, it shows. So guess what guys, they say - the Welsh health service is a part (albeit a very big part) of the Welsh government. The Welsh government is underfunded so health takes its hit along with everyone else. Sound logical? isn't it interesting, however, that this is the first time in ten years we've ever heard this argument used directly when it comes to Assembly Government spending decisions?

It's hardly surprising the Liberal Democrats find such candid statements 'shocking'. They won't be alone. But perhaps they - and all of us - should get used to it.

There are tough times ahead. That's what David Cameron is spelling out again, right now in the House of Commons. The need to cut is real, he argues and not about to go away. "Tory cuts?" said one Labour MP yesterday. "The irony is that we were way too soft in the warnings we sounded. We didn't scare people enough".

And as each and every axe falls in Wales, there'll be no softening of the blow in Cardiff Bay. Instead get set for more upfront admissions and for two fingers pointing - one at Westminster and the other at Gerald Holtham's conclusions.


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