Welsh parties accuse Drakeford of ‘inappropriate’ use of Covid briefing

Mark Drakeford is fronting a Welsh Government press conference on Friday to detail the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

Coronavirus – Tue Mar 23, 2021
Coronavirus – Tue Mar 23, 2021

Opposition parties in Wales have accused the First Minister of using a planned Welsh Government coronavirus briefing to unfairly influence the forthcoming Senedd election.

The Welsh Conservatives said a planned press conference for Friday, in which Mark Drakeford will set out his plans to ease restrictions, represents “naked electioneering” while Plaid Cymru said it was “completely inappropriate”.

The Tories have called for Wales’ chief medical officer to front the briefing, and Plaid leader Adam Price has written to the Welsh Government’s Permanent Secretary Dame Shan Morgan asking her to intervene.

Welsh Labour leader Mr Drakeford has already announced six people from different households will be able to meet outdoors from Saturday and outdoor hospitality can reopen from Monday, having also recently brought forward dates for outdoor activities and the reopening of gyms by a week.

He is expected to announce a number of other measures at Friday’s 21-day review announcement and is expected to give a proposed date for the reopening of indoor hospitality.

On Wednesday, Welsh Conservative MS Janet Finch-Saunders said Mr Drakeford had “ample opportunity” to provide a detailed road map before the Senedd was dissolved but had “deliberately chosen not to do so”.

“It is therefore questionable that at this most sensitive stage of the Senedd election, he has decided to make a number of surprise lockdown announcements,” she said.

“Welsh Conservatives believe pandemic-related announcements could and should be fronted by senior civil servants such as the chief medical officer, and this should be the case on Friday.”

She said Mr Drakeford’s comments to the BBC on Tuesday that he would use the briefing to set out what a Labour government would do in the three weeks following the election “demonstrates these announcements are nothing other than naked electioneering” and livelihoods were “pawns in his political games”.

Mr Price said in his letter that it would be “completely inappropriate” for a party to use government resources and communications “to make party political announcements less than two weeks before polling day”.

“The people of Wales rightly expect us as political leaders to continue working together and to support the efforts to control the virus given the unique public health context which underpins this election campaign – as Plaid Cymru has largely done throughout the pandemic,” he said.

“However, voters will rightly expect the resources of the state to be used properly and fairly during this period.”

Mr Price asks Dame Shan to “intervene to ensure that any communication through this platform upholds the letter and spirit of the guidance which is in place to ensure parity and fair play for all”.

Pre-election guidance documents for officials state that Welsh Government premises and resources “should never be used for campaigning purposes” and that government communications “must not be seen or perceived to be influencing, or potentially influencing the outcome of the election on behalf of any political party”.

But the guidance grants an exception for “announcements with public health implications, the outcome of the 21-day reviews, or significant changes to regulations in the interim”.

A Welsh Labour spokesperson said: “Mark Drakeford remains the First Minister making important decisions to keep Wales safe.

“We are aware that Mr Price has sent another letter, we understand this will be responded to in due course.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister will be undertaking the press conference on Friday.”

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