Charity thrust into electioneering row

A Labour minister has outraged rival parties by announcing £2m in funding for a charity, just days before the Welsh Assembly elections.

Other parties claim this has broken ministerial rules that forbid ministers from announcing funding in the lead-up to elections in order to boost their prospects at the polls. 

Brian Gibbons, Labour health minister, announced funding towards the second phase of the Cardiff-based Children’s Hospital for Wales in a letter to a local newspaper. He claims the announcement was made in response to newspaper articles about the hospital.

A Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesman said the party was “clear that Gibbons’ had broken the code”. “He has announced new money that was not known about during a period that could be seen as influencing the election,” he said.

The party is set to contact the Assembly’s first minister Rhodri Morgan asking him to make a statement on whether or not Gibbons’ had flouted the rules.

A spokesman for Plaid Cymru said Gibbons’ actions were “unforgivable”.

A spokeswoman for Welsh Labour said: “Brian Gibbons’ letter makes clear that he felt it necessary to rebut criticism in various newspaper articles that the government was somehow ‘dragging its feet’ over phase two of the children’s hospital.”

She added that Gibbons’ had not intended to make an announcement about the funding during the campaign but felt the need to “set the record straight”.

Lyn Jones, chair of the Noah’s Ark Appeal, which is raising money to build and equip the Children’s Hospital for Wales, said Gibbons’ actions were “not the thing to do”.

But he added that the appeal was “delighted with the news that funds have been committed to cover the capital charges due in the completion of the hospital.”

The additional funds would reduce the annual running costs of the hospital from £5m to £3m, Jones said.

“We still await a decision from the Assembly’s commissioners for the balance of the revenue funding. Without this, no further bricks can be laid,” he said.

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