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Minister ‘can’t keep running away from this scandal’

SNP’s beleaguered Matheson makes desperate new bid to brush off furore over iPad

By Michael Blackley Scottish Political Editor

THE embattled Health Secretary yesterday attempted to brush off the scandal over his data roaming charges as he was accused of trying to hide from questions in parliament.

Michael Matheson said he is ‘confident in standing on my track record’ as he faces the threat of a vote of no confidence.

It follows the admission that he had misled the public and the press about his £11,000 data roaming bill on a family holiday in Morocco when he eventually confessed it was down to his sons watching football.

Mr Matheson yesterday attended an NHS Forth Valley annual review but the Scottish Government did not list a single media event he is due to take part in this week.

The Tories are demanding that he answers more questions about his actions in a Holyrood debate, while parliament chiefs are due to shortly announce whether they will launch a full investigation into whether he breached the MSP code of conduct.

Mr Matheson said he had already set out what happened in ‘great detail’. Asked directly if he lied to the press, the minister said: ‘I set out all the circumstances and explained the way in which I’d handled it in the course of my personal statement last week.’

Asked about the threat of a vote of no confidence, Mr Matheson said: ‘I’m confident in standing on my track record as Health Secretary and what I have done over the course of the last eight or nine months.’

The latest Scottish NHS performance statistics are due to be published today.

Last week, data for the week ending November 5 showed A&E performance in Scotland slumped to its lowest level since the end of the first week in January, with 60.9 per cent of patients seen within four hours.

The Scottish Conservatives are expected to bring forward a motion of no confidence in Mr Matheson in the coming days.

Party leader Douglas Ross said: ‘Michael Matheson might have run up this eye-watering bill, but he cannot continue to run away from this scandal.

‘He – and the other most senior members of the SNP Government – spent the weekend largely avoiding scrutiny and clearly hoping this scandal will just go away.

‘That is wishful thinking when we know that the Health Secretary lied to the press and public over whether this parliamentary device had been used for personal purposes. A significant number of questions remain wholly unanswered. That is why my party is calling for a substantial amount of parliamentary time... for us to be allowed extensive questioning to get answers.’

Mr Ross added: ‘The public have lost confidence in the Health Secretary at a time when our NHS is bracing itself for its worst winter

‘Questions wholly unanswered’

ever. The whole government is distracted by this scandal.’

After details of his £10,936 data roaming bill emerged nearly a fortnight ago, Mr Matheson had insisted it was down to his parliamentary duties.

But in a humiliating statement at Holyrood last Thursday, he said that it had been run up by his sons using his data to watch football matches.

At the weekend, Humza Yousaf admitted Mr Matheson ‘should have handled the situation better’ but continued to defend his actions and said he did not feel he had personally been misled.

Mr Matheson has referred himself for investigation over the matter to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB). A Scottish parliament spokesman said: ‘The SPCB will say more shortly about the procedural basis to be followed now that Mr Matheson has referred himself under the code of conduct to the corporate body.’

A spokesman for Mr Matheson said: ‘Mr Matheson is focused on his responsibilities as Scotland’s Health Secretary ahead of what is expected to be a challenging winter for the health service.’

MICHAEL Matheson is a lame duck Health Secretary at a time when the NHS is in a state of permanent crisis – but how much longer can he cling on?

Yesterday he broke cover to claim that he is ‘confident’ about his track record in charge of the beleaguered health service, as he tried to move on from the controversy over his holiday iPad usage.

Last week he admitted he had misled the public and the Press about the eyewatering £11,000 data roaming bill racked up on a festive family break in Morocco.

In a tearful confession at Holyrood, Mr Matheson blamed his teenage sons, who had been watching football.

While he may want to draw a line under this unedifying saga, there are many unresolved questions and the matter is far from ‘closed’, as Humza Yousaf insisted it was last week.

On Sunday, the First Minister conceded that Mr Matheson ‘should have handled the situation better’. This also applies to Mr Yousaf’s cack-handed response.

He has sought at every turn to protect his Health Secretary, in what must rank as one of the least effective damage limitation exercises in Scottish political history.

Mr Matheson faces the threat of a vote of no confidence in the coming days and a probe by Holyrood chiefs into whether he broke the MSPs’ code of conduct.

For once, Mr Yousaf should act decisively and put an end to this toxic charade – by sacking the minister.





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