'Brown did not say what health will get in 2008-11, though he is said to be focusing on health in his Treasury lair'
I can't remember how often I've heard Gordon Brown promise on Budget day that Labour Britain 'will not return to the old boom and bust' of the Conservative years. Alas, within 24 hours of this year's deployment of that withering piece of scorn, the phrase was being deployed by a Labour-dominated select committee.
Furthermore, it was the health select committee, chaired by veteran loyalist Kevin Barron. His committee reported on the failure of the NHS at every level to get to grips with workforce planning. Its conclusions were agreed by Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat members alike - and in scathing terms.
As you know the NHS did not get much of a mention in the budget, which the cerebral Tory ex-cabinet minister Peter Lilley dubbed Nigel Lawson's last budget and George Osborne's first budget - because it clipped 2p off income tax. As the dust settled, more voters seemed cross about who is going to pay for it, some low-paid, which is un-Brown-like. It was very much a score-draw budget, not a Gordy triumph.
Inasmuch as the chancellor-premier showed his hand on health it was to confirm that the NHS will get an extra£8bn in England, and£10bn UK-wide, in 2007-08. But unlike education, which he revealed will get 2.7 per cent more in real terms from 2008-11, he did not say what health will get even though - perhaps because - he is now said to be focusing on health issues in his Treasury lair.
The scale of the rise in health funding will be revealed in the comprehensive spending review later this year, amid rumours that it may still get 4 per cent. That is half the annual norm since Tony and Gordon turned the taps on, but not bad in this tighter era. Campaigners may have wanted higher taxes on fags and booze, but health officials said they were pleased with the budget - although 'relieved' may be a better word.
In his speech shadow chancellor Osborne, immensely self-confident as ever, mocked Mr Brown for keeping the NHS figures ('he must have done the sums') up his sleeve for future propaganda purposes and accused him of resorting to the 'old-fashioned top-down' approach to controlling the service. So did other MPs in the budget debate.
Mr Osborne made one other intriguing comment. Chancellors are always shutting tax loopholes, one step behind the accountants. Last week Mr Brown stopped entrepreneurial types paying themselves via so-called 'managed service companies', thus avoiding national insurance contributions.
Quite right too and that new 'stealth tax' will soon raise£450m a year. But, declared young George, this will prove a self-defeating move as 'the biggest user of MSCs in the country is the NHS'. Tory officials tell me that is what the statistics show. But no-one has yet been able to explain to me what it means.
Right, now to 'clear evidence of a boom and bust cycle' in NHS workforce planning. Kevin Barron's report says the cash splurge after 2001 swamped admirable attempts to plan better in response to a 1999 report from the committee. Staff were hired as a substitute for more productive ways of working. Remember the Blair slogan 'Investment and reform'? A chance was lost.
Only when those hefty deficits emerged in 2004-05 did managers fall to earth with a bump. Everyone is to blame, but strategic health authorities must put things right.
Though the committee is critical of resource accounting and budgeting, it did at least expose persistent overspending which Patricia Hewitt is now brutally curbing.
From a selfish point of view the manpower mess happened before she took over. But sharp Tory MPs such as Peter Lilley and Billericay's John Baron, now a junior health spokesman, savaged poor NHS productivity in the budget debate. 'The extra money has not delivered the improvements that we all hoped to see, and which should have been delivered,' said Mr Baron.
Baron and Barron, John and Kevin, agree. Granada chief Sir Gerry Robinson's TV programmes said it all, ex-miner Mr Barron told me. The pits were shut for similar failures, he recalled.
Does Mr Brown know all this? You betcha. But we must wait a while to see what he plans to do about it.