FMQs: Don’t take your frustrations out on frontline workers

For the foreseeable future, activity at the Senedd is going to be pared-back quite a bit, with a weekly ministerial statement on the coronavirus pandemic set to take place every week – including during the Easter recess, which starts next week. I’ll cover that of course.

Resources to tackle the pandemic; councils considering relaxing emergency childcare restrictions

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), said that there was an absolute necessity for the Welsh Government to reprioritise its finances to address the pandemic, suggesting that funding should be diverted towards those organisations on the frontline.

He was also critical of some local authorities which have ignored UK and Welsh Government definitions of “key workers” regarding accessibility to emergency childcare.

The First Minister said the Welsh Government was considering every department budget to fund new and urgent priorities and a supplementary budget will be brought forward. On emergency childcare, some local authorities were reconsidering their initial cautious approach due to low numbers of children attending.

“There was anxiety over the weekend that the number of parents who would bring children to the new (emergency childcare) provision on Monday would exceed the 20% of children that is the maximum we can allow into those facilities….And some local authorities decided to take a precautionary approach at the start of the week to make sure that that didn’t happen. In practice, those difficulties didn’t arise. The numbers were at the lower end of what might have been anticipated yesterday, and I know that those local authorities will now be recalibrating their plans.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

He also said the public, whilst understanding their frustrations, shouldn’t take them out on retail workers, pharmacy staff and alike:

Clarity sought on travel restrictions, learning at home

On behalf of Plaid Cymru, Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) noted that the self-employed and freelancers are more likely to be travelling around out of necessity despite UK Government advice on working from home wherever possible. In construction, many employers will be reluctant to send workers home unless there was a government order shutting down sites.

There was also a “huge concern” amongst NHS workers and others working in care that they lack the necessary personal protective equipment. In addition to seeking clarity on how free school meals would work, there was also the issue of continuity of learning:

“There is much activity that can happen online and we are very grateful to the teachers providing that material. But, of course, not every child and not every pupil will have their own laptop. They often have to share. If it had happened at my house, with four children and myself all working from home, then it would have been very difficult for everyone to get by using just the one laptop. And not every home has broadband, of course. Not every home has an internet connection. So, do you agree with Plaid Cymru that every child that doesn’t have a laptop should be given one and every home should have a connection to the internet?”
– Sian Gwenllian AM

The First Minister said some sort of announcement from the UK Government on the self-employed was expected this week – though he didn’t know much more beyond that. On free school meals, his preference was for families to receive money, but vouchers may come into play.

He confirmed the Education Minister was working to find ways for young people who, for whatever reason, can’t access the internet are still able to maintain their learning.

Other points:

  • Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) asked for measures to clamp down on panic buying and stockpiling based on measures taken in France (one way systems, one person per trolley). The First Minister said discussions are happening at UK level on measures that could be introduced.
  • The Brexit Party’s Caroline Jones called for additional measures to protect the safety of key workers who still have to used public transport despite reduced services. Talks are taking place with Transport for Wales “to get the balance right”.
  • Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) was critical of the lack of Wales-specific advice provided by broadcasters during the crisis.
  • Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery) asked for clarity on what an “essential business” is.
  • Neil McEvoy AM (WNP, South Wales Central) asked for wider testing for the virus as people who don’t have the virus are perhaps self-isolating unnecessarily.
  • Dr Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) asked about how MOTs will be dealt with during the shutdown and support for children with special needs. The First Minister said garages remain open so MOTs are unaffected, while the Education Minister remains in talks with councils on services for ALN children.
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