Independent coronavirus inquiry backed by First Minister

(Title Image: via Senedd TV)

Here’s the latest round-up of latest ministerial statements on coronavirus.

First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West): There should be an independent inquiry into the pandemic (at some point)

Key points:

  • £2.4billion will be spent in Wales on coronavirus efforts in total across health, social services, education, local government and the economy.
  • Virus testing capacity has increased to 5,300-test-a-day with 11,000 tests carried out a week. 98.4million items of PPE have been issued with 30million going to social care.
  • A survey has been launched by the Children’s Commissioner to gather the views of young people which will help plan for an easing of lockdown restrictions.
  • The Welsh Government continues to reject an arbitrary cap on earnings for prospective immigrants as the UK Government’s Immigration Bill passes through the UK Parliament.
  • He accepted the need to strengthen the Welsh media following misreporting and misinformation by the UK print press and broadcasters but believes it’s inappropriate for this to be direct government support.

Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) asked why it has taken so long for the Welsh Government to include loss of taste and smell as one of the symptoms of Covid-19, which has been criticised by some doctors?

The First Minister said it was the decision of the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers.

Moving on, Adam Price asked whether the First Minister supported holding an independent inquiry into the pandemic – which could take up to 6 months to prepare for and for which work should start now – and whether government documents and recording were being protected for that purpose?

The First Minister confirmed his support for an inquiry, though he wouldn’t give a date on when that might happen. Additionally, the Welsh Government are keeping documents “meticulously” in anticipation.

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), criticised the lack of dates and timescales in the Welsh Government’s pandemic exit plan (which was debated later in the session; summary coming up shortly). There was also little detail on the financial implications.

While the First Minister said there was a debate to be had on the precise dates lockdown restrictions will be eased and a supplementary budget was coming next week, it won’t happen until it’s deemed safe to do so.

“Timescales are no guarantee, are they, as Mr Davies will well know. Look how the 1st June timetable for opening schools in England is falling apart in the hands of the Government of England; how Downing Street last night had to say that 1 June was an aspiration, not a deadline, not a timescale after all. So, I’m not sure that timescales are an answer to everything.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South): Limited companies not liable for VAT can apply for resilience funding from June

Key points:

  • Businesses registered in tax havens will be ineligible for Welsh Government business support.
  • He stressed that the furlough scheme shouldn’t be scaled back before businesses have time to adjust to new working conditions; the devolved governments won’t be able to continue it by themselves.
  • Economic resilience funding applications are set to reopen in June for the remaining £100million; limited companies not registered for VAT will be able to access the fund.
  • Online learning modules have been developed for apprentices so they can continue their training.
  • New guidance for the use of public transport is being prepared ahead of the next review of lockdown regulations due to take place next week.
  • The pandemic could radically change how people work and remote working may be encouraged in the short-term.

While Helen Mary Jones MS (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) was pleased that the economic fund will be extended to more limited companies, there remained concerns over support to new starters – who’ve by and large been left out of the UK Government’s furlough scheme. She also sought information on when the tourism industry will start to resume and the approaches different parts of the tourism sector will need to make – as there’ll be unique circumstances and requirements facing caravan parks compared to hotels or tourist boats.

The Minister said the focus was on supporting businesses which employ people, were viable pre-pandemic and at risk of going out of business altogether; there was little firepower left for what he described as “lifestyle businesses”. Guidance specific to certain sectors is being drafted and it will be “as comprehensive as possible”.

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George MS (Con, Montgomery), was a little disappointed the re-opening of the resilience fund was still a relatively long way off. While the Minister mentioned that this would give businesses enough time to prepare their applications ahead of then, how could businesses do that if they didn’t know whether they were eligible or not?

The Minister said that while an eligibility tool for businesses will be available before the fund reopens, he was keen to manage expectations:

“I’m keen to manage expectations and to underpromise and overdeliver, which is why I’ve said that the eligibility tool will be open by mid-June. If we can bring that forward in any way, then we most certainly will do….We’ve got the most comprehensive and generous package of support anywhere in the UK….But we also need to ensure that we do it in a way that takes account of the UK Government’s bounce back loan scheme and, of course, the first round of awards that are being made from (the Economic Resilience Fund).”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

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