Difficult road ahead in Wales’ journey to coronavirus economic recovery

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The Motion

The Senedd:

 

  • Recognises that the coronavirus pandemic is both a public health and an economic emergency.
  • Welcomes the economic benefits afforded to Wales as a result of being part of the UK during the pandemic, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.
  • Notes with concern the Centre for Towns report ‘Covid and our Towns’ which suggests the economies of towns in the valleys and on the north Wales coast will be among those hardest hit by the pandemic.
  • Calls upon the Welsh Government to establish a Covid Community Recovery Fund to provide targeted economic support for those communities most adversely affected by the pandemic.

Difficult to quantify the economic impact of coronavirus

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.) told MSs it was still early days in determining just what economic damage the pandemic has done, with a third of working-age people in Wales on the UK Government furlough scheme and the UK economy contracting by 20% in April 2020.

While many businesses were working hard to adapt to trading under social distancing, this is proving difficult for the hospitality sector and pubs. Towns with a high proportion of people working in hospitality were expected to be hardest hit by the pandemic’s economic downturn; similarly, tourism.

Janet Finch-Saunders MS (Con, Aberconwy) said smaller companies will need to lead the recovery and called on the Welsh Government to provide funding to encourage smaller companies and freelancers to collaborate. Angela Burns MS (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.) thought the green economy needed extra support and also calculated risks on the part of the government.

Plaid Cymru wasn’t opposed to a recovery fund in principle, though Helen Mary Jones MS (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) believes there had to be a wider all-Wales transformation, as well as additional fiscal powers for the Welsh Government to help them react properly to economic shocks.

Echoing an earlier debate, Jenny Rathbone MS (Lab, Cardiff Central) believed the recovery in town and city centres could be led by cultural venues.

Meanwhile, Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George MS (Con, Montgomery), argued for a more “common sense” approach to the 2-metre rule, which would involve trusting businesses and the public to act responsibly as a step towards reopening more parts of the economy.

“The worst thing that can happen is a second spike”

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), told MSs the worst thing that could happen to the Welsh economy is a second spike in coronavirus cases, which is why the Welsh Government is taking a cautious approach to easing lockdown.

He ran through the different measures of support provided by the Welsh Government during the pandemic. He noted with frustration that there were limits on how much money the Welsh Government can carry forward from one financial year to the next and also that reserves are capped at £300million.

He pointed to pre-existing regeneration projects in Welsh towns, some of which have been listed amongst the most economically-vulnerable post-pandemic:

“Colwyn Bay is benefiting from a further £3 million of regeneration investment; rail is seeing huge investment of around £20 million; and in Holyhead, a project worth more than £4 million has transformed the historic market hall. In addition, in the South Wales Valleys, the task force chaired by the Deputy Minister has met regularly since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, and are currently reviewing priorities in light of this pandemic.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

Vote

The Welsh Government’s amendments – essentially listing all pre-existing regeneration programmes and calling for greater fiscal flexibility and a UK-led stimulus package – were approved.

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