Support for People and Businesses in Wales: Covid-19 — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:45 pm on 21st October 2020.

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Photo of Fay Jones Fay Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire 2:45 pm, 21st October 2020

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Edward. I congratulate Chris Evans on securing this important debate. The last time he and I were in Westminster Hall, he reminded me of a day we spent in Blackwood, walking to raise funds for Velindre Cancer Care, which at that time was treating the late Steffan Lewis, a great man and a Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd. We have sadly lost Steffan now, but every time I see the hon. Gentleman, I am reminded of that uplifting day and the collegiate, cross-party support that came with it, which I hope will seep into this debate.

Coronavirus has devastated businesses across Wales. I am incredibly proud and thankful for the level of support that both Governments have made available. Schemes such as the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme and the bounce back loan have directly supported businesses of all sizes right across Wales. Some 11,000 jobs in Brecon and Radnorshire have been protected through the UK Government’s furlough scheme. These schemes have been a lifeline to businesses that have lost the ability to trade for the better half of a year, with no clear end in sight.

Every sector in Brecon and Radnorshire has lost out, but I want to speak in particular for the tourism and hospitality sector. Many of the most beautiful parts of Wales can be found in my constituency. In a normal year, they would draw hundreds of thousands of tourists from all corners of the United Kingdom and, indeed, from around the world. For example, the small, independent book shops in Hay-on-Wye attract thousands of visitors each year, with the Hay festival being one of the world’s foremost literary events—yet another example of a loss to our community during this pandemic.

Following the easing of restrictions in Powys, pubs, restaurants and hotels were slowly coming back to life. Supported by the unique eat out to help out scheme, demand picked up in August. Many restaurant and café owners have told me how much they valued this scheme, which resulted in more than 77,000 meals being enjoyed in the constituency. The argument that it contributed to increasing rates of the virus in September is simply not borne out in Brecon and Radnorshire, where coronavirus rates have stayed mercifully low.

The First Minister’s decision on Monday to put the entire country into lockdown once again is, to use the words of the hon. Member for Islwyn, a hammer blow for those businesses that were just starting to recover. The decision penalises everyone across Wales, irrespective of the number of virus cases in a certain area. To make the problem worse, businesses have no foresight as to what comes next. The businesses in my constituency, which have relied on customers being able to travel up from the south Wales valleys, have no idea whether those people might be allowed back after the lockdown is lifted.

Like the hon. Gentleman, since Monday I have been flooded with emails from businesses and workers who are now deeply uncertain about their future. I was saddened to read on Facebook this morning that Aroma, a café in Llandrindod Wells, has announced that it cannot survive lockdown 2 and will be closing its doors permanently.