I congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Evans on securing this timely and important debate. If there is one thing that 2020 has taught us, it is the unshakable truth that we are far stronger and more resilient when we come together, pool resources, look out for one another, take collective responsibility, and shield and protect the most vulnerable among us.
The health and wellbeing of people, the planet, family, communities and businesses are at the heart of decision making in Wales. I know that the people of Cardiff North, whom I am here to represent, fully understand the gravity of the situation that we face and that no decisions are being taken lightly by the Welsh Labour Government. I am so very proud of the clear, responsible and transparent leadership that the Welsh Labour Government have shown throughout the crisis. They have rolled out the most all-inclusive financial support package for businesses of all the four nations—£2 billion to keep businesses afloat. That has already saved 100,000 businesses across Wales, and is appreciated by many I have spoken to.
I have had many conversations with constituents and exchanges with people and businesses right across my constituency. There is no doubt that it is a very worrying time. We are facing tough times, but these businesses are integral to our communities. Cardiff North would not be the same without Mr Lazarou, the barber’s down the road from my office in Whitchurch; Dave Vater and his Forest café in Tongwynlais; or Fran and Rupert with their fantastic deli, Snails, in Rhiwbina. Hairdressers, beauty salons, cafés, restaurants, the creative heritage and tourism sector—these are the people who put their heart and soul into our high streets and communities and who create jobs in local areas. They must be protected too.
The Welsh Government have also provided grants for the self-employed and a freelance fund for those who have been shamefully excluded from all support from the UK Government since March. They have lost work, yet still have the same bills to pay to keep the roof over their heads and their families fed. Yet again, the Welsh Labour Government have committed to providing support for all where the Tories in Whitehall have been either unable or unwilling to do that. It is no surprise that in a recent constituency-wide survey I conducted, the majority of businesses who responded—78%—said that they far preferred the Welsh Labour Government’s approach to the UK Government’s.
As we approach the short, sharp two-week firebreak this Friday, we see the difficult decisions being taken by the Welsh Labour Government, listening to the scientific advice and taking action where needed. It is at times like these that I am so proud to be Welsh—I know that this view is shared by the majority of my constituents who write and tell me—and so proud to represent a Welsh constituency. The Welsh Labour Government are ensuring a supported firebreak for a short period, rather than a slow decline towards Christmas, which we know is the time that a lot of businesses depend on to secure them throughout the year. The firebreak is absolutely necessary to get back on top of the virus, to suppress the spread of infection and to stop the NHS being overwhelmed.
The Welsh Labour Government stepping in to save lives and provide a generous financial support package is in stark contrast to what we see unfolding in England, which is the UK Government playing poker with people’s lives and livelihoods. In Wales, the Welsh Government are providing £300 million in an enhanced resilience fund for this short two-week firebreak, small business rates relief grants, funding for retail, hospitality and leisure shutting down for two weeks, and a £100 million fund for long-term business development.
The Government in Wales have swiftly provided the clear and quality support that is needed now, as well as keeping an eye on the future. Despite repeated requests from First Minister Mark Drakeford to work with the UK Government, they have continued to ignore our First Minister. The UK Government’s display yesterday towards Manchester shows the deep contempt they have for people’s lives and livelihoods. Never has there been a more important time for us to come together and govern together. This is not governing—the UK Government seem incapable. They are seeking to divide and conquer. It is politicking at best, but it is downright dangerous at a time of national emergency. We need trust and transparency.
I will make some specific requests of the Minister. I hope that the Chancellor responds swiftly to Mark Drakeford’s request to give Welsh businesses early access to the new job support scheme, cutting down paperwork that overstretched and overworked businesses must complete to access it. Will we see outlawed fire and rehire tactics under the guise of covid that few businesses—thankfully—but some practise? Usually, that affects those lowest paid and in the most precarious jobs. Many have contacted me and are desperate to see an end to the practice. Likewise, the £20 uplift for recipients of universal credit has been a lifeline for more than 5,000 people in Cardiff North, the difference between being able to cope and being cut adrift. Economic hardship shows no sign of easing, so will the UK Government extend that uplift to and throughout 2021?
This is a deeply worrying time for everyone, and we have an uncertain future until there is a vaccine. There is no easy fix right now, but I thank the people of Cardiff North and of Wales for making those tough sacrifices and for their continued co-operation. Elsewhere, we have witnessed how division leads to dithering and delay. Ultimately, that is bad for public health, and the uncertainty is bad for livelihoods and for businesses. Coming together is our best chance of defeating this virus.