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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:28 pm on 21st October 2020.

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Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Wales) 3:28 pm, 21st October 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Edward.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Evans on securing today’s important and timely debate, which comes just a few days away from the new restrictions coming into force in Wales, in the form of the firebreak lockdown between 23 October and 9 November. As the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, said, that was not an easy decision, but it was taken on the advice of the Welsh Government’s scientific advisers and it is absolutely necessary to regain control of the virus, to protect our NHS and to save lives.

No one in the Chamber is ignorant to the challenges that this will cause to businesses and families in Wales, who have already sacrificed so much as we seek to control the virus. As we have heard, the Welsh Labour Government are putting in place an enhanced package of support, doubling the third phase of their economic resilience fund, making more than £300 million available to Welsh businesses. That builds on what the fund has already achieved, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn and others, supporting nearly 13,000 companies and helping to secure 100,000 jobs in Wales.

Many Members have cited the support Welsh people and businesses have received from the UK Government, primarily through the furlough scheme, and on these Benches we have welcomed that. We are a party that believes in the Union, and it is only right that we pull together and pool our resources, so that we can support one another in times of national crisis.

It is also right to recognise the huge contribution of all partners in supporting local communities. Local authorities in Wales have been at the forefront of ensuring that our crucial public services are maintained; and, of course, local authorities and third sector organisations, working with public health bodies and others, have made a huge contribution to sustaining families and communities. That has included co-ordinating food box schemes, neighbour befriending schemes and other schemes that support residents’ wellbeing and combat loneliness and isolation. I pay tribute also to the work of those in the housing sector—in local authorities and housing associations—who have done much to support their tenants. An example of that was the WithYou campaign launched by Community Housing Cymru.

I do not think I shall have time today to mention all the contributions to the debate in as much detail as I should like, but I want to acknowledge some of the comments that were made by other Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn highlighted the genuine concerns of businesses in Islwyn and across the country. He also rightly highlighted support from the Welsh Government, as well as the lack of regular contact from the UK Government to the Welsh Government and the lack of co-operation from the UK Government at various times during the pandemic.

Fay Jones talked about the understandable concerns raised by businesses and the tourism sector. I am sure that she will join me in welcoming the additional funding set out in this week’s announcement dealing with the firebreak lockdown, and the additional £20 million that was ring-fenced by the Welsh Government as part of that, specifically for tourism and hospitality.

My hon. Friend Jessica Morden talked about her gratitude to constituents of hers who have done the right thing. I am sure that we would all echo that, as people in communities across the country have gone through a hugely difficult few months and unfortunately the end is not yet in sight. She also raised the need for early access to the job support scheme—something that was echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin)—and the need to combat bureaucracy as businesses deal with two schemes in the short two-week lockdown.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth talked about taking the right decisions at the right time, which would contrast starkly with examples of what we have seen from the UK Government. He also mentioned the fact that the Welsh Government have aligned public health with the need for economic support—a crucial link. He talked about the lack of support for those who have been excluded, and contrasted the launch of the freelancers’ fund in Wales with what has happened across the UK, pointing out the huge need for that fund across the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North talked about the need to pool resources and the measured approach of the Welsh Government. She also raised the freelancers issue, and requests for early access to the job support scheme.

Finally, my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock talked about the community action that sprang into place throughout the pandemic, of which I am sure we have all seen examples across Wales. Our communities have demonstrated a huge amount of community spirit, and I pay tribute, as I am sure we all do, to the key workers across Wales who have kept our economy going. My hon. Friend raised the need for a steel support fund and contrasted the UK Government’s approach with that of other Governments around the world, who sprang into action a lot more quickly to support their key industries. Of course, he also raised the important issue of the shared prosperity fund, highlighting the fact that in 2018 we were due to have a consultation on it, and two years later, with just two months to go, clarity about the fund is missing. That is a shocking indictment of the UK Government.

The Welsh Government’s inclusive approach has ensured that local government, the third sector and other partners have pulled together in one direction, with a shared interest, to support people across Wales. That is, unfortunately, in stark contrast to the situation we find at Westminster.

It is disappointing to hear some representatives of the Conservative party continually calling into question the justification for the firebreak lockdown, as they have done in recent days. I think that approach is both ignorant and irresponsible. Unlike the UK Government, we have followed the science in Wales. I suggest that Conservative Members actually read the advice produced by the Welsh Government’s technical advisory cell. I have a copy if Members want to pass it on to their colleagues.

We are in the middle of a national and global crisis, and the responsible thing for us all to do is to reinforce the clear public health messages that are designed to regain control of the virus and to save lives. It has not been a happy 24 hours for the Government in their dealings with the nations and regions across the UK. I hope that, when the Minister gets to his feet, he will address some of the genuine concerns and questions that Members have raised on behalf of our constituents. I hope that we will achieve some unity as we work to tackle this dreadful virus and support Welsh businesses and families who are affected at this hugely difficult time.