Writing exclusively for The News Wales Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Jane Dodds sets out her parties plans for a Cross Party Economic Recovery Council for Wales
“With the Covid vaccine now being distributed in Wales, now is the time to start thinking about the economic aftermath of this dreadful pandemic. There is still a long way to go, and we still need to do everything we can to control the spread of the disease. But we need to start thinking about the longer term now.
The financial – and therefore mental health – impact of Covid in Wales has been dramatic. Between March and August this year, the number of people in Wales claiming Universal Credit doubled. According to the Office for National Statistics, the proportion of Welsh businesses that have applied for grant funding is nearly double that of the UK as a whole. And Wales is the UK nation with the highest proportion of businesses applying for the furlough scheme.
Small businesses, especially in the retail and hospitality sectors, have been hit particularly hard; with each successive closure those businesses become less resilient and recovery becomes harder. And, like many individuals, many businesses that survive will only have got through this crisis by borrowing and taking on debt, with potentially significant implications for the longer-term resilience of the Welsh economy.
The UK’s furlough and loans schemes, although extended in December, only run to April this year. And it has become clear that Westminster’s financial support for the Welsh Government’s Covid measures will fall dramatically in the next financial year, just as businesses are starting to rebuild.
Rishi Sunak’s announcement of further support as England locks down, whilst welcome as far as it goes, does not fundamentally change the position for Welsh businesses. This coming Spring and Summer look set to be desperately difficult times for Welsh businesses, even as they adjust to the changes that Brexit will bring.
Liberal Democrats understand the need for lockdowns and support the Welsh Government’s efforts to deal with the pandemic; but we also understand the frustrations of small businesses in particular who are seeking ways to rebuild and renew themselves once it is safe to do so. And we particularly understand the concerns of those who have slipped between the cracks of the support mechanisms that have been put in place.
So as a first step, I am today calling on the Welsh Government to set up an Economic Recovery Council. It must bring together all sectors of business and industry in Wales, along with economic experts and politicians of all parties. I want the Welsh Government to listen to business, and to commit itself to action, so that business and Government can work together in the difficult times we face. I understand the constraints – especially financial – under which the Welsh Government operates, and I believe this should not be a matter of party politics. It is about listening to each other and working together to ensure that the Welsh Government’s resources are targeted in the most effective way.
The outcome must be a national action plan, with clear commitments and buy-in from all political parties and across civil society as well as from business.
We need a cross-party and cross-sector consensus across Wales to put recovery first.
The heroic efforts of our NHS and other front-line staff, and the brilliance of the scientists who have developed the vaccines, mean that there is hope that we will be emerging from the health crisis in the next few months. But in Wales, with our vulnerable and struggling economy, we cannot afford to delay action. We need to plan for recovery now.”