First Minister’s statement to the Senedd today

I am not on the virtual backbenches for today’s Plenary meeting but here is the First Minister’s update to the Senedd.

TITLE Coronavirus (COVID-19)
DATE 20 May 2020
BY Mark Drakeford MS, First Minister

Llywydd, wrth ymateb i’r argyfwng coronafeirws bu’n rhaid i Lywodraeth Cymru weithredu yn gyflymach ac yn ehangach nag erioed o’r blaen.

Gan taw dyma’r sesiwn olaf o’r Senedd cyn y Sulgwyn, byddaf yn cynnig crynodeb o’r hyn rydym wedi eu wneud, ar draws pob adran o’r Llywodraeth.

Rydym wedi gweithredu er mwyn arafu lledaeniad y feirws, cefnogi’r gwasanaethau cyhoeddus, a helpu unigolion a busnesau sy’n wynebu amgylchiadau anodd iawn.

Yn yr amser sydd gennym, dim ond crynodeb fydd yn bosibl, ond wrth edrych yn ôl, mae’n drawiadol cymaint sydd wedi digwydd mewn cyfnod o ddau fis yn unig.

Bydd rhaid i ni ddal ati i weithio yr un mor galed yn yr wythnosau nesaf, wrth baratoi am y y camau nesaf.

Llywydd, I will begin with the impact of the virus on our finances.  In just over a few months since the Welsh Government’s budget for 2020-21 was passed in Senedd, the budget has increased by more than 10 per cent.  We have moved rapidly to allocate those funds, together with repurposing existing budgets and realigning European funding, to meet the urgent purposes we face.  In the Supplementary Budget we are publishing next week, we are allocating more than £2.4billion in support of our COVID-19 efforts.

This includes:

 

  • Nearly £0.5 billion extra to the health and social care budget to ensure it has the funding it needs to protect the health of the people of Wales
  • An additional £1.3 billion to the budget for Economy and Transport, providing a wholly unprecedented level of support for the economy and a package of measures more generous than anywhere in the UK. This includes the £500 million Economic Resilience Fund, which comprises £400 million revenue and £100 million repurposed capital funding. Less than 8 weeks from launch the Fund has already provided loans from the Development Bank worth more than £87 million to more than 1,300 businesses, and grants worth almost £100 million to more than 6,000 businesses.
  • More than £0.5 billion extra to the Housing and Local Government budget, with local authorities delivering key elements of the Covid 19 response, such as continued Free School Meal provision, increased support for care homes and recruiting and managing volunteers.

This funding also includes our support for businesses in the hospitality, retail and leisure sectors, in the form of business rate relief, and the £10,000 and £25,000 grants which follow. Thanks to the enormous efforts of our local authorities, nearly 51,000 grants have already been paid out, at a cost of £621 million.

This support is a vital lifeline for all eligible businesses across Wales. Wherever possible, we have focused this support on businesses headquartered in Wales and we have made clear that businesses based in a tax haven will not be eligible for COVID-19 financial support from the Welsh Government.

Llywydd, the impact of our investments have been felt across Wales, including amongst the most vulnerable.

We have provided £40 million for free school meals, reaching an estimated 60,000 children in Wales.

We have provided £24 million to support the third sector and volunteering.  Over 17,500 new volunteers have been recruited in Wales during the crisis – more than double the previous number.  Because we have an existing national system for volunteers, we have been able to make rapid use of that huge willingness to help. So far, 7,000 volunteers have been deployed to help in the coronavirus effort.

One of the purposes for which those volunteers have been deployed has been in helping get food and medicines to people in the shielded group. There are now 130,000 people on the shielding list, with 13,000 added by GPs since the system began.

£15 million has been provided to make food boxes available to people in the shielded group.  By last week, almost 38,000 boxes had been delivered to them, and 77,000 priority home delivery slots booked with supermarkets.

Llywydd, thousands of people work in our social care system in Wales. They have been at the forefront of the national effort to save lives. We have set aside £32 million to provide a £500 payment to the 64,000 people delivering personal care in residential and domiciliary care services.

For the very poorest in our society, the Discretionary Assistance Fund has provided help of last resort here in Wales, ever since the Social Fund was abandoned by the UK Government.  During the coronavirus crisis, the DAF has become an even more important lifeline for many families.  To date 13,679 payments have been made, at a cost of more than £850,000.  So that we can continue to offer this vital assistance, the Fund has been increased by £11 million in recent weeks.

Llywydd, the past eight weeks have seen a transformation in the capacity of our health service:

  • an additional 368 beds have been created through field hospitals, with a further 4,666 available if required
  • as of 18 May, 220 extra critical care beds were available through the huge efforts of staff.
  • testing capacity has increased to over 5,300 per day and 11,000 tests are being carried out every week. Capacity will increase further in the coming weeks.
  • 4 million PPE items have been issued since 9 March, of which 29.8 million has gone to staff in social care.

That scale of provision has only been possible because of our relationships abroad and our ability to make things at home.

To mention just one example, manufacturing company Hardshell is creating a new factory in Cardiff to produce up to a million fluid resistant face masks per day for front line workers in Wales and the rest of the UK.

And because of this enormous effort, right across Wales by our public services and our people we have protected our NHS and saved lives. The death toll, with all its human heartbreak continues to rise, but the number of deaths reported in yesterday’s weekly ONS publication showed that figure falling in each of the previous three weeks.

And, as we move into the world in which lockdown is cautiously and gradually lifted here in Wales so we will need to adapt our approach. This week the Health Minister announced changes to testing in care homes and in the wider community.  We are moving to a wider system of surveillance of the circulation of the virus, beyond key workers and key settings, through the Test, Trace, Protect strategy published last week.

Llywydd, I have illustrated the breadth and depth of the Welsh Government’s activity in response to the pandemic.  Our approach has been distinctive in building on our social partnership model, and assisting those in greatest need.

We continue to work with the UK Government on measures that require a common approach, and will shortly make regulations dealing with border control. Although borders are not a devolved matter, public health regulations covering the operation of these measures in Wales are a matter for Welsh Ministers. We are considering the right arrangements for implementation here, within the UK-wide system.

I will conclude by mentioning the impact of the virus on children and young people in Wales.

Last week we launched a new survey asking people aged seven to 18 for their views during the coronavirus pandemic.  Coronavirus and Me asks about their health, education, the impact on social aspects of their lives and the needs of specific groups.

Understanding the experience of young people will be vital to our work on moving out of lockdown, and on planning for the future of our economy and society in a post-covid Wales.

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