Statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

The final statement in today’s Plenary meeting was by the Finance Minister.

TITLE Coronavirus (Covid-19)
DATE 13th May 2020
BY Lesley Griffiths MS, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

 

Since my last statement of 8 April, Welsh Government has focussed on support for our food producers, protection of our environment and the maintenance of critical infrastructure and infection control.

Our top priority has been to address the immediate hardship caused by the pandemic.

Welsh Government has worked with Local Authorities in every part of Wales to deliver over 40,000 food parcels to households who are most at-risk from Covid-19 and who have been advised by the Chief Medical Officer not to leave their home. This partnership between Welsh Government and Local Authorities has been a huge success and I want to thank everyone involved.

From 23rd April fishing businesses have been able to apply for the Welsh Fisheries Hardship Grant. As of last week, 124 applications have been received with more than £250,000 of grant aid already paid. So far, all applications have being processed within 10 working days.

On Saturday, I announced dairy farmers who have lost more than 25% of their income in April and May will be entitled to up to £10,000, to cover 70% of their lost income.

Hybu Cig Cymru have launched a campaign involving high-profile chefs and other celebrities to produce recipe videos to encourage people in Wales to help our farmers by buying Welsh produce. My officials have also worked closely with the Governments in all parts of the UK to collaborate on promotional campaigns for the dairy, beef and lamb sectors.

I and my officials are in constant contact with representatives from all sectors of the rural economy to monitor the significant challenges still ahead and further support needed.

As well as supporting those facing hardship as a result of the pandemic we have ensured critical work to support Wales’ rural economy and responding to the climate and nature emergency continues safely.

I have written to all households affected by the February floods to outline the support available to them, including the support they are able to access through their Local Authorities and to notify them of the extension to the deadline to claim the financial support made available from Welsh Government.

I have made public statements reminding people to respect the workers in the water and energy sectors who continue to maintain our critical infrastructure whilst observing social distancing measures.

My officials have been supporting the veterinary profession to work closely with our farmers to find ways to manage their role in supporting disease control and biosecurity on farms and at livestock markets. We cannot afford to ease off fighting animal disease and promoting the highest standards of animal welfare.

I would like to bring colleagues’ attention to the work of Natural Resources Wales, who have been dealing with immense challenges during the current pandemic. At the same time as continuing their vital regulatory work and managing our peatlands and forests, they have dealt with devastating fires and pollution incidents. I am especially pleased NRW have been able to visit sites belonging to those environmental NGOs who have had to furlough their staff, to help make sure any action necessary to protect those sites can be taken.

I have been hugely impressed by the efforts of our Welsh food and drinks businesses not only to find ways to trade safely but also to directly support the efforts to tackle Covid-19 and support our critical workers. Our food and drink cluster initiative has sought to support these businesses further by creating a directory of those Welsh producers offering online deliveries, available on the Cywain website. I hope all members will encourage their constituents to buy from those fantastic food and drink businesses in their area.

Finally, I would like to turn to recovery.

Last week I published the summary of responses to our Sustainable Farming consultation. Welsh Government’s proposals are that all future financial support to farmers will be to enable them to manage their land so they can produce food to the highest quality and welfare standards whilst expanding the role they play in responding to the climate emergency and the loss of biodiversity in Wales. I believe the responses clearly show the sector are more than ready to rise to this challenge.

The next stage of co-design will now be undertaken remotely with additional support for those who find these methods less accessible. With the end of the EU transition period fast approaching and the extremely challenging market conditions farmers are facing, we believe there is no time to lose in working even more closely with the farming sector to establish a new scheme which can allow the sector to be more resilient for the future.

I believe, when and only when it is safe to do so, we need to prioritise the reopening of the food and hospitality sector, to reinvigorate business all along the supply chain. We must enable our vets to resume the usual breadth and pace of their work and we must get to a position when we can again encourage Welsh citizens to enjoy our beautiful countryside.

The changes to the regulations last week allowing people to exercise locally more than once a day, will provide a more opportunities to appreciate nature on our doorstep, to the benefit of our physical and mental wellbeing.

However, as the First Minister has said many times, we will proceed cautiously and carefully, guided by the science and only relaxing measures when we have confidence the evidence supports this.

We will overcome the impact of the deadly coronavirus only if we can find ways to work even more closely together, across Government, sectors and communities. I and other Ministers have already had many discussions with stakeholders about what a green recovery from Covid-19 should look like in Wales and I will update members further as these plans develop. I am determined the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will accelerate, and not deter us from, the transition to a low carbon economy and a healthier, more equal Wales.

 

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