Statment by Minister for Economy and Transport (10.06.20)
10 June 2020
Ken Skates MS, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales
I want to begin by thanking members across this chamber, as well as my officials, social partners and colleagues in local government and our public services in Wales for the huge amount of work they do each day supporting our national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
I am proud of what we have done so far to help mitigate the economic impact of this awful disease and I am hugely appreciative of the hard work everyone has put in.
Since publishing our road map for recovery on the 15 May the Welsh Government has been planning the next stages of its work to ease the lockdown. We have always been clear that that work must be grounded on the science and with worker safety at the forefront of every decision we take.
I have been meeting with partners through the Shadow Social Partnership Council regularly and will continue to do so in order to discuss the shared measures we can take to gradually reopen our economy in a safe, sustainable and fair way, whilst continuing to protect public health and our NHS.
To help us achieve this we have used the dialogue with social partners to develop and to publish detailed guidance setting out what employers and employees need do to operate safely and lawfully.
The guidance we have set out on the Welsh Government website is for all workplaces and does not replace legislation or industry-specific guidance. Nor should it be considered a substitute for legal advice, which employers and employees should consider obtaining where necessary. Each workplace is unique, and every one needs to do what is right for their own specific workers and customers.
The Welsh Government has published in-depth guidance to support a safe return of the manufacturing sector and further guidance for other key sectors will be published over the coming weeks.
We are consulting with Welsh businesses and trade unions to ensure that our approach is proportionate and fair to businesses and workers.
We want workplaces and workers in Wales to be safe, so we will be asking all employers and employees to:
- show care by acting with compassion and understanding;
- comply with laws designed to keep us all safe;
- involve everyone because safety is a shared endeavour;
- adapt workplaces and behaviours; and
- to communicate with clarity and consistency
In regard to how we open up transport networks as part of the easing of lockdown, over the last few days I have been working with Ministerial colleagues and the Chief Medical Officer to consider the new advice published by the World Health Organisation last Friday on the potential use of face coverings where effective social distancing is more challenging, such as on public transport.
As the Health Minister made clear yesterday the Welsh Government will now be following that WHO advice.
It means that we will be recommending the use of three-layer non-surgical face coverings on public transport and I will be providing updated transport guidance in the coming days.
In updating that guidance there will clearly be a number of important conversations we need to have with social partners and transport stakeholders in the coming days.
I will be meeting with transport unions tomorrow and there will also be a meeting of the Shadow Social Partnership Council tomorrow to also discuss this issue.
This new advice is for people who are asymptomatic. For those with symptoms the advice has not changed – it is do not travel and to isolate at home.
As we begin the work of economic recovery I have been clear that the UK Government should not withdraw the important suite of support they have put in place over the last few months.
This is why we strongly welcomed the announcement of 12 May by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to extend the Job Retention Scheme on the current basis until the end of July and on an amended basis until the end of October.
The Job Retention Scheme has been essential to enable large parts of the economy to ‘hibernate’ through the last few weeks of lockdown.
In moving forward we will continue to make the following arguments to the UK Government:
- There should be no reduction of support in respect of businesses which cannot legally open;
- Reducing the volume of an employer’s workforce that can be furloughed would be preferable to a general tapering of the intensity of support;
- Any action must not push employers to jeopardise safe working because of financial pressure;
- And the UK Government should make available grant support for businesses to make physical adaptations to ensure safer working.
In Wales we have put in place the most generous package of help for businesses in the UK – a total of £1.7 billion of support – and yesterday I was delighted to launch the new eligibility checker for the next phase of Economic Resilience Fund support.
The fund aims to plug the gaps in the support schemes announced by the UK Government, including the Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.
Phase one of the ERF covered any sustainable business operating in Wales of any age or type that is VAT registered, employs people via PAYE and has suffered a significant turnover impact.
Phase two of the fund will operate in broadly the same way as phase one but with an update to the eligibility of the micro scheme to enable limited companies which are not VAT registered to access the fund.
The full applications phase is expected to open on 29 June.
The second phase of the ERF will enable access to the remaining £100m of the £300m already approved and allocated to support micro businesses, small and medium enterprises and large businesses.
Work is underway with stakeholders to develop further support options for those not yet reached, for example Start Up businesses and I will make further announcements on that in the coming weeks.
Llywydd, I have said before that in planning for the recovery, I want us to build back better. To use Covid-19 as a moment for fundamental change in our economy so that what comes after is fairer, more inclusive and more sustainable than what went before.
And that is why I was extremely pleased this week to attend the socio-economic sub-group of the BAME Expert Advisory Panel.
The sub-group, chaired by Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna, is helping the Welsh Government to identify the range of factors influencing adverse Covid-19 outcomes in BAME groups and to look at wider inequalities in our economic life in Wales.
I have been deeply impressed by the work of the sub-group and am under no illusion that in Wales we still have, despite a huge amount of good progress, structural and embedded inequalities in our economy that contribute to the unfairness and discrimination that still impacts black, asian and minority ethnic groups.
When we talk about building back better, it is to the work of the sub group that I think we should turn for guidance and evidence in our quest for something fairer and I want to put on record today the support of both myself and my department to doing that work over the coming months and years.