Update by Economy Minister

The third statement in today’s virtual session of the Senedd is by Economy and Transport Minister Ken Skates AM.

 

TITLE Economic Response to Covid-19
DATE 1 April 2020
BY Ken Skates AM, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales

 

Llywydd I’d like to start by thanking colleagues across the chamber for their support, advice and ideas over the last few weeks.

It has been one of the most challenging periods any of us can remember and in dealing with the economic fallout of Covid-19 I have appreciated the conversations I have had with members of all parties about how we can best support the Welsh economy and our public services through this difficult time.

That spirit of bipartisanship is something that has hallmarked our approach throughout this crisis.  The Welsh Government has worked constructively with partners in the UK, Scottish and Northern Irish governments to help all economies of the UK through the Covid-19 challenges we face.

Though there is a huge amount still to do, I hope that members can begin to see a basic framework of support emerging that can help businesses, organisations and public services in Wales chart a way through the challenges they face.

The UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme helps underpin support for businesses by relieving significant fixed cost pressures and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme enables many sole traders and freelancers to get through the crisis with the financial support they need.  Only the UK Government with its resources could have played this role – and I welcome what they have done.

With those schemes having been announced it has allowed us as a Welsh Government to target the more limited funding resource we have into supporting those businesses in Wales that fall through the gaps.

The first element of our Welsh Government help was the package of support that we announced on 18 March.  That announcement included more than £350m to help businesses with their non-domestic rates bills.  I am pleased to tell members that the new relief will be in place from today (1 April).

It also included automatic Small Business grants of £10,000 for businesses across all sectors occupying properties with a Rateable Value of £12,000 and less and £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses occupying premises with a Rateable Value between £12,001 and £51,000. I’m very grateful to local authorities who will be disbursing these grants on our behalf.

We are hoping businesses will start receiving grants this week.

On Monday, we subsequently announced our new £500m Economic Resilience Fund which aims to plug the gaps in the support schemes already announced by the UK Government.

This Wales only fund will support firms of all sizes, including social enterprises, with a focus on those which have not already benefited from the coronavirus grants already announced by the Welsh Government.

The fund is made up of two main elements:

  • A new £100 million Development Bank of Wales Business Loan Scheme
  • And a £400 million emergency grants pot

In total, we have committed more than £1.7 billion into mitigating the impact of Covid 19 on our economy.

The Development Bank of Wales has already received over 500 applications for loans. I shall be meeting with the High Street Banks again tomorrow and will be raising with them the need for a more flexible and considerate response with clients – particularly for those self-employed who need bridging support between now and June.

At this point, I’d like to pay tribute to the staff at both the Development Bank of Wales and Business Wales – and also my officials who have been working day and night to develop the schemes. The Business Wales Helpline has now dealt with almost 4,000 queries since the 9 March alone.

I’d also like to salute the many Welsh companies and universities who are now directly engaged in addressing specific challenges. This includes considerable activity in the production of ventilators, face shields, PPE, beds, mattresses and sheeting. We are not merely relying on current supply routes but building alternatives where the demand cannot be met.

I would briefly also like to touch on our response on Rail, Bus and Air services. The ambition of Welsh Government remains to create a sustainable integrated public transport network, including community transport, across Wales.  I have made a series of decisions to help safeguard public transport across Wales. These were announced in my Written Statement yesterday.

I have agreed a package of support, worth up to £40m for Transport for Wales over the next few months, to allow us give certainty to rail passengers in Wales.  As well as recommending that local authorities continue to pay a minimum of 75% of the contract value for school and other contracted local passenger services, I have now injected £29m of grants to help bus operators through the inevitable uncertainty of the next 3 months.

Finally, after discussions with Eastern Airways, I have temporarily suspended the Cardiff to Anglesey Public Service Obligation (PSO) air service for an initial period of up to three months.

To close, my key message to businesses and to employees is very clear.  If you had a good business in 2019 we want to support you to have a good business in 2021.

If you had a good job in 2019 we want to support you to have a good job in 2021.

We must work together – with compassion, with urgency and with care – to get through the significant challenges we face and to come out the other side.  To the fairer, more equal and kinder economy we all want to see.

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