Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford has said that a ban on selling non-essential goods in supermarkets and other food shops is “fair play” as the nation prepares to go into a ‘fire break’ lockdown at 6pm.
The Welsh Conservatives have said that the ruling amounts to a “misguided over-reach” and would leave many convenience store owners “confused and at risk of abuse”.
But speaking at today’s pre-lockdown press conference Mark Drakeford defended the decision, saying that it was only fair on shops that would have to close.
“It is a simple matter of fair play,” he said. “We are requiring many hundreds of small business to close on the high street right across Wales.
“We cannot do that and then allow supermarkets to sell goods that those people are unable to sell.
“And we are looking to minimise the amount of time people spend out of their homes during this two-week period.
“This is not a period to be browsing around supermarkets looking for non-essential goods.”
Non-essential items being covered up in supermarkets in Wales. Has it really come to this? pic.twitter.com/YwtIUjgc8P
— Grant Tucker (@GrantTucker) October 23, 2020
The Chairman of the Cross Party Group on Small Shops, Conservative MS Janet Finch-Saunders MS, however, said that the First Minister’s comments were “incredibly alarming”.
She said that retailers had not been given a definition of what was essential.
“I am incredibly alarmed by the First Minister’s comments, which amount to nothing more than misguided over-reach,” she said.
“Since the announcement of the firebreak lockdown on Monday, the Welsh Government’s calamity of communication has consistently left businesses owners confused and at risk of permanent closure.
“To announce an arbitrary restriction on the sale of non-essential products with less than 36 hours’ notice is wholly unfair, placing yet more unnecessary pressure on our small business owners and putting these frontline keyworkers at real risk of abuse. We should be standing with our businesses not placing ever greater hurdles in front of them.
“With Wales’ second national lockdown now imminent, it is totally unacceptable that our nation’s small shops still do not know what they can and cannot sell. They should be able to operate fully, without prejudice from this over-reach of the state. The First Minister must urgently rethink this strategy.”
Retailers said they had not been given a list of what is classed as ‘essential’ but it is thought to include clothes, gardening produce and DIY equipment.
Mark Drakeford originally made the announcement at a Senedd committee in response to a question from Conservative MS Russell George who said it was “unfair” to force independent clothing and hardware retailers to close while similar goods were on sale in major supermarkets.
“In the first set of restrictions people were reasonably understanding of the fact that supermarkets didn’t close all the things that they may have needed to,” Mark Drakeford said.
“I don’t think that people will be as understanding this time and we will be making it clear to supermarkets that they are only able to open those parts of their business that provide essential goods to people and that will not include some of the things that Russell George mentioned which other people are prevented from selling.
“So, we will make sure there is a more level playing field in those next two weeks.”