News in brief: Government accused of avoiding scrutiny during recess

The Senedd. Picture by Senedd Cymru.

Janet Finch-Saunders MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Energy and Rural Affairs, has accused Welsh Ministers of avoiding scrutiny through the summer recess period.

During the recess, Members have been told that they are only allowed to table five Written Questions a week, but there is no guarantee of a formal reply within agreed time scale to the submission of a written question.

Mrs Finch-Saunders says of the 46 written questions submitted between June and July 2020, 13 have elicited a standard holding response. These merely promise to provide the Member with a ‘substantive’ reply at a later date. Another two questions from this period also remain unanswered.

“I am dismayed at the Welsh Government’s continued fear of independent challenge from opposition Members. Whilst I appreciate the strains that all Welsh Ministers remain under, the public expect the Welsh Parliament to maintain proper checks and balances throughout this challenging period,” Mrs Finch-Saunders said.

“With restrictions on contributions during hybrid plenary sessions meaning that many Members cannot speak, and an increasingly arbitrary limit to how many Written Questions a Member can submit, it is recklessly irresponsible for Welsh Ministers to avoid submitting full and proper replies to questions.

“This is a recess unlike any other. The Welsh Government must remain open to scrutiny by providing full and proper answers, within agreed timescales. Failing to provide these is a blatant affront to the public we are elected to serve.”

Five new deaths due to coronavirus have been confirmed in Public Health Wales report today. The total number of deaths now stands at 1,586.

Eight new cases have been confirmed in the last 24 hours taking the total number of people infected to 17,484.  There were 6,146 tests for Covid-19 carried out across Wales yesterday.

Photo by 2C2KPhotography and licensed under CC BY 2.0

Government criticised over stance on face coverings

Plaid Cymru has criticised First Minister Mark Drakeford after he said yesterday that the Welsh Government will only make the wearing of face coverings mandatory in a wider range of settings “if coronavirus starts to spread in Wales again.”

Currently face coverings are only compulsory on public transport in Wales but people are also advised to wear them in public places when they cannot socially distance.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said: “The Welsh Government approach is the wrong way round: face coverings should be seen as preventative above all, rather than a way cure. They’re best used to keep people safe now, rather than a tool to be used to help beat back the virus once it has taken hold again. Welsh Government risks waiting for the horse to bolt before is closing the stable door,” he said.

“Wales is now an outlier when it comes to mandating the wearing of face masks in shops, and I think that should also include other crowded public spaces. The Welsh Government’s reluctance to do so until the virus has once again taken hold undermines the cautionary principle that Welsh Government has wanted to follow, and it’s putting its citizens at more risk than needs be.”

Children at school. Picture by Lucélia Ribeiro (CC BY-SA 2.0)

New grant offers funds to childcare sector

Funding of over £4 million has been announced by the government to support childcare providers affected by COVID-19.

The Childcare Provider Grant will offer funding for the childcare sector to help ensure more providers re-open as schools return in September.

Since 22 June, childcare providers have been able to care for more children and increase their operations or re-open fully.

The grant is available to providers who have been unable to access other business support schemes offered by the UK and Welsh Governments. Most providers will be eligible for a one-off grant of £2,500 to meet costs such as rent, utilities and unmet wages.

The scheme also aims to help make the childcare sector more resilient for the future by requiring providers to register as a company limited by guarantee, a private limited company, a Community Interest Company or a Charitable Incorporated Organisation.

Applications for the scheme will open on 24 August and the scheme will close on 31 October 2020.

Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, Julie Morgan, said: “I am acutely aware of the challenges the childcare sector has faced and I want to thank all childcare providers for their perseverance and professionalism during these difficult times. Welsh Government recognises the important role childcare plays as part of the foundational economy and we are determined to support the sector as the economy reopens.

“Ensuring the availability of formal childcare places is instrumental to our recovery and I am pleased we are able to offer this vital lifeline to those in the sector who have fallen through the other support measures.”

Picture by grassrootsgroundswell (CC BY 2.0).

£10 million support for bus operators as schools prepare to reopen

The Welsh Government has announced an additional £10m to help the bus industry increase the number of vehicles running, with passenger numbers predicted to increase as schools reopen next month.

The funding is required to help operators as social distancing measures are resulting in reduced capacity and that this in turn is significantly affecting ticket revenue.

The extra money will enable operators to increase the number of buses available while also helping to cover costs associated with additional staffing, fuel and maintenance of the bus fleet

Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters said: “This additional £10m will enable Local Authorities and operators to determine and deliver the additional services needed to support learners to safely return to school and college. It will also enable bus users who cannot work from home to return to the workplace in a safe manner.”

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