News in brief: Minister attacks Westminster over ‘unacceptable’ funding switch
Finance Minister Rebecca Evans has described Westminster’s “aggressive approach” to replacing EU funding by circumventing the Welsh Government as “completely unacceptable”.
The UK Government confirmed yesterday that money from the UK Community Renewal Fund and Levelling-up fund will be paid directly to local authorities and will require the backing of the local MP to get the green light.
Ministers in Cardiff had expected the funding for local regeneration and transport projects to be allocated to the Welsh Government as a consequential, based on spending in England.
“It is forcibly taking decisions on devolved matters without being answerable to the Senedd on behalf of the people of Wales, Ms Evans said in a statement to the Senedd.
“It has not engaged with us on its prospectuses published only three weeks until these funds begin and undermines years of work we have undertaken with stakeholders to develop new regional investment arrangements.
“Clearly, the people of Wales will also only benefit from a fraction of the funding Wales would have had from EU funding, demonstrating again the UK Government’s failure to invest adequately in Wales.”
Wales’ Finance Minister also criticised the UK Government following the announcement during yesterday’s budget that eight English ports are to become freeports.
Businesses located within the freeports will benefit from tax breaks including no stamp duty, rebates for construction and machinery investment, five years of zero business rates, as well as lower tariffs and customs obligations.
Last summer the Sunday Telegraph reported that Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak wanted to create 10 new freeports around the UK to boost the economy following Brexit, with several Welsh sites under consideration.
“We are willing to work with the UK Government to explore the introduction of freeports in Wales on the condition they are consistent with our values and priorities and receive the same benefits and funding as those in England,” Ms Evans said.
“The decision to announce the freeports in England ahead of concluding arrangements with devolved nations means that there is a significant risk that Freeports could displace economic activity from Wales to England.
Rejecting suggestions the UK Government was trying to sideline Welsh ministers, chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay told BBC Wales: “I don’t think a scheme involving Welsh Members of Parliament is bypassing Wales in any form, and I think it’s important that we complement existing schemes and ensure more money is going directly to communities in Wales.”
“It’s right that we work in partnership, not just with the Welsh Government, but also with Welsh Members of Parliament and local authorities”.
13 more Covid deaths in Wales as cases rates continue to fall
Public Health Wales has reported 13 further deaths due to Covid-19 and 267 new cases of the virus in today’s update.
Six of the newly reported deaths were in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area.
Hywel Dda reported two new deaths but following clinical validation work three deaths previously recorded have been removed from the figures.
Aneurin Bevan and Cardiff and Vale each recorded one further death since yesterday’s report.
Cardiff (29) had the highest number of new cases in the last 24 hours, followed by Wrexham (25) and Flintshire (24).
Gwynedd now has the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 94.7 up from 92.3 per 100,000 people yesterday, and also the highest positive test rate of 9.7 %, up from 9% per 100,000 tests for the week.
Overall, the national case rate has declined to 53.1 from 57.1 since yesterday and the positive test proportion has fallen from 5.8% to 5.5%.
Dr Eleri Davies, Incident Director for the Covid-19 outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: “The weekly incidence of Covid-19 infections is now below 50 cases per 100,000 of the population in half of the local authorities in Wales, although there are some areas which are still high. This continued decrease is encouraging however, it becomes even more important that we continue to stick to the rules in order to maintain this downward pressure on the virus.
“The public should be aware that the level 4 restrictions remain in place in order to keep infection rates falling and that you should stay at home, meet only the people you live with, work from home if you can, wear a face covering where required, wash your hands regularly and stay 2 metres from anyone you do not live with.
“We remind everyone that four people from two different households are now able to meet outdoors for socially distanced local exercise. However, please remember this is solely for the purpose of exercise and that individuals should remain at a social distance, and that this guidance doesn’t apply to private gardens.
Business rates holiday extended for 12 months
Finance Minister Rebecca Evans has confirmed the rates holiday for the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors in Wales will be extended for a further 12 months.
The £380m package provides retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with rateable values up to £500k, and charities in Wales with a year-long business rates holiday to help them survive the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Welsh Government estimates that in combination with the existing Small Business Rates Relief scheme, more than 70,000 businesses will pay no rates at all in 2021-22.
The Minister has also committed to providing businesses and charities in the leisure and hospitality sector with a rateable value of over £500k with 100% rates relief for 2021-22 too.
“The Welsh Government has worked tirelessly to ensure businesses in Wales have access to the most generous business support package anywhere in the UK, Ms Evans said.
“Our targeted, responsible approach has allowed us to dedicate more funding for business support than we have received from the UK government.
“I am pleased to confirm that our 100% rates relief package for those hardest hit sectors will continue for a further 12 months, protecting jobs and businesses across Wales.”
Wrexham Council set for key role in £15.2m bid to help Welsh towns ‘build back better’
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
Wrexham council is set to play a key role in a £15.2m bid to help towns to “build back better”.
It follows the Welsh Government announcing a funding package to help Wales’s town centres recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
The money will be offered to support a range of projects, including improvements to markets, finding new uses for empty buildings and creating pedestrian and cycle routes.
Whilst the funding will be available to all of Wales’s local authorities, Wrexham will take the lead for North Wales in distributing the cash.
Others eligible to apply will include town centre businesses, Business Improvement Districts and town and community councils.
Hannah Blythyn, Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, said it is hoped the new grant will help to revive the economy and bring jobs back to Welsh towns.
She said: “Our town centres are unique, special places. Each town has its own proud history, sense of place and memory — with many of lives shaped by the towns we have grown up in, moved-to or visited.
“However, we know that towns in Wales are facing huge challenges in light of Covid-19, which is why the Welsh Government is committed to doing everything we can to ensure our town centres not only survive but thrive in the future.
“By offering Welsh local authorities the broadest and most flexible package of support through our new placemaking fund, we have enabled our regional partners to decide upon the most appropriate mix of interventions and how to put them into practice effectively in towns across Wales.
“Together with wider Transforming Towns programme grants, this will help us to re-build our Welsh towns and to realise wider plans set out by Welsh Government — to open up new, local economic opportunities while creating sustainable places for the people of Wales to live, work, learn and enjoy.”
The Welsh Government has so far invested £110m as part of the Transforming Towns programme, which funds projects to benefit local communities.
Initiatives which could be supported include green infrastructure developments and both internal and external improvements to businesses.
Ministers are also keen for more people to work from, or closer to home, by repurposing empty buildings as co-working hubs and encouraging public sector organisations to set up offices in town centres.
The government said its work to improve digital connectivity across Wales would support its ambitions.
Plaid pledges to transform health and social care in Wales
Plaid Cymru has pledged to recruit 1,000 new doctors and 5,000 new nurses and other health professionals as part of its proposals to transform health and social care in Wales, if it forms the next Welsh Government.
Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said Plaid’s ambition is to “transform” health and social care for health and care staff and patients alike”.
“If we are to truly get to grips with the chronic issues plaguing our NHS – long waitings lists, the pressure on health and care workers, the current backlog in treatment and diagnosis, and to ensure our NHS recovers from the pandemic then we have to build a more resilient and robust health and care service,” Mr ap Iorwerth said.
“This begins with building a more resilient workforce and to address chronic workforce issues, Plaid Cymru will get started on training and recruiting 1,000 additional doctors and 5,000 nurses and other health professionals.
“A genuinely seamless National Health AND Care Service will give care workers the respect they deserve, putting them on the same terms and conditions and pay scales as health workers alongside free social care at the point of need – a principle I’ve long aspired to, and I plan to deliver on it in Government, he added.
“For young people, we will deliver better healthcare with a national network of youth welfare hubs, giving much needed support with mental health issues in particular – we’ll show we’re a caring nation for all ages.
“Our ambitions to transform health and social care are ambitions that reflect the needs and aspirations of the workforce and patients alike. We are intent on delivering a plan to make Wales more resilient and sustainable, focusing on the preventative and delivering on a healthier nation all around.”