‘Not fair’ that Treasury support only available when England imposes restrictions says Mark Drakeford
The First Minister has said that Wales’ ability to tackle Omicron is “severely constrained” by the Treasury’s refusal to help out the autonomous nations unless England is also imposing restrictions.
He said that it was “not fair” that ministers making decisions for England knew money would be available while the same thing wasn’t true in Wales.
Speaking at today’s press conference Mark Drakeford was outlining restrictions that the Welsh Government was planning to introduce after Christmas, on 27 December.
“Our ability to provide and sustain longer-term economic support during this new wave of what is an ongoing public health emergency is severely constrained by the current position of the UK Treasury and its refusal to open vital support schemes such as furlough,” he said.
“These schemes should be available for all nations when they are needed and not just at the point at when restrictions are introduced in England.”
He added: “At the moment the system is not fair to us in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
“If ministers at the UK Government want to do something the Treasury will back it. If we want to make the same decisions here the money isn’t available.”
He said that money received from the Treasury so far were for “all the other things we need to do” – including rebuilding the NHS and helping schoolchildren catch up.
“What we’re talking about is additional money needed to face the Omicron onslaught,” he said.
“We may need to make different decisions to different timetables. We should have the same power of initiative that UK Government ministers have.”
He said that he had told Treasury ministers in meetings that he found it “disappointing” and “unfair” that they were not making funding available.
He said that if the money was available he would spend it on wage support for businesses that would have to close “if the economy has to be put on a footing where people can’t be in work while the Omicron wave comes over it”.
He said that the Delta form of Covid will continue to be the main cause of coronavirus infections in Wales up to Christmas.
“But this is the calm before the storm. We are seeing cases of Omicron increasing every day in Wales – and across the UK. There are around 100 confirmed cases in Wales and they are to be found in every health board area,” he said.
“By the end of December it will be the dominant form of the virus in the UK. This is a very fast-moving form which is easily transmitted from person to person. It has spread rapidly throughout England and Scotland.
“Because of how easily Omicron is transmitted and its ability to infect large numbers of people we know that this could translate into large numbers of people being admitted to hospital.
“We are already seeing increases in the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 in London and we have to be prepared for the same thing to happen here too.”
The First Minister said that Wales will introduce new restrictions for businesses and services from 27 December to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant.
This will include a 2-metre rule on social distancing in offices and putting extra measures in place to protect customers and staff, such as one-way systems and physical barriers. Nightclubs will also close.
The Welsh Government has announced up to £60m will be available to support businesses affected by the new restrictions.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We need a plan to keep us safe this Christmas and we need stronger measures to protect us afterwards, as we prepare for a large wave of omicron infections.
“Omicron poses a new threat to our health and safety. It is the most serious development in the pandemic to date.
“It is one we must take seriously. We will continue to put in place proportionate measures to protect people’s lives and livelihoods.
“This is a virus which thrives on human contact. Every contact we have is an opportunity for us to spread or catch the virus.”