Only the Treasury has ‘firepower’ to protect businesses from Omicron says Drakeford – but ‘no signs’ of help so far
Only the Treasury has the “firepower” to step in and protect businesses from the effects of Omicron but they have shown “no signs” of doing so, Wales’ First Minister has said.
Speaking at the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister, Mark Drakeford said that ministers from the autonomous nations as well as UK Government ministers had argued for financial support during yesterday’s COBRA meeting.
He was answering a question from Conservative MS James Evans, who asked what support could be made available to the hospitality sector who were seeing people cancelling bookings before Christmas as a result of the pandemic.
Discussing the COBRA meeting, Mark Drakeford said: “The Treasury were there but they showed no signs of offering the help that was needed to those who were affected.
“Powerful cases were made, not just by devolved ministers either, but other ministers too, for the need for financial help across a whole range of different aspects of government.
“I say again this afternoon as I do whenever this question comes up, that the help of the UK Government to mobilise throughout the pandemic, through the furlough scheme and others schemes that operated at a UK level were very important here in Wales and did a great deal to sustain those jobs and those businesses.
“If we are entering the kind of period that Omicron brings it will be the only the Treasury that has the firepower to come in and protect businesses from that sort of impact.
“There were no immediate signs yesterday that any announcements were to be made, but the case for that help was certainly made.”
The First Minister hinted however that some help for the industry would be discussed by the Welsh Government before the announcement of any new restrictions tomorrow.
“Presently the threat to the hospitality industry doesn’t come from restrictions at all because there are almost none,” Mark Drakeford said. “The threat comes from people making their own decisions and seeing the threat that Omicron represents and voting with their feet.
“And that is a real challenge for the hospitality sector. The cabinet met earlier today and we discussed there the extent to which we can mobilise fresh assistance for those sectors that will be affected if the micron wave materialises in the way that we fear.”
Earlier Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies had called on the Welsh Government to provide the hospitality industry with financial assistance.
“Some Welsh businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, are already seeing a significant impact on trade in wake of Omicron, and Labour ministers must use the £500 million of unallocated COVID support sitting in government coffers to help firms and protect jobs,” he said.
“It’s clear ministers of all colours across the UK are facing a challenging public health picture in an uncertain period. However, any consideration and implementation of restrictions must be evidence-based and have an impact on tackling the virus, unlike vaccine passports.”
Mark Drakeford’s comments come after the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said yesterday that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had their hands tied when dealing with Omicron unless more severe restrictions were announced in England.
Any job support scheme would mean that the autonomous nations were also given a share of the Treasury’s money to spend on protecting businesses and livelihoods.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the lack of financial aid was a “fundamental point” that meant that deeper restrictions were not possible.
“Each of the four UK governments are responsible for protecting public health in their own country,” she said. “But only when the UK Government takes decisions for England is funding triggered, leaving the rest of us trying to protect health with one hand tied.”