Senedd roundup: Calls for UK Government action to save Airbus jobs

Rishi Sunak. Picture by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0).

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

Economy Minister Ken Skates said It is “vital” Chancellor Rishi Sunak “takes the lead” in supporting Airbus, Wales’ at today’s Welsh Government press briefing, and called for the introduction of  a shorter working week to be introduced by the company to preserve job.

Airbus, the world’s largest airliner manufacturer, announced yesterday that it plans to cut 15,000 jobs in total as it deals with the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

The 1,700 job losses in the UK are expected to be at Broughton, in Flintshire, and Filton, in Bristol. The Broughton site currently employs 6,000 workers.

“I have had incredibly constructive discussions with UK government ministers, including the Secretary of State for Wales and BEIS [Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] ministers over many, many weeks, specifically regarding the future of the aerospace sector,” Mr Skates said.

“It’s absolutely vital that the chancellor takes the lead that is necessary to provide the sector, with a bright future.”

“And that should begin, in my view, with direct support for a shorter working week in order to minimise job losses within the sector, and to build a bridge to what remains a very promising future for Airbus workers.”

Calling for the UK Treasury to bring forward “a comprehensive support package” he said this should include “innovative ideas” such as “temporarily removing air passenger duty and incentivising UK companies to carry out their maintenance, repair and overhaul work here in the UK”.

“We need to move quickly and we need to move together – across geographical and across political borders – in order to safeguard the sector, the livelihoods of the people employed in it and the communities that rely on aerospace.”

Airbus is expected to reveal further details of the job losses to the government tomorrow.

Mark Drakeford. Picture by Christopher Jones / Alamy Stock Photo

First Minister’s Questions

First Minister keen to learn lessons from other countries to help make Wales coronavirus-free

Pointing to successful suppression of new coronavirus cases in Scotland – which are down to single figures – Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) asked whether the aspiration in Wales was to reach zero cases too?

“Many countries have successfully suppressed the virus to near-zero new cases. New Zealand is regarded as the world leader, but it’s not alone. Greece, Slovenia, Austria, Norway have also suppressed the virus to the extent that restrictions there are now limited and new cases rare, and, like Wales, those countries are not islands….”
– Adam Price MS

The First Minister, wanting to be realistic, pointed to the “porous border” with England and any efforts to make Wales Covid-19 free will be dependent on what happens around the UK as a whole. Nonetheless, he was interested to learn lessons from those nations Adam Price mentioned which do share borders.

Moving on to the topic of local lockdowns – after the recent announcement for Leicester – the First Minister said Anglesey is already in a semi local lockdown due to the food processing plant outbreak, which has resulted in Anglesey Council deciding against reopening schools.

“We are absolutely clear that unlike in Leicester, where there seemed to be quite a lot of confusion as to whether the legal powers existed and to whom they belonged, we are very clear that in Wales Welsh Ministers have powers….to take local action to reduce, if we had to, some of the freedoms we’ve been able to reintroduce….And we would certainly be prepared to do that were the need to be there.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

Bridgend Ford closure one template for Airbus support following jobs announcement

With troubling economic news over the last few days – the latest being a potential 1,700 redundancies at Airbus facilities across the UK (including several in Wales, notably Broughton) – Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), asked what measures the Welsh Government were willing to take to support the company and its supply chain?

“Now is the time for the Welsh Government to be having discussions with business leaders and skills providers about developing packages to help support people across Wales who may not be able to retain employment at the end of the furlough scheme because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS

The First Minister pointed to the response by Welsh, UK and local governments to the imminent closure of the Bridgend Ford engine plant as a process that could be repeated for Airbus – however, the big difference is that Ford is leaving Wales completely, while Airbus still has a future beyond the current economic crisis.

Based on comments by the deputy governor of the Bank of England, there are signs of a “V-shaped recovery”: a sharp downturn followed by a sharp rebound. According to the Office of National Statistics, 30% of businesses in Wales have benefited from either Welsh or UK Government support compared to 21% in Scotland and 14% in England.

Public Health Wales confirmed six more deaths and 32 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday

The total number of deaths in Wales since the start of the outbreak is 1,516.

So far 15,775 people have tested positive for Covid-19. There were 2,808 tests carried out yesterday.

Coronavirus covid-19 test. Picture by Tom Wolf (CC BY 2.0).

Call for regular Cov-19 workers at food processing plants

Plaid Cymru is asking the Welsh Government to implement regular coronavirus testing for workers at food factories and processing plants

Following recent outbreaks at food processing plants on Anglesey, in Wrexham and Merthyr, Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales East Delyth Jewell said “carrying out regular, targeted testing would be an appropriate and reasonable way for the Welsh Government to utilise its testing capacity.”

“Clearly this is a high-risk sector, and measures must be taken to mitigate this risk. Regular testing would ensure that any future outbreaks are avoided by identifying cases early, and using isolation measures to prevent transmission,” she added.

“How many more outbreaks at food factories and processing plants will it take for the Welsh Government to target testing and prevent further outbreaks across Wales that would put further communities at risk?”

Rural Wales. Picture by Jim Bowen (CC BY 2.0)

“Lessons learned” from lax rural development grant funding oversight after critical Audit Wales report

Boris Johnson’s spending announcement “a non-event”

Reacting to yesterday’s announcement of a £5billion infrastructure programme by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said it was “an almost ridiculously small amount” and will result in no extra spending in Wales.

In such circumstances, “if they won’t do it for us, we’ll have to do it ourselves”, so when will work start of granting the Welsh Government extra flexibility with their financial powers?

Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), confirmed that the announcement won’t mean any extra funding in Wales, but was a reprofiling of existing spending in England anyway, not a grand “New Deal”.

“Local government is also working really hard to identify shovel-ready projects right across Wales, so that we are able to get that geographical spread of investment, bearing in mind that some communities are going to be hit particularly hard by the economic fallout of the coronavirus as well. And, of course, we have our Wales infrastructure investment plan which contains billions of pounds of potential investment as well, so that will be really important.”
– Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans

Issues in rural development grants “identified and dealt with”

Audit Wales recently published a report (pdf), stating that £53million of Rural Development Programme grants were awarded without any assessment that they would deliver value for money.

Shadow Finance Minister and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Nick Ramsay MS (Con, Monmouth), said this would be an issue his committee will look at another time, but the most disturbing finding was that £25million of the money was awarded without proper checks.

What confidence could the public have that efforts to finance the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will get the best possible value for Welsh taxpayers?

The Minister told the Senedd that the Rural Development Programme is under review and many of the weaknesses in the programme have already been identified.

“….the projects concerned were reviewed to ensure that they did deliver value for money, and where appropriate, action was taken to ensure that they did achieve value for money, including re-tendering some of those projects. But of course, since then, as I say, we have identified those issues we’ve learned.”
– Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans

She added that value-for-money is being developed as a module for compulsory training of senior civil servants at the Welsh Government.

Dentist’s chair

Dental and optometry practices to see more patients in next phase of pandemic recovery

Dental and optometry practices across Wales are gradually reintroducing a broader range of services as part of the phased recovery of health services from the coronavirus pandemic.

Many dental practices in Wales have remained open during the pandemic to provide emergency care. According to government figures over 16,500 patients have been seen in-practice by dentists in Wales since mid-March, with a further 180,000 patients being assessed remotely by phone or video.

87 of Wales’ 400 optometry practices have also kept their doors open during the pandemic, providing urgent and essential eye care to over 19,000 patients through in-practice and remote consultations.

Optometry and dental practices have been able to increase service provision since 22nd June, reintroducing additional procedures for those patients most in need. Further services will be gradually reinstated.

Those who have experienced serious problems during the lockdown period, and those with urgent care needs, will be prioritised as practices work towards returning to normal service.

Despite the ramping up of services it is likely to be some time before the full range of services – including those dental procedures that generate aerosols that can spread the virus – will be reintroduced. Due to the need for social distancing and infection control, practices will also operate well below previous capacity during this phase.

Exact provision will vary by practice and patients will be contacted when routine appointments can resume.

Due to the anticipated demand on the system, patients are being asked not to contact their practice for routine appointments at present.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething said: “Restoring services is a complex process. We have kept the situation under review throughout the pandemic and ensured continued access to emergency care for those who have needed it. Now that the level of coronavirus in our communities is stabilising, we can restart some non-urgent services in a cautious and phased way.

We are working closely with the relevant professional bodies and are confident that Wales’ dentists and optometrists will continue to follow strict measures, including social distancing, to protect staff and patients. While we are not yet back to business as usual, we would urge those requiring treatment to ensure that they access it to prevent longer-term concerns.”

Anyone requiring urgent dental treatment or assessment should call NHS 111.

New funding aims to help domestic abuse victims as lockdown eases

The government has announced £1.5 million of new funding to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

The new funding is in addition to the existing £5.25m announced in this year’s budget and will aim to help domestic abuse service providers to cope with an expected spike in demand once lockdown measures are lifted.

The main areas that will be prioritised for support are:

  • Helping service providers to prepare for and meet additional demand for support as lockdown measures are eased, including taking precautions against the spread of Covid-19
  • Support for children and young people suffering domestic abuse
  • Staff training to provide cover for members of staff who are shielding, and to meet increased staffing needs due to demand
  • Services to support behavioural change in perpetrators of abuse
  • Additional resources to reduce backlogs and free up capacity for those needing urgent support

Around 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 6 men, experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives.

During lockdown, calls to domestic abuse helplines have changed significantly, becoming more complex, and longer (now nearly twice the 3.18 minutes pre-Covid-19 average). Services are also beginning to hear from victims who tell them that once lockdown is over, they intend to leave their abusers.

Announcing the new funding, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, Jane Hutt, said: “We know that domestic abuse has been made much worse by being stuck at home with your abuser during lockdown. As lockdown measures ease, I hope that it will become easier and safer for victims and survivors to access the support they need.”

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