Senedd roundup: First Minister complains of lack of contact from UK Government
First Minister Mark Drakeford has revealed his frustration at the continuing lack of contact between the UK government and Welsh ministers.
Mr Drakeford revealed at Monday’s press briefing that he last spoke to Prime Minister Boris Johnson over two weeks ago and said he said he’d had “no discussion” with any UK minister, with the exception of Welsh Secretary Simon Hart since then.
The Welsh Government has complained of a lack of engagement, communication, and coordination from Westminster since the start of the coronavirus crisis three months ago.
At the start of May Mr Drakeford revealed he had not spoken to Boris Johnson “for several weeks” and called for the UK Government to do more to keep in contact with the leaders of the devolved nations during the public health crisis.
On Friday, the Welsh and Scottish Governments decided to boycott a ministerial video conference with the UK Government after requests for a Brexit extension was refused before they even had a chance to discuss it.
Scottish and Welsh Brexit ministers Michael Russell and Jeremy Miles put out a joint statement following the snub complaining “We cannot accept a way of working in which the views of the devolved governments are simply dismissed before we have had a chance to discuss them.”
The First Minister said: “In terms of what I have wanted to see – that regular reliable rhythm of meetings with UK ministers – and the ‘stop-start’ arrangements we’ve had, I’m afraid we’ve been in a ‘stop’ part of that cycle for more than two weeks.”
Looking forward to Friday’s review of the lockdown, Mr Drakeford welcomed the drop in the R rate in Wales to 0.7 from 0.8 but indicated the approach to further easing of constraints would remain cautious.
The R value is the number of people each infected person will on average pass COVID-19 on to.
If the number climbs above one, it means the number of coronavirus cases will increase exponentially.
It was reported over the weekend that the rate in England had gone above one in some regions.
When asked to compare the figures in the two countries he told the press: “It’s the way we have done things in Wales that has resulted in the R figure that you refer to.
“This is a sign of a success of the way we have done things, rather than an inducement to do an awful lot very quickly.”
Warning zoo animals could be put down if lockdown restrictions continue
Welsh Conservatives Shadow Environment Minister Andrew RT Davies MS has warned that animals at zoos and wildlife parks are under threat of being euthanised due to the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, unless financial support is made available by the Welsh Government.
All zoos and similar venues in Wales have been closed to the public since the onset of the coronavirus lockdown in March and the shadow minister has accused the government of failing to offer them the same degree of help the UK Government has made available to zoos in England.
Mr Davies said: “Zoos and other similar places can’t furlough all their staff; animal welfare dictates that some need to be there to keep the animals well, but if this goes on for much longer, then the owners may have to consider the last resort of euthanising healthy animals.
“The next review will be announced on Friday, and I urge the First Minister to both ease lockdown in the safe and sensible way we have suggested – because it’s perfectly feasible to introduce social distancing in these outdoor places if people are allowed to visit them – and start supporting the zoos financially.”
A government spokesman defended the support offered to zoos last week and said. “Andrew RT Davies is wrong.”
“Zoos and other animal attractions in Wales have been able to access a more generous package of support than they would have had through a sector-specific scheme and several weeks before England announced their fund on 4 May,” he added.
Wait for tourism to get the green light to reopen set to continue
This week’s review of the coronavirus restrictions in Wales appear unlikely to include much good news for the tourist industry.
There has been increasing pressure from the sector, and both main opposition parties, for an indication from the government of when businesses could start to reopen to visitors.
Non-essential retail businesses, including tourist attractions, have been shut in Wales since March due to fears over the spread of coronavirus.
Figures released last week by the Office of National Statistics confirmed just under a third of Wales’s million strong workforce is currently furloughed, and the areas that rely most heavily on tourism – Conwy, Pembrokeshire and Powys – are most heavily hit.
Plaid Cymru’s Helen Mary Jones MS, Shadow Minister for the Economy, is asking for clarity from First Minister Mark Drakeford to enable businesses to have enough time to make the necessary changes to enable them to reopen safely.
“I really can’t stress enough how important it is to give the tourism industry fair warning of any changes they may have to make. It’s one thing putting a sign up asking for visitors to wash their hands. It’s another matter to build a second door in order to create a one-way system around your premises. We need detail, and we need it now,” she said.
“I’m also calling for clarity and a clear timetable on the promised longer-term support packages. With a third of Welsh workforce on furlough, if further assurance on the next layer of support isn’t given soon, we could see many of these people being made redundant.”
Paul Davies, Welsh Conservatives Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament, also called on Mark Drakeford to offer “hope and reassurance to the sector”.
“Many operators feel as though they’re being left behind, with no hope for their businesses in the future.”
“It’s time that the sector is given that hope and help both financial and in terms of there being a clear roadmap, with – as we have repeatedly called for – a timeline of when operators can re-open, before it’s too late,” Mr Davies said.
“Now is not the time for talking – our tourism industry needs action.”
Speaking ahead of the upcoming review, Mr Drakeford indicated that once again any changes to the lockdown regulations on Friday are likely to be modest but called on the tourist industry make preparations so that when they are allowed to reopen they are ready to operate safely.
In addition, the First Minister highlighted the concerns of communities that are worried about the impact an influx of visitors from areas where the virus is more prevalent could have and indicated the onus is on the tourist industry to address those worries: “It’s important that the industry itself secures the consent of those communities.”
“If we reopen tourism in parts of Wales, when visitors arrive, they will need to know that their presence there is welcome in those local communities.”
Planning stepped up for 2021 Senedd election
The Welsh Government has set up an Elections Planning Group to consider the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on next year’s Senedd elections
The group which is made up of key stakeholders and Welsh Government officials, will consider the potential impact on the administration of elections and any impact on legislative provision.
In addition, the government has published a consultation document seeking views on the draft Senedd Cymru (Representation of the People) (Amendment) Order 2020.
Ahead of each Senedd election the legislation (National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) Order 2007) which sets out the manner in which the election and election campaign is conducted and includes provision for legal challenge, is reviewed and amended to take account of any policy or legislative changes since the last election.
The consultation seeks views on the proposed amendments to the National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) Order 2007 which largely arise as a result of changes to the franchise and disqualification arrangements made by the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020.
The draft Order also contains more significant amendments which reflect changes made elsewhere in the United Kingdom to allow candidates the option of not publishing their home address at an election, along with the issue of payment to returning officers fees for services rendered, as well as other general updates reflecting changes since the last amending Order was made.
The consultation on these proposals will run until 8 September 2020.