Senedd roundup: Government seeking to increase borrowing to deal with coronavirus aftermath
The Welsh Government is seeking to increase its borrowing to help deal with the financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
Government borrowing is currently pegged at a maximum of £1bn.
Speaking at the daily coronavirus press briefing on Wednesday Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “We’re going to have to act pretty rapidly as we move out of recovery, and so we need more flexibility in terms of how much we can borrow and when.”
She also confirmed she was in discussions with the UK Treasury about “switching capital and revenue” spending and said this would “help us make more immediate responses to the needs of people in Wales as a result of the crisis.”
Responding to the announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier on Wednesday that he would reveal plans to begin lifting the coronavirus lockdown on Sunday, the minister hinted the move was likely to be supported by the Welsh Government: “We’re keen to move as closely as we can with England at the moment because in Wales we have so many people living on the Wales-England border and it’s important we move in step when we can.
“What I expect to see from the prime minister at the weekend is a careful and cautious approach to lifting the lockdown.”
Public Health Wales has announced that a further 21 people have died with Covid-19, bringing the total to 1,044. There have been 95 new cases in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 10,764. There were 743 tests conducted in Wales yesterday.
People urged to avoid all non-essential travel ahead of the bank holiday weekend
First Minister Mark Drakeford is one of the signatories to an open letter, published on Wednesday, that calls on people to avoid unnecessary travel until Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions have been lifted by the Welsh Government.
The letter also makes clear that travelling to a second home does not ordinarily constitute essential travel, and that anyone leaving or remaining away from the place where they are living without a reasonable excuse is committing an offence.
The letter is also signed by Cllr Andrew Morgan, Leader of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), the Chair of Policing Wales & Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn, and the Chair of the Welsh Chief Officer Group Chief Constable Carl Foulkes.
Wales is a beautiful and welcoming country but, like other administrations across the United Kingdom, the Welsh Government has placed restrictions on non-essential travel at this time of national emergency. We have also limited access to our national parks, and imposed restrictions on caravan and campsites, hotels, B&Bs and holiday accommodation. These businesses can currently open only in response to a request from the Welsh Government or a local authority.
We have taken this action to protect health and protect our NHS by limiting the transmission of Covid-19 in communities in Wales.
The vast majority of people are respecting the restrictions and are making strong efforts to adhere to them. We are asking everyone to continue to respect these measures. In particular, we are asking all owners of second homes in Wales to act responsibly and to avoid travelling to those homes until restrictions have been lifted.
The Welsh Government and Public Health Wales have been clear throughout the emergency period that travelling to a second home does not ordinarily constitute essential travel. Indeed, anyone leaving or remaining away from the place where they are living without a reasonable excuse is committing an offence.
Crucially, they are also putting themselves and the communities to which they travel at risk. They are placing an avoidable strain on the police, adding pressure to our health services and additional demands on supply chains.
Police forces and local authorities in Wales have a range of enforcement powers. The police continue to take a vigilant approach to all travel undertaken without a reasonable excuse. The Welsh Government will work with the police, local authorities and others to keep the Regulations and sanctions under review.
It is vital that we minimise transmission rates: ensuring that we travel only when essential and permitted plays a key part in this.
We look forward to welcoming you back once it is safe again to do so. Until then please stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.
New volunteer prescription delivery scheme launched
The Welsh Government has launched a new scheme to ensure people who are shielding or self-isolating can continue to get their prescription medicines.
The arrangements will support community pharmacies and dispensing doctors to allocate deliveries to volunteer drivers where people do not have family, friends or neighbours who can collect their prescriptions for them.
Working with the National Pharmacy Association, Pro Delivery Manager, a web-based delivery tracking system developed in Wales to support the deliveries of prescriptions, will be made available to pharmacies, dispensing doctors and volunteers.
The volunteers have been recruited directly by the Welsh Government, alongside the British Red Cross, and include individuals from the pharmaceutical industry, optometry practices and Welsh Government employees. Each volunteer has been matched to a participating community pharmacy or dispensing doctor to offer additional medicines deliveries. A further recruitment drive will be launched with support from Community Voluntary Councils across Wales.
Over 650 community pharmacies in Wales and 18 dispensing doctors have signed up to the new scheme, with over 400 volunteers already recruited.
Photo by Howard Lake and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
£26m to help small charities in Wales
Thousands of small charities within the retail, leisure and hospitality sector will receive a £10,000 business support grant to help them respond to the financial challenges of Covid-19, the Welsh Government has announced.
This new package is an extension to the existing Covid-19 grants scheme announced last month and will support an additional 2,600 properties with a rateable value of £12,000 or below.
The Development Bank of Wales has already approved 1,142 loans, predominately in the SME sector, at a cost of over £69 million.