Senedd roundup: Minister warns ‘we can’t eliminate all risk’ when schools reopen
Education Minister Kirsty Williams says it is impossible to “eliminate all risk” of coronavirus when schools in Wales re-open but pledged the Welsh Government would do its “very best” to minimise the risks for both staff and children.
Speaking during the daily Welsh Government press briefing on Wednesday, she said: “At the forefront of my mind will be the health and emotional well-being of our staff and our children.”
She said it’s impossible to give “one hundred percent guarantees” in any environment, but that the Welsh Government would manage those risks as much as possible.
“We can’t eliminate all risk but we can do our very best to minimise that risk.”
Ms Williams also indicated she will not set “an arbitrary date” for when children return to school and said more evidence was needed about the progression of the pandemic before a date could be considered.
From 1 June, children in reception, year 1 and year 6 in England will be able to return to school if infection rates and the UK government’s other tests at the time allow it The Welsh Government has already ruled out a return to school on 1 June.
Ms Williams also said the government would also need to see the development of the test, trace and protect regime before letting children to return to the classroom.
Teaching unions in England have expressed grave concern about the UK’s plans for reopening schools as soon as 1st June but the minister said she was working with “all key stakeholders as we make the next decisions around what happens next for education in Wales” and added: “The unions are also closely attuned to the work that we are doing.”
Public Health Wales has confirmed 14 further deaths due to coronavirus. Total deaths in Wales from the virus now total 1,238. It was also confirmed there were 110 new patients diagnosed with Covid-19, taking the total number of cases to 12,680. There were 1,565 tests carried out in Wales over the last 24 hours.
Government agrees to public inquiry on handling of Coronavirus crisis
The Welsh Government has agreed in principle to a future public inquiry into its handling of the Coronavirus crisis.
Responding to the call from Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price MS during today’s Senedd Plenary, First Minister Mark Drakeford said he agreed to the principle of a public inquiry – but was not able to anticipate “when that would be”.
Mr Drakeford said: “I’ve no doubt that an independent inquiry will be required” and added: “I’m not able to anticipate when that will be but the principle that Mr Price has outlined, I’m very happy to confirm my support for that principle.”
This is the first time the Welsh Government have formally agreed to a public inquiry on the Coronavirus pandemic – and are the first government in the UK to do so.
Mr Price welcomed the First Minister’s admission but expressed disappointment that he had not committed to a timetable and called for the inquiry to get underway immediately: “The process of setting up an inquiry should begin now so it can start taking evidence this year. Work could then begin while memories are fresh, and interim findings could be ready by spring of next year.
“Learning lessons to better inform future responses and improve decision-making is crucial and such an inquiry should leave no stone unturned in answering, difficult questions fully and frankly.
“The people of Wales – especially those directly affected by the tragic consequences of this pandemic – will expect and deserve nothing less.”
Welsh Secretary voices testing concerns
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart has expressed concern at the Welsh Government’s record of for testing for Covid-19.
Testing in Wales has consistently fallen behind government targets since the start of the outbreak.
Initially it was claimed there would be 8,000 tests a day conducted by April 7th. This was then revised down to 5,000 tests a day by mid-April.
First Minister Mark Drakeford then confirmed the government had scrapped its coronavirus testing target on 20th April and refused to set a new goal – suggesting he had been advised that doing so could become a distraction.
Just over 1,900 tests were carried out yesterday with capacity currently standing at over 5,000. The total number of tests in Wales since March is 61,822 according to Public Health Wales.
On Monday the government announced it had joined a UK-wide home testing service which provides additional capacity but on Tuesday the platform for booking tests showed there were no home testing kits or drive through testing appointment available in Wales.
Speaking on BBC Radio Wales Mr Hart said that throughout the pandemic he had “tried to be as pragmatic and as sympathetic to the challenges Welsh Government are having as I possibly can”.
“But on this particular issue, on the testing issue, it is becoming obvious that Wales has fallen behind the other three nations.
“That just makes progress with this whole recovery process so much slower.”
Plan launched to support education for over-16s
The ‘Resilience Plan for post-16 learning’ has been published today, setting out how the Welsh Government will work with colleges, universities and training providers to help ensure that learners are supported throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The plan identifies the priority groups most in need of support and sets out the expectations of how education providers and the Welsh Government will work together in response to Covid-19 and how key decisions will be communicated.
Since education providers in Wales closed for face-to-face learning on 20 March, colleges and universities have moved to remote learning, delivering online lectures, tutorials, and reviews, as well as ensuring support for more vulnerable learners continues.
The plan is divided into three phases – the current ‘rescue’ phase is focused on ensuring education providers have immediate security of funding and arrangements for learning in place this academic year; the ‘review’ phase plans for potential changes this autumn; and the ‘renew’ phase will put arrangements in place for the remainder of the academic year 2020-21.
The plan identifies learners for whom the coronavirus is likely to cause the most disruption, including Year 11 and 13, and vocational learners who need to access colleges or workplaces to complete their courses. The Welsh Government has increased online resources for post-16 through its Hwb platform, with distance learning resources available for both learners and providers.
The Education Minister Kirsty Williams has also announced that £1.3m of capital funding, part of the Sêr Cymru programme, will be used to invite applications from Welsh universities to submit novel research proposals that could contribute to or boost the advancement of research that impacts COVID-19.
Plaid launch campaign to boost Welsh food and drink industry
Plaid Cymru has launched a new campaign that aims to help boost the Welsh food and drink industry.
The ‘I’m buying local” campaign encourages party member and supporters to buy more locally produced food and drink with the aim of helping those businesses cope with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as building resilience for the future.
The initiative is designed to put additional focus on the high-quality local food produced throughout Wales, to improve food security and improve farmers’ incomes.
Ben Lake MP, Plaid’s Westminster spokesperson on rural affairs, said: “Plaid Cymru has a long-standing commitment to addressing the crisis in the food industry in Wales that starts with a local procurement policy. Some councils in Wales procure school dinner basics such as potatoes and bread from Rochdale and Liverpool. Hundreds of millions of pounds leak out of the Welsh public purse each year because local producers and enterprises are overlooked or unable to compete with the bigger corporations.
“Building a resilient food industry means not only backing our farmers but also developing processing and developing added value for our raw materials. To achieve that, we need a strong united voice for the Welsh food industry to protect and support our food producers and agriculture.”