Senedd roundup: The £2.4 billion coronavirus bill facing Wales
Owen Donovan, Senedd Home
Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), has published the first supplementary budget of 2020-21 (pdf).
Supplementary budgets list in-year changes to the agreed Welsh budget and are usually measured in the tens of millions of pounds.
This time it’s different, as the supplementary budget sets out how the Welsh Government have responded to the coronavirus pandemic. This includes redirecting funds from the agreed Welsh budget, as well as accounting for Barnett Formula funds resulting from increased spending in England.
The Minister has repeated a request for Welsh Government borrowing powers (currently capped at £1 billion) to be extended to meet future financial challenges.
“There are still many challenges ahead and our ability to respond is limited by the rigid financial rules imposed on us by the UK Government. Easing the rules on the way we manage our budget and the amount we can borrow will free up much-needed resources for the front lines in this crisis.
“I will continue to urge the UK Treasury to fix this problem and as we look ahead the Welsh Government will set out the case against any return to reckless austerity.”
– Finance Minister & Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans
In total, £2.46 billion of new spending has been included in the supplementary budget.
Health & Social Services
- In terms of frontline NHS services: £166 million for field hospitals, £100 million for PPE, £91 million for the scheme to draft final year medical, social care and nursing students into service, £30 million for the use of private hospitals and at least £10.5 million for mental health services.
- £57 million towards the Welsh Government “Track & Trace” strategy.
- A bonus payment of £500 for every social care worker will cost £40 million.
- An extra £9.8 million for GP and substance abuse services, £6.3 million for end-of-life care and £2.3 million for prescription delivery schemes.
- £10 million will be provided to aid coronavirus patients to recover at home.
Local Government, Housing & Education
- A £188.5 million fund for local authorities made up of £40 million for adult social care, £40 million towards the continuation of free school meals, £10 million for measures to protect the homeless and £7 million for temporary mortuary facilities and fatality management.
- A further £78 million to cover local authority loss of income due to the pandemic.
- A scheme to provide emergency childcare in schools will cost £30 million.
- £15 million for local food delivery schemes and an additional £11.5 million for the discretionary assistance fund for families facing hardships.
Economy, Transport & Business Support
- £662 million to provide a £10,000 grant to businesses eligible for small business rate relief or with a rateable value below £12,000.
- A £500 million economic resilience fund for affected businesses, delivered through the Development Bank.
- £332 million for 100% business rate relief for all retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of under £500,000.
- £214 million to provide a £25,000 grant to businesses in hospitality, retail and tourism with a rateable value of between £12,001-£51,000.
- £40 million to enable bus and train services to run and to provide free travel for NHS staff.
- £24 million to support the Third/Voluntary Sector.
Just over £256 million has been redirected or cut from the agreed 2020-21 Welsh budget including amongst other things:
- £68 million from improvement and transformation programmes within the NHS (including mental health).
- £30 million from the Welsh Government’s free childcare scheme.
- A £16.8 million cut to HEFCW (university funding) – with discussions ongoing to ensure this doesn’t disproportionately affect disadvantaged students who need to work whilst studying – plus a £7 million cut to teacher training programmes.
- £12.5 million from concessionary bus fares and bus support grants.
- An £11.8 million cut to apprenticeships and work-based learning which is said will disproportionately affect female students who take more “non-priority” apprenticeship schemes.
- An £8 million cut to tourism promotion schemes, a £3.2 million cut to international trade and promotion schemes and £2 million from support to the Welsh language.
- A £7.6 million cut to Natural Resources Wales budget and a £4 million cut to natural resources grant schemes.
- £5 million from the anti-obesity strategy.
- A £4.2 million cut to school improvement grants.
£2.8 million from transformation programmes in local government
The total number of deaths from coronavirus in Wales has increased to 1,293 after Public Health Wales announced 11 more people have died. There were 97 new cases reported, meaning 13,653 people have tested positive for Covid-19 overall. There were 2,206 tests conducted in the last 24 hours.
Supplementary Budget “potentially dangerous”
Welsh Conservatives Shadow Finance Minister, Nick Ramsay MS, has described elements of the supplementary budget announced by the government today as “potentially dangerous”.
Mr Ramsay recognised that steps had been taken to divert funds from less essential areas to the vital ones – such as from the Major Events Fund to health, but said: “We had called for a full, Emergency Budget, but were prepared to settle for a Supplementary Budget, and would have welcomed elements of it had Labour’s tried, tested, and failed policy of borrow and spend to the hilt not been the only idea.
“Earlier today, I said that a bold and innovative budget is required to mitigate the effects of the pandemic – especially for the health sector and the economy – but what we have been presented with lacks those qualities and is potentially dangerous for the future prosperity of Wales.
“Yes these are unprecedented times but the call for caps on borrowing to be removed could trap Wales and its people into decades of debt.”
Shadow Minister voices testing worries
Janet Finch-Saunders MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Social Care, has expressed concern that daily testing capacity for Covid-19 in Wales has remained static.
The government confirmed capacity yesterday was at 5,330 tests per day – the same as last week.
The number of tests carried out has steadily increased over the last week but remains comfortably under capacity. Yesterday public Health Wales recorded that 3,030 tests were carried out, the highest number since testing began in March
The shadow minister also highlighted that while the proportion of positive infections has slowed for healthcare workers (16% a fortnight ago, to 8% last week, and now 5%), it is increasing for care home workers (29% to 31% to 35%) for the same period.
She said: “While I welcome the increase in the number of tests of residents and staff in care homes, the numbers of positive test results coming back is very worrying. Yes, as testing increases, there are likely to be more confirming someone has Coronavirus, but there is a growing disparity between the care home and healthcare sectors.
“We need to understand why this is, and so I am calling for the Welsh Labour-run government to tell the dedicated and hardworking people working in the care home sector just what it will do to protect them.”
Risk assessment launched to support BAME workers during pandemic
A new risk assessment has been launched to support people from BAME backgrounds in the NHS and social care in Wales.
The two-stage risk assessment was developed by the expert advisory group, which was set up by the Welsh Government to reduce people’s risk of contracting coronavirus in the workplace.
In April, First Minister Mark Drakeford launched an urgent investigation to understand the reasons why people from BAME communities are disproportionately impacted by coronavirus.
Professor Keshav Singhal, who worked on developing the risk assessment said: “Our group has acted very swiftly in collating the best evidence to come up with a self-administered risk assessment tool for all the NHS and social care staff within two weeks.
“This risk assessment tool is simple and easy to use by the employee as well as the employer and provides a clear pathway to risk reduction for those found to be high risk due to their ethnicity or a combination of various factors including sex and age.
“The launch and rollout of this tool will help allay anxieties particularly amongst the BAME staff, empower them and keep them safe from Covid-19 and help the employers in fulfilling their legal, moral and ethical obligations towards the safety of their staff.”
New fund aims to help digital firms develop technology to combat Covid-19
The Welsh Government has announced a £150,000 fund for healthcare firms to find new ways to use digital technology to combat coronavirus.
The fund will support the rapid piloting and evaluation of new digital platforms, apps and technologies to determine their long-term use and potential in the health service.
The following themes have been identified as offering the greatest challenge and potential impact:
- Remote diagnosis and triage of patients
- Optimising data collection and processing
- Tracking, managing and reporting on PPE availability and usage
- Remote citizen support and treatment
The initiative will award up to £30k to the best five to eight projects, which meet the criteria identified by a panel, including NHS, Welsh Government and industry representatives.
The scheme will run throughout July and August with a potential for the new technology to be rolled out from early September.