Tory MS brands small high street businesses ‘money laundering fronts’
A Tory MS has been criticised for branding small high street businesses as potential fronts for money laundering.
During a debate on the Draft Budget in the Senedd on Tuesday (February 7) Vale of Clwyd MS, Gareth Davies said barber shops, e-cig outlets and cash-only hand car washes were “thriving unimpeded by the Welsh Government” despite “potentially” engaging in illegal activities.
He said: “This budget is a real blow to the small and medium-sized businesses that are the backbone of the Welsh economy – it’s 99.3 per cent of all enterprises in Wales.
“And it’s funny that the only businesses on the average Welsh high street that appear to be thriving unimpeded by the Welsh Government these days are pop-up barber shops, unsightly vaping and e-cig outlets, and cash-only hand car washes, amongst a variety of other potential money laundering fronts.”
Senedd Members called out across the Chamber with Ogmore MS Huw Irranca-Davies calling for an intervention.
He said: “I just want to clarify – we’re all extremely concerned about things such as human trafficking and money laundering.
“You’ve just categorised a series of business sectors, entrepreneurs, some of them, and classified them all as fraudulent.
“Could you just clarify that is what you meant when you went through those, that these are fronts for illegal operations, all of them? Money laundering – you specifically said money laundering.”
The Tory MS replied: “Take Prestatyn High Street – we had probably two barber shops 15 years ago, but there are probably about 15 now, all of a similar theme.”
MSs continued to call out in the Chamber with some demanding another intervention which Mr Davies refused.
He added: “Facing this dismal year ahead, perhaps people can raise their spirits and remedy all of this negativity with a theatre production, or going to see the mid-Wales orchestra, but I’m afraid these are have all been completely defunded too.
“And what are people actually concerned about here in Wales? Let’s ask that question. Opinion polling from September last year shows that the economy is the issue people are most worried about, followed closely by the NHS.
“These issues that people don’t care about are the trendy socialist UBI schemes, bank-rolling 36 new politicians and spending £34 million on the 20 mph roll-out.
“This budget presents an increase of £22.5 million for funding the free-school meals programme—the Welsh Government demonstrating that they are more concerned with honouring Plaid than improving the curriculum in schools and the quality of teaching, because education, overall, has been cut in this budget.
“Parents in the Vale of Clwyd would prefer to be in a position where they can easily afford to pay for their own child’s meals, rather than living on state subsidence.
“The irresponsible allocation of funds into schemes that no-one asked for will lead to increasing resentment towards the Welsh Government, unless they are prepared to rethink their spending commitments.”
Speaking after the debate, Huw Irranca-Davies said: “There was an audible intake of breath from most members of the Senedd as Gareth appeared to write off whole sections of high street businesses as money launderers.
“Even some Conservative members had their heads down in their papers or in their hands.
“It may be that Gareth set out to be provocative. There are undoubtedly individual businesses who will be operating fraudulently or illegally.
“I was involved as a UK Minister in the establishment of the Gangmasters Licencing Authority which aims to tackle people-trafficking, including the hidden people trafficking which operates in businesses under our noses.
“We want people to report any suspicions of criminal activity to the police, wherever they occur.
“But to brand whole swathes of our high street businesses as potential criminal money-launderers is a terrible slur on the many local businesses who are trying to create jobs and make a living and bring life to our towns.
“For a party which talks up it’s pro-business credentials, they are talking down to some hard-working entrepreneurs.
“I’m sure Gareth will have some interesting conversations next time he sits down in a local barber’s chair or gets his car hand-washed.”
Nation.Cymru invited Mr Davies to comment but he did not respond.
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