Welsh Tory Leader accuses Drakeford of ‘playing politics’ for saying Treasury support is only there when England needs it
The Leader of the Welsh Tories has accused Mark Drakeford of “playing politics” after he suggested that Treasury support is only there when England needs it.
Andrew RT Davies was responding to the First Minister after he said that Wales’ ability to tackle Omicron is “severely constrained” by the Treasury’s refusal to help out unless England is also imposing restrictions.
At a press conference in which Drakeford outlined restrictions that the Welsh Government was planning to introduce after Christmas, on 27 December, he said that it was “not fair” that ministers making decisions for England knew money would be available while the same thing wasn’t true in Wales.
But in an interview with BBC Wales, RT Davies insisted that the “UK Treasury has always stepped up in this pandemic when it’s been required for Wales”.
Back in the autumn of 2020 the UK Treasury sparked outrage after it refused a request from Mark Drakeford for the furlough scheme to be extended Wales when the country went into a firebreak lockdown.
The furlough was later extended in Wales after England went into its own lockdown.
Andrew RT Davies said: “Lets get real here. The UK Treasury has funded many measures right the way through this pandemic in excess of £8bn that’s come into Wales. I’m sure the UK Treasury will step up to the plate again.
“But let’s not forget that the Welsh Government has £650m of their own money available to put into to support businesses in Wales and ultimately when they did bring schemes forward such as the economic resilience fund, it collapsed in 24 hours, so I regret that the First Minister is trying to play politics with this.
“The UK Treasury has always stepped up in this pandemic when it’s been required for Wales.”
BBC broadcaster Jenny Jones asked: “But should Wales need to go into a so called firebreak lockdown, if the case numbers here surge very quickly, would yo be calling on Rishi Sunak to guarantee a furlough for those businesses that need to close?”
Davies replied: “That’s an inevitability if we did go into lockdown or a firebreak, but none of us want to see that happening because obviously we know the devastating consequences of a firebreak or lockdown, not just on the economy but on people’s mental health and on society as a whole.”
‘Refusal to open vital support schemes’
During the Covid press conference, Mark Drakeford said: “Our ability to provide and sustain longer-term economic support during this new wave of what is an ongoing public health emergency is severely constrained by the current position of the UK Treasury and its refusal to open vital support schemes such as furlough.
“These schemes should be available for all nations when they are needed and not just at the point at when restrictions are introduced in England.”
He added: “At the moment the system is not fair to us in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
“If ministers at the UK Government want to do something the Treasury will back it. If we want to make the same decisions here the money isn’t available.”
He said that money received from the Treasury so far were for “all the other things we need to do” – including rebuilding the NHS and helping schoolchildren catch up.
“What we’re talking about is additional money needed to face the Omicron onslaught,” he said.
“We may need to make different decisions to different timetables. We should have the same power of initiative that UK Government ministers have.”
He said that he had told Treasury ministers in meetings that he found it “disappointing” and “unfair” that they were not making funding available.
He said that if the money was available he would spend it on wage support for businesses that would have to close “if the economy has to be put on a footing where people can’t be in work while the Omicron wave comes over it”.
The First Minister said that Wales will introduce new restrictions for businesses and services from 27 December to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant.
This will include a 2-metre rule on social distancing in offices and putting extra measures in place to protect customers and staff, such as one-way systems and physical barriers. Nightclubs will also close.
The Welsh Government has announced up to £60m will be available to support businesses affected by the new restrictions.
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