That is the question the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies MS wanted answers to in the Plenary Session on Tuesday (Jan 18).
During questions to the First Minister Andrew RT Davies said that the First Minister had claimed that the impact of restrictions on Welsh businesses over Christmas and the new year was not down to the actions of his Government. He asked: “Can you tell me who was responsible for these restrictions, because last time I checked you were the First Minister. Or was it some extraterrestrial force that none of us are aware of?”
The First Minister replied: “The impact on Welsh businesses was caused by coronavirus. That is the point that I was making, as I’m quite sure the leader of the opposition knows. Businesses in Wales were seeing the impact of the omicron variant well before there was any change in the alert level measures in Wales. That’s why the £120 million that we have made available to Welsh businesses doesn’t start on 27 December when the rules changed, but dates from 13 December, because we recognised that Welsh citizens were already making choices themselves because they recognised the new risks that the omicron variant posed. That’s at the root of the difficulties that Welsh businesses have faced: the fact that they were dealing with a new variant of coronavirus and the impact that that was having on people’s behaviour.”
Mr Davies went on to say that the First Minister did have choices over the type of restrictions that he could have brought in. He said: “Just like you have the choice to commission an independent inquiry here in Wales into those decisions right the way through the pandemic, which regrettably you haven’t commissioned to date.
Mr Davies pointed out that reports last week showed that pubs in Wales lost on average £16,000 each due to the Government restrictions. He said that this was because of the rules that closed some establishments and made other hospitality businesses unviable. He asked if the First Minister would apologise for the impact of those restrictions on the businesses that proved to be unviable because of those restrictions. He also asked if, as a gesture of goodwill, the First Minister would increase the level of funding available to businesses so that they can continue going forward, creating employment opportunities and creating dynamic businesses the length and breadth of Wales.
The First Minister said that he had nothing to apologise for and said that the Conservative Party in Wales has a great deal to apologise for in the way that it has time after time after time sought to deny people in Wales and businesses in Wales the protections that are needed from a global pandemic.
The First Minister said: “We put in measures that were designed to make sure that lives were saved in Wales and that businesses could go on trading, and there’s absolutely nothing to apologise for in doing that because those measures were necessary and those measures have been effective. Because of the help that is available from the Welsh Government, a pub that lost £16,000 in Wales, if it can establish that that is indeed the case, could recoup all of that from the help that we have now put on the table through the non-domestic rates element and through the economic resilience fund. In England, £4,000 is the maximum that any such business would receive. And, no, I’m not going to offer a blank cheque in saying that we would go beyond that. There’s public money at stake here. A pub that can show that it lost £16,000 in Wales, the potential is there for it to receive all of that back from the Welsh Government. I don’t think it would be a sensible or a justifiable course of action to say that the public purse would go beyond the losses that a business had sustained.”
Mr Davies then asked the First Minister when he believed that Wales will be free of all restrictions. He said that an estimate would do. He then asked if the First Minister could provide some metrics or timescales as to when he believed restrictions such as vaccine passports will no longer be required here in Wales.
The First Minister responded: “I set out on Friday last week a timetable stretching to the middle of next month for decision making, provided that the public health situation in Wales would mean that it would be safe to lift further protections. That timetable is well known to people. It will result, on Friday of this week, I hope, in returning to alert level 0 for activities outdoors; on 28 January, returning to alert level 0 for activities and events indoors; and then a three-week review by 10 February of remaining measures.”
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