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Financial Support: Covid-19

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 18 November 2020

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on financial support for people in Wales affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (908726)

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on financial support for people in Wales affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (908728)

I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on our economic response to covid-19. We have directly provided over £500 million to the self-employed in Wales on top of the £5 billion additional funding guarantee given to the Welsh Government.

The pandemic, as the Secretary of State will know, is putting huge financial pressure on constituents right across Wales. Families and communities are hugely impacted, and none more so than those who have been impacted by flooding and by living underneath what are arguably unsafe coal tips. Can the Secretary of State tell us what representations he has made to the Chancellor to make true the Prime Minister’s promise that additional funding will come to Wales to help those families who have been impacted by flooding and to secure the coal tips, including the ones in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).

As I hope the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been significant movement on the guarantee for the initial important works around Tylorstown. The rest of the funding that has been requested by the Welsh Government is the subject of a national reserve, and that has to be part of the normal estimates process. We have asked the Welsh Government to come forward with their numbers, and a decision on that will be made in due course. However, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has already indicated that he will look favourably on an application provided it meets the necessary criteria.

The lockdown in England of course came after the firebreak in Wales, so will the Secretary of State ensure that Wales gets its full equivalent of the England lockdown through the Barnett consequential formula, so that we get our fair share of funding that can be best deployed by the Welsh Government?

The sums of money that have been already made available to the Welsh Government under the Barnett scheme are substantial. As the hon. Member knows, at least £5 billion has formed the major bulk of that. What I should also say is that, as far as the additional sums are concerned and the point he makes, the significance of doing this on a UK-wide basis is to minimise the complications and the divergences in policy between the UK Government and the Welsh Government, because that makes that even spread so much more difficult. However, the Chancellor has made available substantial sums of money in advance of the normal Barnett formula, and £1.8 billion is still being sat on by the Welsh Government and is available to spend.

Sadly, this week we have seen the Prime Minister’s utter contempt for devolution, yet it is only because of the devolved powers that the Welsh Labour Government were able to heed the scientists’ advice and actually go into the firebreak at the time it could be most effective. As the Secretary of State knows, the Welsh Government called on the Chancellor to extend furlough to support businesses from day one of the firebreak, so why was it that the Secretary of State failed to secure that support for workers in Wales and why was it only made available after England belatedly followed Wales’s lead into lockdown?

Again, it is a strange question to be levelling at the UK Government, given the level of support that has been provided. I should remind the hon. Lady that the infection rates per 100,000 in Wales are actually higher than they are in England and testing rates per 100,000 in Wales are lower than they are in England, so this notion that she is attempting to put forward that somehow it has all gone swimmingly well in Wales and not so swimmingly well in England is completely untrue. What it demonstrates is that actually a competition between the two Governments is not the answer; the answer is working together more collaboratively. As far as the Chancellor’s statement is concerned, he made it very clear in a phone call to the First Minister exactly what was possible and what was not, yet for some reason the First Minister decided to press ahead with plans that he knew could not be met by the Treasury in the timescale available.

It is strange, and the question is about making such support available for Wales when it needed it. After this Conservative Government’s dither and delay led to a crisis-point lockdown in England, the Chancellor suddenly made the 80% furlough available, but it was not backdated to 23 October for Welsh businesses, whose closure at that point helped to turn the tide on covid numbers in Wales. That is of no help to workers who have been made redundant because of the Government’s refusal to extend furlough, up until the very last day. What will the Secretary of State do to get that furlough backdated and give Welsh businesses and workers the support they deserve?

The hon. Lady has clearly not had the conversations with Welsh businesses that I have had. I will not go into too much detail on this issue, because we would be going all day, but I have pages of numbers on the contributions that the UK Government have made to Welsh businesses and employees: £1.6 billion of direct support to businesses; 401,000 people protected by furlough, accounting for one in three jobs; £1.47 billion in bounce-back loans; and £530 million in support for the self-employed. The hon. Lady should be getting to her feet and saying, “This is why the Union is important. The UK Government have come to the rescue of so many people and businesses in Wales and the rest of the UK, and that is why they should be collaborated with, assisted and, indeed, thanked for some of the work they have done.”

On top of the economic hardship inflicted by the pandemic, there are only 43 days until the end of the transition period, yet the replacement of key EU funding in Wales remains shrouded in mystery. The shared prosperity fund will reveal where the Government’s principal interests lie. Does the Secretary of State respect Welsh devolution, and if so, will he guarantee that funding decisions will be fully devolved? Anything else will stink of political expediency.

For the first time in a while, I am rather grateful for the right hon. Lady’s question, because it enables me to point out that of course I thoroughly support devolution, but that does not mean simply transferring power from Westminster to Cardiff. Devolution means getting decision making done at the closest possible level to where it matters, which is across Wales. That is why I have had conversations with local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association about the shared prosperity fund, as well as with others, including the Welsh Government. They should be playing a much more active part in the decision making and prioritisation of SPF spending than they have done so far.

Through all those words I will take that as a “no” for devolution in Wales. The Prime Minister and the self-monikered Minister for the Union has said that devolution is a “disaster”, yet a YouGov poll found that 72% of Welsh people do not trust Westminster to look after their best interests. With support for independence gaining speed and traction across Wales, how can the frippery of a Union taskforce overcome the disastrous realities of Westminster’s track record in Wales?

Devolution is only a disaster when it is hijacked by separatists and when people who expect devolution to deliver jobs and livelihoods discover that all it delivers is a pet project of nationalists to try to break off one part of the UK from another part. If the right hon. Lady wants to talk about polling, I might remind her that the last barometer poll showed that support for Plaid Cymru had dropped by 4% and that support for independence in Wales had dropped by 2%. She should not get too excited about the direction of travel.