UK Government ministers understand there are pros and cons with any decisions we take over lockdown. Strict measures might slow the spread of coronavirus but will cost more jobs and businesses. Easing restrictions runs the risk of spreading the virus more but reduces the threat of job losses. We should also remember that poverty caused by unemployment can affect people’s physical and mental health. There are no easy answers. However, the UK Government is trying to lift measures as quickly as possible whilst encouraging people to use common sense and protect themselves.
The Welsh Government is lifting lockdown at a slower rate than England meaning, for example, there will be no proper dental services until 2021. Worse than that is the economic impact. The headlines last week highlighted that 1,700 Airbus workers face losing their jobs in Wales. Nearly 100 times as many people - over 160,000 - work in the Welsh tourism industry. The Welsh Government’s decision to keep the tourist sector closed while England reopens means all those people now face the risk of unemployment.
Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, Welsh Government ministers have attended UK Government ministerial meetings. First Minister Mark Drakeford attends the top-level Cobra committee and other ministers attend the ministerial implementation meetings (a sort of level before Cobra). When I last counted, over 130 of these meetings had taken place - but the number is now much higher. I know this for a fact because as a junior Wales Office Minister, I have attended many myself.
When Welsh Secretary Simon Hart and I first heard Welsh Government officials complain they wanted an even closer relationship, we asked if one of us could attend Assembly ministerial meetings. Eventually an invitation arrived to attend a briefing, but only the parts which related to non-devolved issues. I don’t want to sour the good working relationship that has been developing between the UK and Welsh governments. But the fact is their ministers have had full access to our ministerial meetings and we have no access to theirs. It is therefore ridiculous for them to complain they don’t get enough information about what the UK Government is doing.
Sunday saw an extra special nationwide applause to pay tribute to NHS staff on the 72nd anniversary of the health service. The round of clapping was inspired by the weekly Clap for Carers initiative to thank key workers during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. It is not just the NHS of course. Many carers work for other organisations and we have seen carers in nursing and residential homes, the police, fire service and prison service working hard to ensure our safety. One positive idea that has come out of this is the suggestion of creating a sort of NHS cadet force to enable young people with an interest in an NHS career to get some first-hand experience. I think this is excellent and I hope it is developed and emulated in Wales.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 8 July 2020 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 9 July 2020*