Mark Drakeford’s announcement this week, crippling our hospitality industry in the run-up to Christmas and the start of 2021 through a Wales-wide lockdown, has shown contempt for the people of North Wales, who have followed the rules and brought the infection rate down, writes Darren Millar MS.
The decision that pubs, cafes, and restaurants cannot serve alcohol during the day and must close at 6pm will put many businesses at risk and lead to job losses across Wales. None of this makes sense, and the Welsh Labour-led Government has thus far failed to publish any evidence which shows that the hospitality sector is the cause of the problem in those areas of Wales where people aren’t following the rules.
The difference in the figures is stark.
The infection rate up to 28 November in Conwy showed it was at 29 per 100,000 population. Compare this to Torfaen in the south, where it was 410 per 100,000 or Blaenau Gwent where it was a staggering 435 per 100,000. The difference isn’t minor. These are significant differences showing that we do not have a Wales-wide problem requiring a Wales-wide solution.
There is simply no justification for treating everyone the same, and no evidence from the government showing that the hospitality problem is the cause of the problem. Even the latest advice document to support their new measures don’t outline why such restrictions must be put on the sector and all those who have worked hard and spent thousands to implement Covid-safe environments, to keep staff and customers safe.
Those members of the public who also do the right thing, washing their hands, wearing masks, staying home and keeping their distance are not being rewarded for their hard work. Instead Labour Ministers choose to inflict pain on everyone because of a small minority in some of our communities who won’t ever play by the rules.
The impact of this latest example of Welsh Labour Ministers not understanding the economy will be felt for months if not years, with businesses falling, jobs being lost, never to be replaced. Last Friday the First Minister said he was consulting the hospitality sector over the proposed measures, however, industry leaders in the pub and hospitality sector have contacted the Welsh Conservatives after responding to an invitation from the Welsh Labour-led Government to discuss new restrictions and their effect on the industry.
Sam Evans, Carlsberg Marston’s Regional Sales Director for Granada and North Wales, wrote to the First Minister on Friday after Mark Drakeford said he wanted to consult with the industry over the weekend, yet he was not contacted and the Welsh Government ignored key people who understand the sector in North Wales. If the First Minister is consulting with the hospitality sector it is strange that no effort has been made to reach out to a major business like Carlsberg Marston’s.
The First Minister must explain to industry leaders why he hasn’t bothered to pick up the phone to discuss his plans and the ramifications for their businesses and employees, and he needs to commit to involving them in reviewing the evidence at the end of this new lockdown. I understand that Covid is a public health matter but it is more than that. The response of Welsh Government is causing damage in other ways, with cancelled operations, cancer going undiagnosed, economic death and family hardship.
I want to pay tribute to the hospitality sector in Wales who are already reeling from the Welsh Government’s previous restrictions. These new rules are a devastating blow to those businesses that have worked hard to adapt. They have done what Ministers have required, by implementing booking systems asking for details for track and trace, confirming the details of customers, limiting booking times, ensuring social distancing and the wearing of face masks. They could not have done more.
I understand this.
Most politicians who enjoy visiting their local pubs and pop out for the occasional bite to eat understand this.
So why doesn’t Mark Drakeford?
Anyone who frequents pubs, restaurants and cafes would understand the damage he’s causing to key aspects of the economy, to local communities, to jobs, livelihoods and families.
With one in 10 of the Welsh workforce employed by hospitality enterprises and with so many relying on pre-Christmas trade, the Welsh Government is now putting tens of thousands of jobs and livelihoods at risk. Ministers have been challenged to publish an assessment of the projected job losses and they haven’t done it.
I can’t help but feel that if this had been about a major threat to jobs in the steel or manufacturing industry the Welsh Government would have behaved very differently. For some reason the thousands of jobs in hospitality and retail seem to matter less to Ministers in Cardiff Bay.
Beyond this new set of restrictions, we need to move away from a Wales-wide approach which has been disproportionate. We need more intelligent and targeted intervention, that’s backed by evidence where the Welsh Parliament is given the say on these matters before they are implemented.
Darren Millar is the Member of the Senedd for Clwyd West and the Director of Policy for the Welsh Conservatives.