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Economy and Transport

A most extraordinary and challenging year

We have lived through the most extraordinary and challenging 12 months, during which time the Covid-19 pandemic has dominated every sphere of our lives writes Andrew RT Davies.

The numerous acts of kindness and vast array of community spirit across Wales to support one another get through this dark period has been heartfelt and inspiring.

However, the personal loss many have felt and the economic wreckage left in its wake has been equally as devastating.

The road to recovery will be long, arduous and costly, but as we begin to emerge from this, hopefully, final lockdown, we can look to the future. And that’s why we need a roadmap to recovery here in Wales.

Throughout the pandemic, we have sought to support the Welsh Government in its efforts to tackle the virus.

We’ve supported over 60 regulations, and only opposed six, the most high-profile of which was the overtly political firebreak in October.

We did so because we believed it was driven by politics, not data. Labour ministers promised the lockdown would see us through to Christmas and New Year but we didn’t believe that would be the case. Regrettably, we were proved right.

We’ve supported the current lockdown as we want this to be the very last in Wales for the sake of society and the economy.

But the latest flashpoint in our constructive criticism of Labour ministers is the lack of a long-term plan. Families, workers and businesses across the country have been crying out for a roadmap and we all have to remember there’s a human side to all of this.

That self-employed person who can’t say when they’ll next get a paycheque. The couple that’s hoping to get married this summer but doesn’t know the potential restrictions on attendees. Or the business owner who has no idea when they’ll be reopening and saving their livelihood.

Over Offa’s Dyke, there is a cautious and measured plan that’s served to give much needed clarity and hope to millions of families.

The application of data can, and should, flow both ways but at least there are windows of opportunity and dates put down for people to prepare.

Unfortunately, the Welsh Labour Government won’t do the same for people in Wales. They argue it’s too complicated.

Yet the science doesn’t differ. The rule of six works the same. Outdoor sport works the same. And so does sitting on a park bench with a family member.

So that means the Welsh Labour Government isn’t publishing a plan because it’s too complicated. They’re doing it for political reasons. Being different for the sake of being different.

And to me that’s unacceptable. It’s playing politics with people’s lives and it’s sadly indicative of a Corbynite-led regime in Cardiff Bay that believes it knows best and wants maximum control.

That attitude was typified in a recent fly-on-the-wall documentary showing Labour’s mental health and wellbeing minister making the outrageous accusation in relation to lockdown restrictions in Wales “that if you give people an inch they’ll take a mile”.

In a programme filled with snide remarks, I thought that was particularly galling as the overwhelming number of people in Wales have worked damned hard over these last months.

They’ve abided by the rules to get our country back on its feet and out of lockdown, and for a Welsh Government minister to so casually dismiss their hard work was a real kick in the teeth.

The Welsh public need hope not insults, and it’s important we give them some respite with the latest three-week review on Friday.

A recent poll showed more people in Wales wanted a coherent set of rules across the UK and Welsh Conservatives would have worked with colleagues up the M4 to deliver a joined-up plan, but Labour ministers have made clear they aren’t in the slightest bit interested. 

They are entitled to that view as they are the government of the day, but I believe they are duty bound to provide more details than they currently have for communities across Wales.

And in the absence of working together, at the very least, the Welsh Government should use this review to provide a detailed plan including windows of opportunity for businesses in the retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors. It’s the least they deserve.

I also believe it’s important to see a greater acknowledgement over the importance of exercise to the mental and physical wellbeing of so many people in Wales and where data allows, we should look to reopen gyms and ensure our sporting fields in Wales are once again occupied, particularly for our children.

Given the great national effort, it’s also the right time to end the “stay at home” regulation but encourage a “stay local” mantra as much as possible to ensure travel is limited, but without reintroducing the arbitrary and nonsensical five-mile cruel rule.

There is a long road ahead of us but the great British and Welsh vaccination story has shortened that journey considerably.

As Welsh Conservatives we are unapologetic about our focus on getting Wales back on track after this gruelling and painful ordeal for our country.

I’m adamant that should start with a roadmap out of lockdown. And for the sake of families, workers and businesses the length and breadth of Wales, I hope Labour ministers listen.

First published in the Western Mail.

Andrew RT Davies is the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd and a Member of the Senedd for South Wales Central.

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