Senedd Debate: The Economy & COVID-19

Janet Finch-Saunders MS, Member for Aberconwy: Nearly one in five jobs in Wales are in shut-down sectors, according to the Learning and Work Institute. If just one of these four workers lost their jobs, unemployment could exceed the levels seen at the last recession. The risk of increased unemployment is clear

The risk of increased unemployment is clear, as Wales has gone from a record-low unemployment rate of 2.9 in November to seeing the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits almost double from March to 103,869 in April. The UK Government has received £2.6 million of claims through the self-employment income support scheme, and is helping 8.9 million employees and 1.1 million employers through the coronavirus job retention scheme. These programmes by the Right Hon. Rishi Sunak MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, have seen bold, unprecedented moves to help our constituents overcome the economic turbulence caused by COVID-19.

The retention scheme now presents a brilliant opportunity for bringing furloughed employees and the economy back to business. For this to be successful in Wales, we need to see the embers of the Welsh economy become fire. Our economic dragon cannot roar again without action by the Welsh Government. It is time to reopen our housing market, consider reopening non-essential shops, bars, restaurants and pubs, and ensure that Wales is not closed to tourists this summer. Conwy is the top area in Wales and one of the top 20 areas in the UK where the highest percentage of jobs are at risk. In fact, on average, over a quarter of all employed people in coastal towns in Wales are in a shutdown sector, such as accommodation, art, leisure and restaurants. 

I am delighted that we are proposing to establish a COVID community recovery fund to support those towns and communities whose economies are hardest hit by this pandemic. In considering the employment guarantee, I read the Trades Union Congress's new plan for jobs. It is true that this will be delivered at a regional or local level, but there is a huge weakness. To prove that it will work, reference has ben made to the future jobs fund. This has not been a success. Of the two years following the start of participation, the net impact of FJF on participants was to decrease the number of days spent receiving welfare support by only eight days, and an increase in the number of days in unsubsidised employment of less than two weeks. 

Therefore, Plaid Cymru's proposal is not the answer. Last week, Professor Ewart Keep stated that come the end of July, loads of people are leaving school, college and their university courses, and a lot of them are not going to find jobs. He has identified work experience as utterly critical. I agree and believe that young people could benefit from an apprentice guarantee scheme. The looming employment crisis would also be dampened through establishing a job reskilling and retraining scheme, designed to support those needing to find alternative employment following this crisis. 

If the Welsh Government does not act on some of the proposals discussed today, there is a real chance that our Welsh economic dragon and the future of young people will be harmed before we see any economic recovery. And my thanks go to the UK Treasury for the £2.1 million that they are providing for a zoos fund through a Barnett consequential here to Wales, despite what the Minister, maybe inadvertently, [Inaudible] me in his response. Thank you.