Sunday Times article
Coronavirus is the biggest challenge this country has faced for decades, and all over the world we are seeing the devastating impact of this invisible killer.
Our thoughts are with families who have tragically lost loved ones and we remain eternally grateful for the efforts of key workers and those working on the frontline in our health service.
People across the country also deserve great credit as they’ve adhered with strict discipline to social distancing rules, sacrificing ancient and basic freedoms at our time of need.
At the outset of the pandemic, the paramount objective for governments of all colours across the United Kingdom was to ensure the NHS wasn’t overwhelmed.
To date, this has been achieved, and we’ve not witnessed the horrific scenes of Italy where medics were forced to choose who should or shouldn’t be treated in intensive care units.
The top priority rightly remains on the public health response to Covid-19, but ultimately it’ll be impossible for governments to detach physical and mental well-being from a fully functioning economy.
No one is underestimating the scale of the economic challenge we’ll face in the months and years to come, as recessions, of which we are likely to see one of the grimmest on record, cause incredible levels of mortality and suffering.
That’s why it’s vital we begin to carefully resuscitate UK PLC in the weeks and months to come to allow cash to circulate once again around the economy.
The key to doing so safely will be our ability to implement a comprehensive ‘test, track and trace’ programme to ensure the reproduction rate of the disease is kept down under one.
In Wales, testing targets have been inexplicably abandoned by the Welsh Labour Government and this is hugely worrying as our economic coma cannot continue for perpetuity, particularly as studies show Wales is likely to face the brunt of the Covid-19 financial downturn.
Governments require a strong collection of data to interpret how the virus is behaving within the community, so the Welsh Labour Government must up its game if we are to stand any chance of setting out successfully on the road to recovery, whilst simultaneously protecting the NHS and those most at risk.
Once this is achieved, we’re going to require a dynamic and agile economic response from both governments at Westminster and Cardiff Bay, and given our vulnerability, a dedicated recovery plan for Wales.
It’s going to require a multi-faceted approach and one that continues with some of the current support measures in place, whilst also identifying future policy that’ll incentivise businesses and entrepreneurs.
Job security is fundamental, and in a UK Government context the effective life-support apparatus that is the furlough scheme has to continue in some form, as the heartbeat of the economy won’t return to its previous state for a considerable period.
The Chancellor could examine options such as a taper system, slowly curbing the number of workers companies are allowed to place on the scheme over time, or ask for an increase in contributions to slowly wean businesses off the life-saving injection of taxpayer support.
It’s imperative that City Region deals are boosted and where failing nursed into shape, and that flesh is urgently put on the bones of the Shared Prosperity Fund, with Wales at the forefront of the UK's levelling up agenda when this is advanced post Covid-19.
The Bounce Back Loans should also continue as pinch-points in cash flow will not be limited to this period, and I’d also like to see the UK Government increase the borrowing limit available to Welsh Government.
Any right-minded politician could use the facility to demonstrate that Wales is well and truly open for business by investing in key infrastructure projects such as the M4 relief road and Metro systems.
We’re going to need a can-do approach and I'd like to see us abolish business rates for small firms in Wales for good, and use the levers available to us to create an attractive and competitive environment for businesses and investment.
Unfortunately, the mood music emanating from Welsh Labour isn't hitting that tone and their instinct as ever has been to go native and retreat to what they’ve always known, which is epitomised by the appointment of former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to its post-COVID19 economic advisory committee.
It’s not the forward-thinking Wales’s requires at this time, particularly when you couple it with the loud proclamations we’ve heard from Welsh Labour’s deputy economy minister in opposing any prospect of tax cut incentives for businesses once we get through this crisis.
That’s not the medicine our economy requires and businesses will need a helping hand, not bludgeoning with more taxes. If Welsh Labour won’t budge then thankfully in 12 months’ time we will have an opportunity to change course.
Andrew RT Davies AM