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Llyr Gruffydd MS Blog

Thoughts on 2020

As 2020 draws to a close, it’s an opportunity to reflect on a year that has caused huge upheavals and emotions for all households in this area.
 
The year was dominated by the global Covid-19 pandemic and its impact in terms of health, jobs and across every aspect of our daily lives.
 
For those who have lost loved ones or have suffered the long-term effects of Covid, this will have been a very difficult year. For those whose mental health has suffered as a result of enforced isolation, this will have been equally difficult. For those whose livelihoods and businesses have been disrupted or even destroyed, there will be hope that 2021 will bring better news.
 
Amid all the heartache and difficulties, there have been glimmers of hope and positivity. 
 
We finally realised that our economy relies on people – on key workers who graft 24/7 to keep food on our shelves, to care for our sick and elderly, to ensure deliveries are made and that we all stay safe. These unsung heroes finally got some recognition – it was often just a doorstep clap and we must ensure they get properly rewarded for their work as we emerge from this pandemic.
 
We also discovered that the past decade of austerity – which saw public services such as health and public protection scaled back – left us in a weakened position to respond to such a crisis. During those 10 years, we were constantly told there was no magic money tree to fund services. Yet the pandemic showed that money can miraculously appear when it’s needed.
 
That money to furlough workers and to keep businesses afloat has been essential as lockdown has followed firebreak and further lockdown. Hospitality in particular has been battered in the past 10 months. Funding will hopefully mean that workers and enterprises can survive into the spring and summer as we get back to some kind of post-vaccine normality and it’s vital that those groups who have missed out on support because they don’t fit neatly into categories are not excluded. I know UKExcluded is one campaign that’s done some sterling work on this matter. 
 
What’s not been good value for money have been the shady contracts awarded to friends and associates of the UK Government – people with no experience of procuring PPE were given huge contracts without having to tender for them. Surprise, surprise, many have failed to deliver. There will have to be a reckoning once the crisis is over and I’m convinced that will see people in court for misusing public money.
 
The worsening infection rates in both Wrexham and Flintshire are an ongoing concern and the advice to mix and mingle as little as possible over the festive period will be difficult to take but essential for our future wellbeing. Clarity and consistency of messaging is important now – something I accept is difficult to always provide given the changing dynamics of a pandemic.
 
I did consider closing this column with a mention of Brexit but I suspect people have had enough bad news for one year. 
 
I’d like to wish you all a safe and happy Christmas with whoever you are able to celebrate it with. And let’s hope that the New Year is a happier and healthier one than 2020 managed to be. 

Broken Promises

Broken promises by the UK Tory Government will have a potentially devastating impact on farmers in Wales.

The Conservative election Manifesto in 2019 said it would guarantee the current annual CAP budget to farmers in every year of this Parliament. 

Yet less than 12 months later Boris Johnson has broken his promise with a whopping £137 million cut in agricultural funding support to Wales. Farmers I’ve spoken to feel hoodwinked, lied to, conned. 

It’s an absolute betrayal – not my words but those of the farming unions.

Welsh farming, like so many other key industries, requires measures to provide certainty and stability in these uncertain times. For farming businesses this is delivered through the Basic Payment Scheme and this must be the ongoing priority for Welsh Government. The £243 million provided through the BPS is vital to ensure Welsh agriculture can continue to maintain output and employ around 80,000 people in the food and farming sector. If this support is lost, it puts the entire sector at risk alongside associated rural businesses, contractors and services that are heavily reliant on Welsh farming. 

Maintaining the BPS is key if Welsh farmers are to remain able to secure the supply of safe, high quality and affordable food. It is a vital safety net for Welsh farmers – making up more than 80% of farming income in Wales 

To make matters worse, Welsh red meat farmers – who rely more than other parts of the UK on exports to the EU – are preparing for the end of the Brexit transition period. Even at this late stage, it’s unclear whether the UK Government will secure an agreement. Meat Promotions Wales has warned that in a no deal scenario farmgate prices would collapse by about 30%. Even if there is a deal, the level of additional costs and bureaucracy to acces EU markets will add significant costs. These costs will no doubt be passed back to Welsh farmers and place further pressure on farm profitability.

Remember when we were told this was the easiest deal in history?

And having broken their promise on maintaining farm funding, then what hope for all the other EU replacement funds that the Conservatives pledged would be paid in full to Wales?

The Treasury has deducted the £97m remaining in the Welsh RDP from its allocation to Wales, despite knowing full well that the N+3 rule means Wales has until 2023 to spend it. Many of us had warned that Welsh Government needed to get that money out into the farming community in a more timely manner and now they’ve burnt their fingers due to those delays. 

This adds further strength to our demands for an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the RDP in Wales.

This funding cut also raises questions about the Welsh Government’s proposals for a Sustainable Farming Scheme. I have been warning for a long time that developing proposals for a once in a generation reform of farm support without knowing what funding might be available for such a scheme is a dubious approach. So I’ve challenged the minister to explain how this reduction in funding might affect her future plans.

The Minister had previously confirmed that the BPS would be maintained for next year, but she declined my invitation in the Senedd this week to confirm that it would be maintained at its current funding level. It’s likely that the London money-grab will have far-reaching consequences for every farm in Wales.

This Tory cut doesn’t augur well for rural Wales as we face what will undoubtedly be a very challenging year ahead.


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