By Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales in the Welsh Government
This pandemic has been not only a public health emergency, but an economic emergency, too.
Across the UK, micro, small and medium sized businesses have struggled to cope with the tidal wave of challenges that have come their way. Lockdowns, restrictions, adaptations – they’ve all been necessary to keep us all safe, but they’ve hit the bottom line of most businesses and it’s been difficult to cope.
Those small and medium sized firms that have been impacted have needed a government to stand alongside them – to help protect jobs, safeguard good businesses and assist them to get through the difficult times.
That’s exactly the role the Welsh Labour Government has sought to play through this crisis. We’ve been a pro-business government wanting to work with our small firms that are the lifeblood of the Welsh economy. To ensure that a good business in 2019 remained a good business in 2021.
That’s why, in Wales, our Labour Government has put in place additional measures to the ones being made available by the UK Government through furlough and Bounce Back loans. Our Wales only Economic Resilience Fund has made available has the most generous package of help for businesses anywhere in the UK.
So far through the pandemic our Welsh Labour Government has delivered:
– Close to £2bn in Wales-only business support delivered in a partnership of Local Authorities, Welsh Government, Business Wales and the Development Bank of Wales.
– This support includes more than £770m in grant support to over 64,000 firms through the Business Rates system.
– Combined, our business support has already helped protect more than 141,000 jobs in total through a combination of loan and grant support.
– We’ve supported start-up businesses – 1,600 of them with grants of £2,500.
– We’ve protected businesses from eviction, by extending the moratorium until the end of March 2021.
– And we’ve set aside an extra £40m for our ‘Covid Commitment’ so everyone has access to the advice they need to find training, a job or help to start their own business.
Importantly we have provided support in a way that only a Labour government will – informed by our values of equity and fairness. To date 80% of Economic Resilience Funding recipients have been Micro businesses. 98% has been to micro or small businesses.
Early on we also declined to extend business rate relief to large, self-sufficient supermarket retailers as happened elsewhere in the UK and that were booming as a result of the pandemic, meaning we could invest the more than £100 million this helped save for investment in small business in Wales. That’s what a government should be doing – being on the side of small businesses and the huge number of jobs they support in our communities and across our economy.
These next few months will be difficult, but with a vaccine on the way the way in 2021 these are also times for us to look beyond the dark moments of now and to begin to think hard with small and medium sized businesses across Wales and the UK about the sort of economy we want to come out of this pandemic. To think about the economy of tomorrow.
Because in May, when we fight the Senedd elections in Wales, I want Labour to be at the forefront of the argument for a new vision for our economy. One where we Protect the people, places and services we care for; where we Build a greener future for ourselves and our young people; and where we Change to meet the challenges that face us now and in the future.
The fairer future we want to see has to be fought for and won – and the Senedd elections will be a fundamental choice about that future. After the disruption of Brexit and the long haul of Covid, now is the chance to build a new, fairer and greener future for ourselves and our small businesses. Only Labour can lead that kind of change.