Welsh shadow minister highlights ‘gaps’ in business support  

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Opinion: Welsh Tory Business and Economy spokesman Russell George says that while the pandemic needs political collaboration, governments must still be held to account.

It goes without saying that a strong economy opens a whole range of exciting opportunities for the public to grasp.

Briefly, the stronger the economy the more resources can go into our vital public sector, including schools and hospitals whilst also ensuring they can provide for them and their families.

But maintaining the economy’s strength is equally significant.

That is why I applaud both the UK and Welsh Governments for liaising and exchanging positive dialogue on how best equip the Welsh economy in the face of the greatest danger our country has witnessed for decades: Covid-19.

We have all seen the devastating social and economic dimensions to the virus.

And in these arduous circumstances, I welcome both the UK and Welsh governments having dialogue to exchange best practice and advice on how to mitigate the damage being caused.

Recently, a catalogue of welcome measures has been introduced by the UK Government, most notably the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which pledges to pay 80 per cent of workers’ wages if they are put on furlough.

The Welsh Government must act swiftly to address the further business support needed, and address gaps which I believe have been overlooked

But with many initiatives there can be some cracks unintentionally left unfilled. Therefore, the Welsh Government unveiled the £500-million Economic Resilience Fund, which aimed to plug any remaining gaps in the economy and businesses during the pandemic.

While I welcome the fund in principle, I have been left somewhat concerned that its original aim is not being fulfilled because gaps of business support remain.

The Welsh Government must act swiftly to address the further business support needed, and address gaps which I believe have been overlooked in how the Economic Resilience Fund can support our Welsh economy to date.

Many of our vitally important small businesses have contacted me, raising their fears over flaws with the fund’s criteria. At present, businesses that are not registered for VAT and those eligible for Business Rates Relief are excluded from the fund.

Also, those who have irregular turnover; have recently become self-employed or are sole traders, and are therefore unable to produce the required accounts or tax returns are also ineligible for support and those businesses who pay business rates who don’t come under the description of retail, hospitality or leisure, are also unable to obtain business rates support.

While immediate support is the priority, the package of financial assistance should not solely be a support package for the ‘here and now’

Furthermore, many of the self-employed have seasonal trade businesses, meaning they are unable to produce the required accounts to be a recipient of the fund. Businesses that fall into these categories, are some of the businesses most in need of support.

Small and medium-sized businesses account for more than 70 per cent of all private sector businesses in the UK, and their contribution is immeasurable, so they must surely be able to access the fund.

In this hugely challenging time, it’s more important than ever for the Welsh Government to step up and change key parts of the Economic Resilience Fund to allow it to become more flexible, meaning the vast majority of our businesses are not left out.

Covid-19 has also highlighted the confusion over devolution: here in Wales we have a devolved parliament and Government to ensure that specific Welsh needs are met.

Therefore as time progresses, I would expect the Welsh Government to announce further wide-ranging packages to protect our businesses and self-employed so that when we get out of this pandemic, and we will, that Wales can fire on all her cylinders to ensure our economy can grow again.

While immediate support is the priority, the package of financial assistance should not solely be a support package for the “here and now” to navigate the worst effects of the Coronavirus.

It must also be a means to future-proof the Welsh economy as we eventually move into a recovery phase, allowing businesses to adapt their business model, innovate through the use of technology, and ensure that they are in a strong position to capitalise upon the opportunities of future growth.

I appreciate these are unprecedented times, but we must remember to look to the future.