The Welsh Government’s Finance Minister Rebecca Evans has said the Chancellor did nothing today to ease her concerns over his longer-term approach to bring the economy back onto a stable footing.
Following Wednesday’s Budget Speech by Rishi Sunak in the UK Parliament, Ms Evans welcomed the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self Employed Income Support Scheme but in a written statement to the Senedd, she said that it is ‘essential’ that these support measures are only removed in a ‘phased manner’ once all parts of the UK are well on the way to recovery.
She also welcomed the announcement that businesses will be incentivised to hire more apprentices, but said that she would have liked to have seen a temporary reduction in employer National Insurance Contributions. On Universal Credit, Ms Evans criticised the uplift to Universal Credit only being temporary – echoing some of the words of SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford earlier in the day.
On business rates relief, Ms Evans said;
“I can confirm I intend to extend the Retail, Leisure and Hospitality Rates Relief scheme for properties up to a rateable value of £500k in Wales for a period of 12 months.
“I will also be providing businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector with a rateable value of over £500k with 100% rates relief for 2021-22.”
The Minister also attacked the UK Government’s approach to replacing EU Structural Funds as ‘completely unacceptable, saying;
“The UK Government’s aggressive approach to replacing EU Structural Funds by directly allocating funding in Wales on devolved matters via the UK Community Renewal Fund (the Shared Prosperity Fund pilot) and Levelling-up fund is completely unacceptable. It is forcibly taking decisions on devolved matters without being answerable to the Senedd on behalf of the people of Wales. It has not engaged with us on its prospectuses published only three weeks until these funds begin, and undermines years of work we have undertaken with stakeholders to develop new regional investment arrangements.”
In the UK Budget, as well as UK wide measures, funding of £735m was announced for Wales and support was given to a Hydrogen Hub in Holyhead and the Global Centre for Rail Excellence on the border of Neath Port Talbot and Powys. The support has been welcomed, though Ms Evans said the Budget doesn’t go far enough to recognise the Welsh Government’s priorities.