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Finance Ministers from devolved UK nations call for Covid funding flexibility

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Finance Ministers in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have jointly called on the Treasury to guarantee that money allocated to support Covid responses will be provided in full, following a meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today.

They are also calling for action to tackle the cost of living crisis and help households with rising bills.

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Last month, as a result of spending in England, the Treasury announced it would provide additional funding to tackle Covid, with the Scottish Government allocated £440m, the Welsh Government £270m, and the Northern Ireland Executive £150m. Devolved Governments are concerned they may not be granted permission to carry over into next year’s budgets any late consequential payments – despite this flexibility being provided in 2021/22.

The Finance Ministers re-iterated a request for the Treasury to provide support to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if the public health situation in each nation demands it, not just when the assistance is applied in England.

They are also urging the Treasury to do more to support households facing a cost-of-living crisis. In October, the UK Government withdrew the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit, a cut that was opposed by all three devolved nations. Last month it was confirmed that inflation had risen to 5.1% – the highest rate in a decade – with increasingly expensive food, transport and clothing contributing to higher household bills. Powers to help households meet the cost of living lie mainly with the UK Government, and the three Finance Ministers in the devolved nations are calling on the Treasury to step up and deliver more support to households.

Rebecca Evans, Welsh Government Finance Minister, said: “We need to see urgent action from the Treasury to help people with rising bills and living costs. Domestic energy prices are of particular concern at the moment with more and more people living in fuel poverty. This winter the Welsh Government invested £51m in our Household Support Fund to help households, but most of the powers and the fiscal resources needed to address the cost-of-living crisis are in the UK Government’s hands. The Treasury must step up. Additional support through targeted UK-wide schemes such as the Warm Home Discount and other winter fuel payments would lessen the burden on hard pressed households.

“Arrangements for Covid funding also need to change. Last month, as the omicron variant took hold, the Treasury hesitated before providing Wales with funding to meet the challenges. When funding did come, we received no guarantee that it would not need to be returned. The Treasury must recognise the importance of fully supporting devolved nations to help protect our businesses and protect our populations.”

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Scottish Government Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes said: “I welcome today’s discussion and the constructive approach taken by all parties.

“However, along with the other devolved administrations, the Scottish Government remains concerned that the additional funding we have received to mitigate the impact of the Omicron variant may be subject to future deductions. Without the ability to borrow, the continuing uncertainty could have a substantial damaging impact on our COVID response and impact our ability to support public services in Scotland.

“More fundamentally, the situation highlights once again that it is not tenable for funding only to be triggered by public health decisions in England. A system is required that supports the decisions of each devolved administration and is not beholden to the decisions of one part of the UK.

“The Scottish Government has set out a range of ambitious actions – within our limited resources, to support households and reduce inequalities, including our commitment to double the game-changing Scottish Child Payment to £20 per child per week. But we are facing a cost of living crisis and the UK Government, which reduced the lifeline Universal Credit uplift in October despite our representations, must now urgently intervene.”

Conor Murphy, Minister of Finance, Northern Ireland Executive said: “As we continue to deal with the challenges posed by Omicron the uncertainty surrounding the Covid funding provided by Treasury is unhelpful. It is also hugely concerning that Treasury may not permit funding to be carried into next year even if additional funding is confirmed at such a late stage that it prevents it being used most effectively. We have been calling on Treasury to reinstate the Self Employed Income Support Scheme and furlough scheme on a targeted basis where necessary. It is disappointing that Treasury is unwilling to provide support to workers and their families. We would ask Treasury to urgently reconsider this position.

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“The cost of living crisis is causing hardship for families and businesses. I’ve been calling on Treasury to suspend VAT on energy bills temporarily to provide reprieve during the difficult winter period. It is time for Treasury to act now.”

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Welsh Government

£1m for new projects to promote the use of Welsh

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The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, has announced over £1 million for projects to encourage more widespread use of Welsh.

As part of the funding, £600,000 will be provided to the National Eisteddfod towards hosting the 2022 event in Tregaron. The funding will support the organisation’s preparations for this year’s event, due to take place between 30th July and 6th August, and help achieve its aims of opening the Eisteddfod to a wider audience.

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Funding will also be provided to the National Centre for Learning Welsh, for projects which include creating on-line taster courses for refugees and asylum seekers to learn Welsh, without needing to be fluent in English.  The Centre, in partnership with Say Something in Welsh, will also create courses provided in the most commonly-spoken languages among refugees and asylum seekers in Wales.

The funding will also be used to provide tutor support for a self-study entry-level course for teachers. There have been 2,700 enrolments on the taster course for teachers since its launch in February 2020. The new course, suitable for both primary and secondary teachers, aims to provide a pathway for teaching professionals into more advanced and intensive courses. 

Funding will also be provided to Rhieni dros Addysg Gymraeg to develop information about Welsh-medium education in minority languages.  The aim is to support families whose children attend Welsh-medium education, but neither Welsh nor English are the main languages spoken at home, as well as promoting Welsh medium education among minority ethnic communities.

There will be changes to our Helo Blod service, which supports businesses to use more Welsh. Helo Blod will continue to operate its ‘one stop shop’ in Business Wales, while Helo Blod Lleol will come to an end.

Jeremy Miles said: “Today’s announcement is about making our language and culture easier to access than ever. We’re investing in opportunities for more people to learn, use and teach Welsh, wherever they are in Wales and whatever their background.

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“Welsh belongs to us all, whether we speak it or not. We’re delighted to work with our partners on such wide-ranging projects, which all support our aim of reaching a million Welsh speakers and doubling the daily use of our language by 2050.”

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Welsh Government

£1 million made available to support Wales’ fishing industry

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Wales’ fishing community is being invited to submit applications to a £1m fund to primarily help mitigate the ongoing impact Covid is having on the industry and adapt to the rapidly changing market conditions for seafood products.

The European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) is co-financed by the Welsh Government and the European Commission and has supported many projects in Wales since being introduced in 2014.

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The funding will support investments in the small scale coastal fleet and aquaculture, together with improvements to the marketing and processing of fishery and aquaculture products. However, any project selected and supported under the programme will have to be completed within a 12 month period starting from July this year.

The EMFF application window opens today. Guidance is available for those interesting in applying and a Project Outline Form should be submitted to Rural Payments Wales as soon as possible. A full application will then be issued and will need to be completed and returned by the closing date of 25 March.

All project proposals received will be assessed on the information provided in the application and will only be considered once the application window has closed.

Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths said: “I’m pleased to be able to make £1 million available to support the fishing industry in what remains an incredibly challenging time.

“More than £15 million in approved grant awards has already been made for projects across Wales through the European Maritime Fisheries Fund, and a further £1 million of projects are under consideration.

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“As the European Commission funding is only available until 2023, this £1m will primarily focus on providing support to help the industry mitigate the ongoing impact of Covid and adapt to the changes in the market for seafood products.

“I encourage all with an interest to submit a Project Outline Form to Rural Payments Wales as soon as possible, before completing a full application by 25 March.”

Details of the EMFF programme and scheme guidance can be found on the Welsh Government website: European Maritime and Fisheries Fund | Sub-topic | GOV.WALES

For any additional help and support, applicants should contact the RPW Customer Contact Centre on 0300 062 5004.

The long term EMFF replacement scheme is currently being developed and is expected to be available later this year.

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Coronavirus

First Minister announces plan to ease alert level two protections

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A plan to return Wales to alert level zero measures will today be set out by First Minister Mark Drakeford.

The move comes as the latest public health data suggests cases of coronavirus have started to fall back from their very high levels. More than two-thirds of people aged 12 and over have received a booster or third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

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The full move to alert level zero will be dependent on the public health situation continuing to improve.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “I want to thank everyone for following the rules we have had in place since Boxing Day to help keep Wales safe while the fast-moving omicron variant has surged through our communities.

“I also want to thank everyone involved in our vaccination programme for the enormous efforts to give almost a third of the population a booster since the start of December – this has been vital in increasing our protection against omicron.

“The actions we have taken together have helped us to weather the omicron storm. The latest data suggests some positive signs that the peak may have passed.

“We can now look more confidently to the future and plan to start gradually removing the alert level two restrictions, starting with the outdoors measures.

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“But the pandemic is not over. We will closely monitor the public health situation – this is a fast-moving and volatile variant, which could change suddenly. I urge everyone to continue to follow the rules and have your vaccines to keep Wales safe.”

If conditions allow, the alert level two restrictions will be removed in a phased approach.

From tomorrow, the number of people who can be present at outdoor events will rise from 50 to 500.

From Friday 21 January Wales would move to alert level zero for all outdoor activities. This means there will be no limits on the number of people who can take part in outdoor activities.

  • Crowds will be able to return to outdoor sporting events
  • Outdoor hospitality would be able to operate without additional reasonable measures.
  • The Covid Pass will be required for entry to larger outdoor events.

If the downward trend continues, from Friday 28 January Wales would move to alert level zero for all indoor activities.

  • Nightclubs will be able to re-open.
  • Working from home would remain important but it would no longer be a legal requirement.
  • Businesses, employers and other organisations must undertake a specific coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
  • The Covid Pass will be required for entry to nightclubs, events, cinemas, concert halls and theatres.
  • The rule of 6, table service and 2m physical distancing no longer required in hospitality.

The self-isolation rules for all those who test positive for Covid and the face covering rules for most public indoor places will remain in force after 28 January.

The three-weekly cycle would be re-introduced from 10 February, when the Welsh Government will review all remaining measures at alert level zero.

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