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Lessons from lockdown: Mark Isherwood MS

May 13th 2020

In the third of our series of perspectives from Members of the Senedd, Mark Isherwood MS outlines some of his concerns about how the coronavirus outbreak is being handled in Wales.

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic my workload, like that of all politicians throughout the country, has escalated dramatically and I have been receiving vast levels of correspondence from constituents concerned about all manner of related things.

One of the key issues I have been involved in is helping to ensure ‘extremely vulnerable’ and ‘at risk’ people in Wales get the support they need.

Early into the crisis, the UK Government made announcements about schemes available to help “the extremely vulnerable” and “at risk” groups, but as these related to devolved matters they were not available in Wales.  For example, the ‘Get coronavirus support as an extremely vulnerable person’ register was only for people in England and both my Welsh Shadow Cabinet colleagues and I therefore called on the Welsh Government to import the scheme to Wales. It wasn’t until 8th April during a virtual Plenary Meeting of the Welsh Parliament that the First Minister  instead stated that “We concluded data agreements with supermarkets in Wales this week. That means they will be able to schedule home deliveries for people in the shielded group here in Wales and we expect that to begin this week” – several weeks after the scheme was available in England.

The Welsh Government also chose to do things differently in Wales when it came to volunteering, choosing not to introduce an accessible, centralised scheme in Wales and to instead check and match volunteers by Local Authority Hubs, this resulted in just 10,000 extra volunteers having registered via Volunteering Wales in March, compared to around 750,000 in England. Proportionally, taking into account the differing sizes of population, some 37,500 people should have signed up.

Voluntary organisations and charities have been hit hard by this crisis and much of my time has also been spent assisting them and highlighting potential funding sources to them.

I called on the Welsh Government for an emergency ‘Stabilisation Fund’ for the voluntary services and charities supporting vulnerable people in Wales and taking direct action to tackle the impact of the Coronavirus on them, warning that without additional funding they would be forced to reduce support for vulnerable people by cutting back on their core services, such as helplines and online support groups. As I emphasised, this would, in turn, add massively to the numbers in crisis putting pressure on NHS and Social Care services. I also called on the Welsh Government to give charities in Wales all its share of an extra £750m for charities and the voluntary sector across the UK announced by the UK Government.

I have been helping a wide range of businesses, particularly in the hospitality and tourism industry, as well as many self -employed workers and small businesses. Whilst the UK and Welsh Governments have provided an array of measures to support them, there are gaps which still exist and they have been asking me to pursue these.

Members of the Senedd (MSs – formerly known as AMs) need to raise countless issues with the Welsh Government at this time, but we are currently working from our homes and the Welsh Parliament is operating under emergency procedures, which severely limits access to Welsh Government Ministers and therefore the amount of scrutiny they face.  MSs are therefore utilising Written Assembly Questions (WAQs) to Welsh Government Ministers, but these have been restricted to ten per week per Member at a maximum of 50 words.

Virtual Plenary sessions via Zoom are planned for every Wednesday for the foreseeable future, but only limited numbers of Members are able to participate and only 6 members of my Group are permitted to attend at any time.  This doesn’t allow for proper scrutiny. At this time of national emergency, it is more important than ever that the Welsh Government is open and transparent in the decisions they are taking.

Mark Isherwood is Member of the Senedd for North Wales. Follow him on Twitter: @MarkIsherwoodAM

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