Letter from … Cardiff
By Siân Jones, Associate Partner
Wales’ long incarceration came to an end this week. Well, almost. After weeks of being confined to a five-mile radius of our homes, beauty spots such as Pembrokeshire, Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons are now open to visitors. Cardiff Airport has finally reopened. The virus appears to be in retreat, too; Monday was the first day where no coronavirus deaths were announced.
What are people doing with their reclaimed freedoms? Initially, the response was cautious. Non-essential shops re-opened last week, but the streets remained eerily quiet for some days afterwards. It’s only now that traffic on the roads is beginning to pick up and queues are forming outside some of the larger department stores.
Despite challenges on coronavirus testing, the Welsh Government have enjoyed relatively strong polling ratings during the Covid crisis. Having struggled to capture the public imagination during the early part of his leadership, Mark Drakeford’s famously dull, boffin-ish persona has provided a welcome injection of reassurance for many over the past few months. His confessed fondness for Welsh cheese even had him going viral on Twitter this week.
But the after-effects of lockdown continue to be felt. Children are now back at school, but only for a morning a week, with – at the time of writing – no clarity on what schooling arrangements in September might look like. Juggling home schooling with the demands of a day job is likely to remain many parents’ reality for months to come; a worrying prospect as businesses start to resume face-to-face activity and the office presenteeism culture begins to reassert itself.
Meanwhile, the negative economic news is starting to pile up. This week, it was announced that plans for INEOS to build a 4x4 vehicle plant in Bridgend have been shelved. Last week, Airbus announced the loss of 1,400 jobs in Broughton, North Wales. According to new research from Economic Intelligence Wales, Wales has seen the biggest percentage rise in business dissolutions in the UK, with the number of businesses closing down up 140% in March from the previous year.
Mark Drakeford will be hoping that COVID-19 has silenced any mutterings over his leadership whilst boosting his chances in next May’s Senedd elections. But, having escaped much of the criticism (and, some would argue, scrutiny) that the UK Government has faced, Drakeford will need to raise his game even further if he is to save Wales from the gathering economic storm clouds.