Welsh Government accused of ‘U-turn’ over reopening shops

Adam Hale and Claire Hayhurst, PA
·4-min read

Most non-essential retail will remain shut in Wales until April 12, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

The announcement comes as a blow to parts of the industry that were expecting an earlier reopening date, with Mr Drakeford previously saying the restart would be considered for this week’s review of coronavirus restrictions.

Businesses said the Welsh Government had left them with “the impression of being marched to the top of the hill, only to be asked to walk back down again”,  while the Welsh Conservatives claimed the move was a “U-turn” and Plaid Cymru accused Mr Drakeford of offering “false hope”.

It came as Mr Drakeford confirmed Wales would move to a “stay local” period from Saturday for a fortnight ahead of a further easing of travel rules in time for Easter, with self-contained holiday accommodation to be reopened from March 27.

But a Welsh holiday will be restricted to those living in Wales, with lockdown rules in England preventing people from travelling over the border.

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From Saturday, four people from two households are also allowed to meet outdoors, including in gardens and outdoor sports facilities such as golf courses and tennis courts, while hairdressing appointments can resume from Monday.

On Friday, Mr Drakeford said that non-essential retail would begin to reopen from March 22 with garden centres and supermarkets removing obstacles to items currently unavailable.

A full return will not happen until April 12, with businesses affected by ongoing restrictions supported by an additional £150 million from the Welsh Government.

Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Government’s press briefing in Cardiff that one of the reasons to delay reopening all non-essential was to avoid creating a “perverse incentive” for people to travel over from England to do shopping.

“I think this gives the sector a very clear timeline. They now know when they’ll be able to reopen.

“It’ll be the same day the shops reopen in England, so we won’t have that perverse incentive, and shops have a bit of time to make sure they are ready to invite people back safely.”

But he rejected suggestions he had caused “confusion” by saying reopening the sector would be considered in this week’s review of restrictions.

“What I said three weeks ago was that we would begin the process, if we could, of reopening non-essential retail. We will do that on March 22 and we will complete it on April 12.”

Ian Price, director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Wales, said retailers selling non-essential goods had been given a “strong indication that a mid-month reopening was on the cards”.

“This latest announcement, of a more limited relaxation of restrictions than anticipated, leaves firms with the impression of being marched to the top of the hill, only to be asked to walk back down again,” he said.

Mr Price said although the Government had engaged positively with the industry, the “late change of heart is a disappointing reminder of the need for transparency around decision-making”, saying that data on transmissions and vaccination “have been heading in the right direction for some time”.

The Welsh Conservative leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, said: “Labour’s U-turn on the opening of non-essential retail at such short notice will be a hammer blow for many businesses, and the decision to now align with England in that area shows we could’ve adopted a similar road map weeks ago.

“The ongoing refusal by Labour ministers to do so will only increase frustration in the sectors worst hit by the pandemic and will put more Welsh jobs at risk.”

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Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said: “The Welsh Government has not given those businesses allowed to open on Monday sufficient warning whilst giving false hope to those not allowed to open.

“We now need a Wales-wide consultation with the tourism sector to establish whether it is viable for them to open to Welsh domiciled customers only over Easter.”

Wales’ “stay local” rule asks that people travel no more than five miles from their home, but the limit will not be made into a law to allow people living in rural areas to access things such as shops and their families.

Indoor care home visits will also restart for single designated visitors from the weekend, while from Monday all primary pupils and those in qualifications years can return to schools, with flexibility for years 10 and 12.