Covid: Town centres focus for Welsh economic recovery

By Sarah Dickins
BBC Wales economics correspondent

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image captionThe Welsh Government spells out how it will strengthen day to day businesses post-Covid

Town centres are to be the focus of the Welsh Government's "mission" for post-Covid economic recovery.

An extra £270m is to be made available to offer long-term financial help to businesses.

However firms that are given government support will be expected to reduce carbon use and be fair employers.

Deputy Minister Lee Waters said Wales must set out a "green, prosperous and a fairer" economic recovery from the pandemic.

In its Economic Resilience and Reconstruction Mission, the Welsh Government has spelt out how it aims to strengthen businesses and help those firms that innovate, to offer skilled jobs.

Employers will be encouraged to show how their organisations are reducing their impact on the environment and promise permanent work.

"If businesses want support from the government they have to sign up to give something back as well - an economic and social contract which respects fair work, respects the environment and can harness and support workers mental health, I think that's a fair deal," said Mr Waters.

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image captionMore public sector money will be encouraged to be spent within Wales

With high streets in Wales already changing, the mission said Covid has increased the speed of that change - as seen with the closure of Debenhams and Topshop stores, among others.

The Welsh Government said different departments are working to help towns have a new future, by repurposing buildings and encouraging hubs where people can work closer to home rather than commuting.

The public sector in Wales spends around £6bn a year and the plan is for more to be spent within Wales, to help jobs and prosperity.

NHS Wales, for example, spends £22m a year on food - 48% of which is being spent with businesses outside Wales.

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image captionLast decade's progress to reduce unemployment has been partly reversed by efforts to combat Covid

However, the Welsh Government claimed efforts to combat Covid and effects of Brexit have reversed the last decade's progress in reducing unemployment and economic inactivity.

Young people, women, disabled people and ethnic communities are being hit hardest with job losses and working fewer hours because of Covid, ministers say.

The mission also wants business success to be measured by the percentage of people in permanent employment, narrowing the gender pay gap, household incomes, air pollution levels, greenhouse gas emissions and the percentage of companies carrying out research and development.

Welsh Conservative economy spokesman, Russell George MS, welcomed the additional support but said it is "disappointing Labour ministers continue to drag their heels" on extending the business rates holiday.

"We now face a huge challenge to rebuild Wales after the pandemic, and Welsh Labour's dismal track record has stifled economic growth to the extent where ministers have admitted they don't know what they've been doing on the economy," he said.

Plaid Cymru's economy spokeswoman, Helen Mary Jones, said the Welsh Government's plan was "a pale imitation" of her party's £6bn Welsh Green Deal, which claims to see 60,000 jobs created.

"Twenty years of a Labour government in Wales has been characterised by a failure of delivery," she said.

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