Rt Hon Mark Drakeford MS, First Minister
The Minister for the Economy and I represented the Welsh Government at a four-nations meeting on 3 June, chaired by the UK Prime Minister, to discuss the working relationship between the UK Government and the devolved governments and COVID-19 recovery.
A communique was published on GOV.UK following the meeting: COVID-19 Recovery Meeting: 3 June 2021.
The first item on the agenda was Working Together. I emphasised the importance of addressing the overall state of intergovernmental relations and reiterated that the Welsh Government wants to make a positive case for the future of the United Kingdom as a voluntary association of nations, coming together where there are common interests.
I referred to the forthcoming refresh of our landmark constitutional publication Reforming our Union: Shared Governance in the UK, and highlighted the importance of completing the Intergovernmental Relations Review, particularly in the context of achieving a regular, reliable and respectful basis for engagement.
I made clear to the Prime Minister the current confrontational approach must change if we are to make the Union work for all nations. It does not have to be this way – the Welsh Government wants to see a strong Wales in a successful UK.
I also emphasised how the UK Government’s current approach to seeking to use its financial assistance powers under the UK Internal Market Act is completely unacceptable – taking away funding in devolved areas that have been for this Senedd to ultimately determine since the start of devolution.
I described the damage this does to the Union, and the disrespect it shows to the role of the Senedd and to the clear mandate from the people of Wales for strengthening devolution. This is not only constitutionally inappropriate; it also risks poor value for money for scarce public spending if the UK Government allocates funding without properly engaging with the Welsh Government and aligning with our regional economic strategies.
The second item consisted of presentations from the UK Government on the context for COVID-19 recovery, in particular in relation to the economy as well as public finances and services. I underlined the need for an investment-led recovery, which must address the inequalities that have been exposed by the pandemic. I also called for fair pay for the public service workers we have relied on so heavily in this pandemic.
In relation to the final item, assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and public services, I reflected on the situation in Wales, with which Members will be very familiar. I confirmed the Welsh Government’s interest in learning from experiences across the UK, but I suggested the focus for future joint work should be the interface between devolved and reserved matters, such as the economy, a green recovery and travel.
I also took the opportunity to raise again our concerns about the implications of a UK-Australia trade deal for Wales.