Welsh Witterings: Welsh Government Dictates What is Non-Essential
On Friday 24th October at 6:00pm supermarkets throughout Wales were busy, but not busy with customers, they were busy with their staff plastic wrapping the shelves and cordoning off aisles of the newly defined non-essential items.
I went into a Tesco store in Newtown, Powys at 7:00pm on Friday and it was a very strange and worrying sight to see that shelves of cards, books and electronic items were plastic wrapped to prevent you accessing the items. It is nice to know that books are now classed as non-essential and that not only are we no longer permitted to meet and greet, but we can’t send a card to express our wishes. The toys, mobile phones, DVD’s, kitchenware and clothing sections were also closed off and so if you want new socks, pants, a coat, children’s clothing ; a book or a can-opener you won’t be able to buy one in Wales.
Indeed the Welsh Government has caused outrage at the ban on the sale of non-essential items it has introduced under its Coronavirus ‘firebreak’ lockdown. Items including clothing Halloween products and even pumpkins are temporarily banned.
Living in Wales I have first hand experience of how the lockdown in March affected many small, independent businesses and the lockdown and constant changes in guidelines have certainly wiped out a year of trade for me and its affecting next years trade. The new ‘firebreak’ lockdown in Wales is another blow for small businesses and now in addition this new move that closes down the sale of non-essential retail is going to create more chaos and confusion.
I take great issue with the fact that retailers are being forced to stop making products available to customers in Wales because ministers have deemed them non-essential and unnecessary. I can’t help thinking that Welsh ministers are themselves non-essential because closing down the sales of items deemed non-essential will surely have a disastrous impact on the recovery of Welsh retailers, it is worth remembering that this rule applies to all retailers, large and small in Wales. The restriction of the sale of stock these retailers have , especially in the case of small, independent retailers could make their already fragile position completely impossible.
The new Welsh guidelines will only allow supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies and off-licenses to remain open, mirroring the 15 weeks of lockdown seen in the spring and it is undoubtedly far harsher than England’s current tier system. The Firebreak is in place for two weeks and will end on the 9th November or at least we hope it will.
The moves come as tighter lockdown measures continue to be rolled out across the UK, and it seems that the Welsh Government have not considered the true impact that their new regulations will have. They have essentially given another damning blow to the retail industry and another helping hand to online retail. It is well reported that high street shopping has struggled in recent months and that footfall is still down by over a third, so why place restrictions that will push people towards even more online shopping. It must also be noted that there are also individuals that do not have online access and perhaps those without the ‘luxury’ of company and companionship are now not even allowed the comfort of a good book, because the powers that be deem it unnecessary.
Of course retailers of all sizes have spent a fortune on making stores Covid-secure and there have been a lot of systems put in place to try and ensure the safety of staff and customers, to now have a question mark hanging over the trading security in the all-important run up to Christmas is extremely worrying.
However, we fully recognise the impact the firebreak will have on businesses and are making a further £300m available to support them through this difficult period.”
The general mood here in Wales is one of anger and confusion.
As a family of seven we are already banned from mixing outside of our ‘bubble’ and we cannot see ailing and elderly relatives, we do feel isolated and in addition we have the worry of how it affecting our business. Yes, I appreciate that the Government wishes to stop the spread of Coronavirus and save lives, but it would be very useful if some thought, clarity and direction were added to the plans they roll out. In my opinion the firebreak is actually fuel for mayhem, turmoil and disorder and will do little to curb the rise in the Coronavirus spread.