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PMQs: Slash VAT on face-coverings says Plaid Cymru

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BEN LAKE calls for zero-rating for mandatory face coverings

At today’s (Jul 22) PMQs, Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake MP called for VAT to be cut on face coverings.

The standard 20% rate of VAT is continuing to be charged on non-medical face coverings in the UK.

Mr Lake has also written to the Chancellor calling for the tax to be removed.

Face coverings will be mandatory on public transport in each of the UK nations by Friday, with England and Scotland also requiring their use in shops. The Welsh Government has stopped short of making masks mandatory in retail settings, but has advised their use where social distancing is not possible.

There is currently a temporary zero VAT rating applied to all supplies of PPE which are made between 1 May and 31 October 2020. This only applies to PPE made for medical settings, not the face-coverings advised for use by the general public.

There are concerns that the cost of face masks could be prohibitive for some families as they become mandatory.

The European Commission indicated support for temporary VAT reliefs, including zero-rates, directly linked to the efforts being undertaken to mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Netherlands has applied a zero rate to domestic sales of ‘mouth masks’ from 25 May 2020 to 1 September 2020. The zero rate will be applied to non-medical masks that consumers are allowed to use on public transport, as well as to medical masks, regardless of who they are sold to.

During PMQs, Ben Lake MP asked:

“Face coverings will become mandatory on public transport in Wales next Monday.

“A zero VAT rating has been applied to most PPE since 1 May – but at present it does not apply to non-medical face coverings.

“Will the Prime Minister therefore extend the zero rating to these items so that members of the public – especially those on low incomes – are not financially penalised for following the rules?”

The Prime Minister responded by repeating that VAT on PPE had been removed and committed to speaking to the ‘relevant minister’ to clarify the UK Government’s position.

Following PMQs, Ben Lake sent a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was also copied to the Prime Minister, saying:

I am contacting following a request I made to the Prime Minister during today’s oral questions. I urge you to consider extending zero rate of VAT to reusable masks while their use is mandatory or advised to reduce the spread of covid-19.

I welcomed your announcement earlier in the year that a zero rate of VAT would be applied on items of personal protective equipment (PPE) to ease the burden of tax on essential infection protection equipment needed to deal with the emergency.

Now that face coverings have been made mandatory by all the governments of the UK in certain settings, I urge you to extend this exemption to reusable masks.

I believe this could easily be done by modifying the guidance dated 24 April 2020 titled ‘Guidance, COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE)’ to reflect the updated advice with regards to face coverings. I would encourage the UK Government to follow the advice of the World Health Organization when defining what masks should be used, to encourage the use of the most effective masks available.

The Netherlands applied a zero rate to the domestic sales of masks, including non-medical masks for use on public transport, with the aim of making masks cheaper for those who travel on public transport. I would urge you to do the same.

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Eat Out to Help Out Launches today – with Government paying half on restaurant bills

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FROM today, Monday, August 3, customers will get up to 50% off on bills when visiting participating restaurants, pubs and cafes;

Half price discount will run through August and applies to all food and non-alcoholic drinks consumed on the premises – with Pizza Express, Costa Coffee and Nando’s among thousands signed up.

The scheme, part of the Chancellor’s Plan for Jobs, aims to protect jobs in the hospitality sector – which has been hit hard by coronavirus.

Diners across Wales will see their restaurant bills slashed by as much as 50% from today as the government’s landmark Eat Out to Help Out scheme officially opens for business.

Anyone visiting a participating restaurant, café or pub on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August will receive the half price discount – keeping more money in hardworking families’ pockets and giving a vital boost to the UK’s hospitality sector.

The scheme – part of the government’s Plan for Jobs that will spur the country’s economic recovery from coronavirus – applies to all food and non-alcoholic drinks, with a maximum discount per person of £10. It could save a family of four up to £40 per meal.

2,084 outlets have so far signed up for the scheme in Wales.

You can check to find outlets in individual towns and cities by downloading the list here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/eat-out-to-help-out-scheme-registration-data-for-software-develop

Alternatively, you can use the online restaurant finder to search for participating outlets using a postcode:

https://www.tax.service.gov.uk/eat-out-to-help-out/find-a-restaurant

Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart said: “Wales has some of the best pubs, cafes and restaurants and our hospitality sector plays a vital role in our economy, employing thousands of people. Recognising the incredible challenges faced by the sector, we are doing everything we can to encourage customers through the door.

“By offering 50% off bills in restaurants, cafes and bars, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme will boost custom, protect jobs and help to kickstart the Welsh economy.

“I hope as many people as possible make the most of this fantastic scheme which is another step in securing the future of Wales’ world-class tourism and hospitality industry.”

More than 72,000 establishments are participating, including independent eateries and family favourites such as Pizza Express, Costa Coffee and Nando’s.

There have already been over 3.3 million hits on the Eat Out to Help Out restaurant finder since it launched last week, which shows what businesses are participating in local areas, and many restaurants have since seen a boost in bookings. Apps like Opentable, Fork and Bookatable are all planning pages to support the scheme.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said: “Our Eat Out to Help Out scheme’s number one aim is to help protect the jobs of 1.8 million chefs, waiters and restaurateurs by boosting demand and getting customers through the door.

“More than 72,000 establishments will be serving discounted meals across the country, with the government paying half the bill. The industry is a vital ingredient to our economy and it’s been hit hard by coronavirus, so enjoy summer safely by showing your favourite places your support – we’ll pay half.”

The scheme will help protect the jobs of the hospitality industry’s 1.8 million employees by encouraging people to safely return to their local restaurants, cafes and pubs where social-distancing rules allow.

Around 80% of hospitality firms stopped trading in April, with 1.4 million workers furloughed, the highest of any sector.

Many participating restaurants offer healthy and low-calorie options, and the scheme should be enjoyed as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle. No vouchers are needed, with the participating establishment deducting 50% from the bill.

People may be worried about returning to eat out. To address these concerns, businesses have prepared to become Covid-secure through, for example, protective screens, contactless payments, social distancing, one way walking systems, online bookings and reduced capacity.

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme is one part of the Chancellor’s £30 billion Plan for Jobs, announced last month. Other measures announced to protect, support and create jobs include cutting VAT for tourism and hospitality by 15%, a £2 billion Kickstart Scheme and an £8.8 billion investment in new infrastructure, decarbonisation and maintenance projects.

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Ceredigion MP and MS welcome announcement of new broadband pilot scheme launched in Ceredigion

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The UK Government’s Broadband Upgrade Fund campaign has launched this week to help businesses, employees and countryside communities take advantage of all the benefits associated with faster and more reliable internet connections. Ceredigion is one of seven counties across the UK chosen as part of this broadband pilot scheme launched by the UK Government.

Rural residents or businesses in Ceredigion may be eligible for a voucher to support the cost of gigabit-capable broadband in your area. Gigabit-capable broadband connections offer the fastest and most reliable speeds available, making things like streaming movies, downloading files, and video calls much easier.

Rural premises with broadband speeds of less than 100Mbps will be entitled to a voucher worth £1,500 per home while small to medium-sized business can get up to £3,500 for to support the cost of installing new fast and reliable connections. Funding is only available when used in group projects and groups can be a mix of residents and businesses; just residents or just businesses.

Some premises and businesses across Ceredigion will also be able to benefit from the Welsh Government’s top-up voucher scheme, taking the potential funding for individual premises up to £3,000 and up to £7,000 for businesses.

Responding to the announcement Ben Lake MP said: “Fast, reliable broadband for local homes and businesses is not a luxury, it is essential. It is a necessity for our local businesses and for those in isolated villages to remain connected. Poor broadband has been an issue that has plagued Ceredigion for many years, with disparate levels of service across the county.

“I have campaigned ceaselessly on this issue, raising it repeatedly with the UK Government. I therefore welcome the announcement that premises across Ceredigion will be able to benefit from this newly launched Broadband Upgrade Fund pilot scheme.”

Elin Jones MS added: “I encourage all premises and businesses currently not able to access high-speed broadband to take advantage of this additional funding. Whilst I hope to see swift and substantial progress over the next few months in response to this scheme, we must keep up the pressure on BT, Openreach, Broadband Delivery UK and all levels of government to secure full superfast broadband across Ceredigion. That means continuing the roll-out of high-speed broadband for all homes, including those in hard-to-reach rural areas.”

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New support to help short term unemployed people

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A NEW service has been launched to ensure short term unemployed people in west Wales get the practical hands on support needed to get into work.

The service is delivered by the highly experienced and skilled Workways+ team, they can now support people that have been unemployed for a day or years. This is thanks to an additional investment of £3m EU funds provided through the Welsh Government. STU is available through Workways+ in Ceredigion, Neath Port Talbot, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.

People accessing the STU service can expect one to one support from an experienced and caring employment mentor. They will work with them to develop their CV, completing job application forms, preparing for interviews and searching for jobs. They may also get fully funded skills training, clothes for interviews, PPE and work clothing. Unemployment can be traumatic and the mentor team understand this. They will help people build their confidence and get work ready. Every one of the mentor team takes great pride in how they help people and are thrilled when the people they help get jobs.

Councillor Catrin Miles, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member for Schools, Lifelong Learning and Skills, Support and Intervention, said: “Practical support like this is invaluable for people experiencing unemployment. We are pleased to be able to support this initiative to assist people facing short-term unemployment, and launching this additional support is very timely given the challenges currently facing people due to the coronavirus restrictions. We trust the scheme will benefit many people.”

Workways+ and STU are funded by the European Social Fund through the Welsh Government and staffed by officers employed by Ceredigion County Council, Neath Port Talbot Council, Carmarthenshire County Council and Pembrokeshire Council.

To find your local office, go to the Workways website: www.workways.wales/?lang=en-gb

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