The latest Tory scandal – Greensill – is of interest not only because it involves Liberty Steel, which I have been raising questions about in Parliament, but because it is yet another example of the cronyism that has been threaded through this Government’s dealings over the past year.
This is something I have spoken about many times now, I have dug into it through my work in the Public Accounts Committee and recently wrote about it in my column for the South Wales Argus.
Whether it be the £2bn spent awarding Covid-19 contracts to companies with links to the Conservative Party or the Tories refusing to publish details of their friends and donors fast-track lane, it amounts to a Government that is not behaving in a transparent and straight-forward manner.
Now the party has voted down Labour’s call for an independent inquiry into the Greensill scandal.
It is not good enough. The British public deserves to know what happened to their taxes.
The situation at Liberty Steel is very concerning.
Workers – including those in the plant here in Tredegar – need urgent, clear reassurance from the government that there is a plan to protect jobs.
I have been calling for Government support in the House and met with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to discuss the issue along with my fellow Steel APPG members.
I also asked Mr Kwarteng a question about protecting the various elements of Liberty Steel to which he responded that the Government “hope[s] to support the company in its entirety.”
We need a plan to protect Liberty Steel and we need a long-term plan for UK steel.
A strong domestic steel industry will be vital for our economic recovery and for future green industry and yet this Government is failing to back UK steelmaking with its weak procurement practices.
Defence spending is an area where the Government could back British steel.
This something I have spoken about previously, including when I raised a question about building our Naval ships using UK steel, when I supported calls for defence contracts to benefit local communities socially and economically, and when I backed the UK Steel Charter.
Labour leader Keir Starmer recently called for the UK to adopt a ‘Buy British’ approach to defence spending.
I agree that our naval ships, planes and drones should be built in Britain wherever possible and whenever strategically appropriate. I believe we should keep big defence contract opportunities in the UK.
This Government should give every opportunity to manufacturing companies in the UK so they can invest in local jobs and boost the economy.
Also on the issue of defence, I recently challenged the Prime Minister about his Integrated Review of Defence statement and his plans to slash the number of British troops by 10,000 over the next decade.
He told me that “no one will be made redundant”.
This is disingenuous.
By giving that answer he is avoiding admitting that the intention is to bring numbers down by recruiting fewer troops to replace those who leave the service in the coming years.
The fact is that this Tory Government is cutting our army to its smallest size in 300 years due to its chronic mismanagement of the defence budget.
Labour is calling on the Government to think again and review these plans.
Police, Crime Bill
A big topic of discussion last month was the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which the Conservative Party voted through despite grave concerns around its failures to protect women and girls and its disproportionate controls on the right to protest.
I voted against the Bill because it is a mess and a missed opportunity for sentencing reform.
This was a chance to unite the country and put in place long overdue protections for women by increasing minimum sentences for crimes like stalking and rape, and working to drive up convictions for sexual violence and domestic abuse.
Instead we have a Bill which could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.
Labour has published plans for a Victims Law and Survivors’ Support Plan and we are also calling on the Government to look urgently at tougher sentences for rape and serious sexual violence, for a new law on street harassment and tougher action against stalking.
We don’t need more consultations and delays, we need action.
The time to put an end to violence against women and girls is now.
Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme
Securing a better deal for Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme members has been one of the issues I have put a lot of work into campaigning on over the years.
I have secured debates, spoken up many times in Parliament and written proposals which have been signed and supported by coalfield MPs from across the House.
I was therefore very happy that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee began its inquiry into the Scheme’s surplus-sharing arrangement this week. This is long overdue.
I provided evidence to the inquiry which explains my view that ex-miners should be given a bigger share of the pot.
My view is that adjustments should be made to reflect the success of the Scheme’s investments, which has seen the Treasury benefit to the tune of billions without paying in a penny.
I recommended that the Scheme’s £1bn investment reserve be used to uplift pensions so that members benefit sooner rather than later, and also recommended that future investment gains made by the Scheme be paid directly to members instead of into the Treasury.
All ex-miners and their families want is fair play and a fair deal. We owe them that much for their years of dangerous and difficult work.
Illegal off-road biking
I was pleased to chair another meeting of the roundtable group I set up a few years ago to discuss illegal off-road biking with Gwent Police, council officers, farmers, environmental group members, walkers and legal biking representatives.
Prior to this I joined with the local policing team ward manager and visited some of the local illegal riding hotspots to discuss the challenge of tackling the issue.
I know this is a very tricky crime to deal with, with the activity taking place in difficult to access areas and by people who are riding vehicles that make it easy to evade the police.
I also know that a lot people are fed-up with witnessing these riders damaging our environment, worrying animal stock and intimidating walkers. It is a big problem across the whole Gwent Police area.
At the roundtable meeting we heard about the latest plans to deal with this issue locally, the enforcement action that has been taking place in recent months, plans to improve local intelligence gathering and the use of technology to catch offenders in the act.
If you have any information about – or photographs/video of – illegal off-road biking please report it to Gwent Police via 101, Facebook or Twitter messenger, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hats off to all involved in the local vaccination programme which is continuing at an impressive speed.
Around half of the 40-49 age group have now had their first jab along with 92% of all people over the age of 50.
The latest data from the Health Board shows that the Covid incidence rate for Blaenau Gwent is now at 13 people per 100,000.
The situation in our hospitals is now much better than it was over the winter. The latest information I have shows just nine Covid patients in the Grange.
I am told that more hospital services are re-opening and the focus is now shifting to clearing the backlogs of patients waiting to be seen.
Written contributions / video / social media links
“Time is running out for steelworkers…”
Meeting with Coal Tip Authority
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill
Illegal off-road biking
Vaccine Update 1
Question to PM re: Integrated Defence review
Coverage on Question re: Defence cuts
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill 2
Dr Das Care Homes Inquest
Labour’s plan for Victim’s Law
Welsh Gov payment to care staff
Frustration with FCA inaction
News on Ebbw Vale to Cardiff train line
Mineworkers Pension Scheme inquiry 1
South Wales Argus column
Financial Times coverage re: FCA letter
Question to Sec of State re: Liberty Steel
Meeting with Kwasi Kwarteng re: Liberty Steel
Illegal off-road police roundtable
Vaccine Update 2
Bereavement Support Payments
Health Board Update
Mineworkers Pension Scheme 2