As we head into the end of 2021, it’s fair to say this has been a year of a Government steeped in sleaze, cronyism and profiteering – all while we continue to navigate a global public health crisis.
The amount of scandals this government has racked up in the last 12 months is astonishing
Firmly on my radar are some of the financial issues I have been digging into on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – the billions blown on dodgy contracts and useless kit, the excessive outsourcing, the lucrative paydays handed to pals of the party.
New farragoes are turning up all the time. The latest being the National Audit Office’s findings that government ineptitude made it possible for billions in fraudulent business loans to be paid out at the start of the pandemic.
No doubt there will be much more work to do in bringing similar scandals to light in the new year and on into 2022.
Through my role on the PAC, I will continue to do everything I can to hold this government to account.
Last month I wrote about the issue of Blaenau Gwent and other similar constituencies being left behind in the role out of superfast gigabit broadband.
The Government has a target of hitting 85% gigabit coverage by 2025 and in doing so has been focusing on cities and urban areas – a stark contrast to how the Welsh Government ran the previous roll-out of high speed broadband where areas of historic deprivation were prioritised for levelling-up.
It is so vital that Blaenau Gwent is kept up to speed, not just for our communities but also for attracting business and preparing for the jobs of the future.
Through my work in helping bring the new cyber security course to Coleg Gwent and also discussions I had with Thales prior to their arrival in Ebbw Vale, I know how vital digital skills will be for the next generation of workers.
I have written to both the government’s department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) and also the DCMS Minister about tackling the digital divide between the cities and the valleys here in south Wales.
I have asked for a further meeting with the Minister and officials to discuss this further and ensure that everything possible is being done to ensure better broadband for Blaenau Gwent.
I led a Public Accounts Committee session this week looking at the government’s Kickstart scheme – a £2bn fund aimed at getting young people into work during the pandemic.
When the scheme was launched in summer 2020 I had high hopes for it, but by September serious concerns had crept in. I raised some of these with the DWP Minister Thérèse Coffey who told me at the time that the idea was to fund 200,000 jobs for young people.
The scheme still hasn’t met this ambition. It’s been slow to get off the ground and has failed to meet the rising need by some way.
I heard from an employer here in Blaenau Gwent who had tried to engage with the scheme – applying for funding to help employ local young people.
As I raised in the house – this employer’s experience was marred by delays and a total lack of communication, something echoed by businesses across the UK.
The latest figures show that 100,000 16-24 year olds have started jobs through Kickstart, but the number of young people on Universal Credit and out of work for more than 12 months has trebled since the start of the pandemic.
Urgent changes and effort are needed if Kickstart is to succeed in getting more young people into work and prove good value for its £2bn price-tag. It’s beginning to feel like a big missed opportunity.
There was already a successful template for this type of scheme in Labour’s Future Jobs Fund – scrapped by the coalition government in 2010 – which saw results due to the formation of local partnerships to create long term jobs for young people and ensured that new roles were created.
If £2bn is going to go into this scheme then it must start delivering high quality placements with training opportunities built in and a direct transition into long-term employment.
The government refused to implement the findings of a Select Committee inquiry which said it was high time that ex-miners and their families got a fairer share of their pension fund.
The Prime Minister broke his promise after unequivocally telling mineworkers he would fix this during the last election.
There was no mention of miners during the recent budget.
This all amounts to a total slap in the face for those who spent so many years doing dangerous, difficult work to keep the country’s lights on.
My fellow Labour MPs and I are not going to let this lie though. We have once again written to the government to call for justice for former colliers and our coalfield communities.
As the letter says – as we move towards the renewable energy sources of the future, those who powered our country over the last century deserve adequate support.
Despite what the government will insist, the arrangement is unfair and it is simply not right that many ex-mineworkers are getting by on £84 a week when the pension scheme has generated billions.
I have been delivering Beauty Bank beauty and hygiene products to some of our foodbanks and food share centres in Blaenau Gwent ahead of Christmas.
These are always busy times for our foodbanks and this winter will be no different – with people set to feel the pinch of the cost-of-living crisis.
When I visited Sirhowy Star Centre I was unfortunately not at all surprised to hear that footfall had noticeably increased since the government’s cruel cut to Universal Credit.
Thankfully the brilliant volunteers there, and at all of our foodbank centres, have gone above and beyond to help the local community.
I am told that Blaenau Gwent Foodbank is in short supply of some specific items; spaghetti, coffee, shaving foam, washing-up liquid, tinned tomatoes and jam.
If anyone is able to donate at their local supermarket, or wherever collections are being held, in the lead-up to Christmas it would be greatly appreciated.
Nye Bevan rose
I recently had the pleasure of presenting a Nye Bevan rose, grown by the world famous David Austin, to Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan.
I wanted to thank our NHS staff and to see the rose planted in the patients’ garden at Nye Bevan hospital – embedding the link between the founder of our NHS and the hospital named after him.
It felt like a timely thing to do to with staff continuing to support us through the pandemic.
I look forward to returning in the summer for the first bloom and to celebrate Nye Bevan rose with a cup of tea.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
As this will be the last report of 2021, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I have written an End of Year Round-Up here which shows what a busy year it’s been for my office – with more than 2,300 emails responded to, and 759 instances of local people asking for help resolved.
You can still continue to get in touch with me over the festive period by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Internet Connections: Rural Communities
Track and Trace: Transparency International Report 1
Track and Trace: Transparency International Report 2
Downing Street Christmas Parties Investigation
Business of the House: Illegal Off-Roading in Blaenau Gwent
Video/ written contributions / press/ social media links
Out with Tai Calon’s Green Earth team
Abertillery Town Band
Delivering items to the Food bank
Meeting with Garnlydan residents
VIDEO: Question on pandemic profiteering
Presenting Nye Bevan rose to Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan
South Wales Argus column
Tredegar Christmas lights
Letter to DCMS: Broadband in Blaenau Gwent
Aneurin Bevan Health Board recruitment
Letter to government: Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme
Small Business Saturday
Delivering items to Sirhowy food share
Visit to Brynmawr Cubs
Letter to DCMS Minister re: Broadband in Blaenau Gwent
Video: Kickstart – Public Accounts Committee
Money Marketing article: British Steel MP laments lack of compensation progress
VIDEO: Question on Illegal Off-Road Biking in Blaenau Gwent