Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not just an attack on the Ukrainian people, but also on democracy, freedom and the rule of law. It is an outrage and we must all stand firm in our support of Ukraine.
As I wrote when I signed the Parliamentary Book of Solidarity for Ukraine this week, the UK must support Ukraine as best as it can, including humanitarian and financial support for Ukrainians.
It is right that Britain continues to provide support to help Ukraine defend itself, but the UK Government must also take stronger, swifter action in ensuring Putin feels the full force of the toughest possible sanctions.
Those with ties to Putin and the Russian Government’s interests must be cut off from the Western economy entirely.
The UK has also been far too slow to freeze the assets of Russian banks and oligarchs.
As I said in my speech to the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, this must mark a turning point in finally clamping down on the corrupt Russian money being hidden under our noses, removing its insidious influence from the UK.
If any constituents need help with any issues regarding the crisis in Ukraine please get in touch.
You can donate to the Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal by following the link here.
Cyber-attacks and propaganda
Another issue of concern is tackling the cyber-attacks, lies and propaganda that we know are all tools of Putin’s trade.
We are already seeing evidence of disinformation being peddled online to drum up support for this illegal and heinous assault on the Ukrainian people.
I asked questions to both the Prime Minister and the Armed Forces Minister about what the UK Government will do to bolster the UK against cyber-attacks, combat Russian state propaganda online and ensure the truth prevails.
Through my work on the Public Accounts Committee I discovered that the government had mountains of PPE stuck in shipping containers, unused and racking up storage costs of more than £1m a day – something I raised with Government Efficiency Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg a few weeks ago.
I had also heard about the £1.5bn spent on three billion items of PPE that were of no use to the NHS and a further 230 million items of PPE that were found to be of absolutely no use to anyone.
At a PAC hearing earlier this week we were told that much of these items are now set to be burned for fuel at a rate of 15,000 pallets a month.
This is just another example of the wasteful spending and questionable contracting that has taken place throughout the government’s pandemic response.
You can watch a clip of my questioning here.
On a similar note, I recently asked a question Parliament about Randox, the company at the centre of the lobbying scandal that saw former MP Owen Patterson resign and one that cashed in on Covid contracts – seeing a jump in profits from £12m to £50m as a result.
As the money rolled in, the company then re-registered in the Isle of Man.
I asked the Minister if she thought tax on UK Covid contracts should be paid in the UK.
As you can see here, not unexpectedly, she dodged the question.
It was also brought to my attention that Randox remains a key sponsor of the Grand National and the Jockey Club.
I have therefore written to the Jockey Club’s CEO to ask that this relationship is reviewed, asking whether the organisation wishes to be associated with a firm of Randox’s reputation.
I am awaiting a response.
When the Government announced the launch of its Kickstart scheme during the pandemic, I had high hopes for the plans to get young people into work – although I also had concerns.
Not long after the scheme’s launch, I asked a question to the Minister for Work and Pensions about ensuring the scheme proved value for money. Later, I spoke in Parliament on behalf of a local employer that had contacted me to explain the frustrating experience of trying to engage with the scheme, one characterised by sluggish progress and poor communication.
I also led a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting that looked into what we were hearing was a scheme that was floundering.
Now, a report published by the PAC confirms that the scheme had supported far fewer young people than predicted, that “early delivery was chaotic” and that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “neglected to put in place basic management information that would be expected for a multi-billion-pound grant programme”.
Unfortunately, as we have also seen with other Government schemes set up to help alleviate the impact of the pandemic, the implementation was rushed and the operation was sloppy.
There was not enough oversight of what was being delivered, no way of measuring its success and no real sense of whether it was proving value for money.
As a result, this scheme was slow to get off the ground, failed to meet its targets by some way and has ultimately let down hundreds of thousands of young people.