Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
One of the big political stories this week is around Conservative peer Baroness Michelle Mone taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords and losing the whip due to alleged links with a firm awarded £200m of PPE contracts.
This is something I was asking questions about back in April as part of my ongoing work to get to the bottom of what exactly went on during the government’s pandemic PPE procurement.
I gave a speech in the House this week summarising some of the issues at hand here.
I spoke about how the taxpayer is paying £770k a day to store a great deal of PPE purchased by the government – a staggering amount of which ended up being burned due to being substandard or even totally unusable.
I spoke about the profiteers, some of whom took advantage of their political links, who exploited the desperate situation to make eye-watering profits.
And I spoke about the total lack of transparency around these contracts, the profits made and the amount of money the government is currently spending on fighting contracts that are now in dispute.
As I said in my speech, companies that received Government PPE contracts should be made to publish full details of their income, profits, commissions, dividends and their bosses’ bonuses. The Chancellor should then consider a windfall tax on the super-profits of those that raked it in.
The government must pursue every penny from disputed contracts and also come clean about the continuing cost of this woeful tale of waste and profiteering.
On Remembrance Sunday this year, I attended the Service at Bedwellty Park, Tredegar in the morning, and then Nantyglo and Blaina in the afternoon.
Both of the services were very well-attended and, as ever, it was privilege to be asked to lay a wreath in honour of those who died serving our country.
The day before, on Saturday, I took part in the annual trek to the cairn above Trefil village to lay a wreath in honour of the six airmen who died after their Wellington bomber crashed into the Brecon Beacons when returning from a raid on Bordeaux.
Thanks to Alyson Tippings and Tredegar Town Council for organising the hike.
Cold Weather Payments
I once again brought up the issue of Cold Weather Payments – a lifeline for those on low incomes.
I told the Chancellor that how the payment hasn’t risen in nearly 15 years – the current £25 rate was set in 2008, today it should be worth £37.
I asked whether the Chancellor would update this and give people in Blaenau Gwent a fairer deal.
He told me that I would have to wait until his forthcoming financial statement for more information on how the Tory government planned to make “protecting the most vulnerable” their top priority.
It turns out what he meant was, simply, “no”.
I followed up my pursuit for an update on the troubled Ajax programme with some questions to defence staff at a recent Public Accounts Committee hearing.
I am pleased that trials on noise, vibration and headsets have been completed, and the vehicles now need to be tested for driving, firing and manoeuvring, however, I am very concerned to hear that it could be as late as 2025 before the vehicles are in the field.
It’s vital that this project is put back on track as soon as possible, not only is it incredibly important for the UK’s defence but also because it supports around 800 good jobs in South Wales.
Animal Welfare Bill
I met with the Dogs Trust in Parliament to back their campaign calling for urgent action to end the cruel practice of Puppy Smuggling by ensuring the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill is passed in Parliament.
The Kept Animals Bill includes provisions to tackle misuse of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), which is being abused through use of falsified documents to import puppies – often unvaccinated and in very poor conditions – which are then sold to unsuspecting buyers in the UK.
The Dogs Trust is also calling for the Bill to include a requirement for visual checks of dogs being transported across international borders.
I hope that Dogs Trust’s campaign will motivate the government to progress with the Kept Animals Bill and to include their recommendations, as this will be key to bringing about the end of Puppy Smuggling.
I was glad to be able to lend a hand with the local Food Bank collection at Ebbw Vale Tesco last week.
Thanks to the tremendous generosity of shoppers a brilliant 24 baskets of food were collected through the day.
Foodbanks have been a lifeline for lots of families in Blaenau Gwent, and this winter will be even tougher for many due to the cost-of-living crisis and rising energy costs.
It is disgraceful that in the UK in 2022 so many people are struggling to put food on the table. As Labour shadow work and pension secretary Jonathan Ashworth recently said, it is “frankly shameful.”
The difference being made by the volunteers at our local foodbanks and food shares cannot be underestimated. I am very grateful for their continued good work.
Thanks to Cllr Ross Leadbeater for joining me at my advice surgery in Abertillery.
If anyone was unable to make it but wishes to raise an issue I can help with, please either email me at email@example.com or get in touch with my office on 01495 313167.
Small Business Saturday
This year was the 10th anniversary of Small Business Saturday, another chance to celebrate and support the small, independent businesses that are at the heart of our high streets.
To mark the annual event I highlighted some of the local businesses I use in Brynmawr, including Smart’s Deli, Fresh ‘n’ Fruity and Bill’s Trophies and Cards.
The Labour Party used the occasion to highlight some of the ways we have pledged to back local businesses, such as levelling the playing field by making online giants pay their fair share, extending protections for self-employed workers including the right to sick pay, legislating to make sure invoices are paid on time and ensuring small businesses aren’t at the back of the queue for public contracts.
It was good to visit EuroCaps in Tredegar, where I was able to speak with staff and take a look around the growing facility.
Eurocaps produces softgel capsules and nutritional gummies that are supplied to some of our biggest pharmaceutical companies and supermarkets.
They are a big local employer and I’m really glad to have been able to help out previously, addressing issues around energy, finance and broadband connectivity. It was good to have a sit down with the management team. There’s a great atmosphere and energy about the team and they have ambitious plans for the future.
I look forward to continuing our good relationship and working with the company in the future, particularly around developing science careers for young people and our area’s potential as a hub for science firms.
Another local company I visited recently was Mootral, a firm dealing in garlic, guts and greenhouse gases.
Mootral is a biotech company that has spun out of NeemBiotech – based in Roseheyworth Business Park, Abertillery.
Mootral has developed a food supplement that significantly reduces methane emissions from cows, one of the biggest contributors to global warming. The company also carries out research around reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock through improved gut health.
Some of the other companies on the site deal are working on helping people by reducing the use of antibiotics in wound care and another that looks at cures for rare skin conditions.
A brilliant company carrying out innovative and important work that I’m really happy to have based here in Blaenau Gwent.
It was a pleasure to help switch the Christmas lights on in Brynithel village.
There was a terrific turnout, lovely carol singing – accompanied by brilliant brass players – and plenty of treats for children provided by the Brynithel Activities Group.
Xmas Pudding run
Well done to our Hospice of the Valleys team and their volunteers for organising the Chase the Xmas Pud family fun run at Parc Bryn Bach in Tredegar.
Much money was raised, sweet treats were enjoyed and Santa hats were worn.