2022 was a year that marked big changes in the UK and across the world.
In British politics it was a year mired in chaos and controversy, with three different Prime Ministers presiding over one disastrous administration after another, sending our countries into an economic crisis that is far from over.
Looking back at my Parliamentary activity over the last year you will see these national and global events featured – the heinous and barbaric war inflicted on Ukraine (I continue to wear my sanctioning by Russia as a badge of honour), the death of the Queen, and of course the crushing Cost of Living crisis that is causing so much misery for so many.
You will also see that I have continued speaking about and raising questions on many of the campaigns I have taken up in recent years, such as the billions blown during the PPE scandal, better support for pensioners, support for the steel industry, promoting Blaenau Gwent as a centre of excellence for tech and cyber jobs in the future, improving broadband in the area, opposing plans for Voter ID (the topic of my most recent South Wales Argus column) and others.
I have also continued to lead on many important examinations of Government spending through my role on the Public Accounts Committee.
Locally, the data shows that, with the aid of my small team, in 2022 I resolved 1,048 cases – around four every working day – where constituents have come to me for help with problems such as housing, anti-social behaviour, benefits, pensions or any number of day-to-day issues.
By far the biggest issue according the data was the massive surge in people asking for help with passport issues in the summer.
As well as working to resolve each case for individuals, I took the Government to task over this fiasco, raising questions in the house and spearheading the drive to get waiting times back to something resembling normalcy.
This was yet another example of the failing Government’s total lack of preparation and inability to see trouble on the horizon.
In his New Year’s speech Keir Starmer referred to these numerous chaotic crises, and the “sticking plaster” politics the Tories employ to deal with them.
Setting out Labour’s plan for a better future, and new missions for national renewal he said: “We won’t accept decline. Won’t write our country off. Won’t leave Britain in a brace position, buffeted from crisis to crisis.
“Holding on. Trying to make it through. It’s no way to live and it’s no way to run a country.”
And he’s right.
What Britain needs now is hope, and that can only come with a Labour government.
We need the fairer, greener, more dynamic Britain that only Labour can provide.
It was also great to hear the Labour leader mention the valleys’ burgeoning Cyber Security industry in his New Year Speech this morning as an example of the kind of industry that should be boosted, so that communities like ours can prosper.
These are undoubtedly the industries of the future. I want our young people to be prepared and I want our area to continue to attract tech and cyber firms.
This is something I wrote about last summer having worked closely with the firms in our tech-hub in Ebbw Vale and having helped bring the new cyber hub and training courses to our local college – an idea that that Coleg Gwent is aiming to replicate across some of its other campuses.
Thales’ National Digital Exploitation Centre and also the new ResilientWorks lab are just part of the plan to build a tech cluster in Blaenau Gwent – putting us at the head of designs to make Wales a centre of excellence for cyber security.
Last month I spoke about an amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill I have tabled that would require the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to regularly report to Parliament, providing a further level of scrutiny of their work.
Over the last five years of helping steelworkers that were ripped-off by pension sharks two things have become clear – that the FCA failed them in their hour of need and that Parliamentary scrutiny has been absolutely vital in pushing them to act.
It was only after an NAO investigation, that I instigated, and continued digging by me and my Public Accounts Committee colleagues, that the FCA properly took notice of the scale of this injustice, finally announcing a redress scheme last week.
I am pleased to have received support from across the House for the clause I have tabled. There is still a long way to go for it to receive full parliamentary support.
If eventually agreed it would mean consumers can be better protected, and our financial services sector would be all the better for it.
Energy costs Q
Last week I visited a housing scheme in Blaina, where people with private pensions are facing increased energy costs of 400%, or £50 a week, to pay for heating the common areas.
The housing association says that none of the Government’s energy schemes are of any help to the organisation, so it has to pass on the costs.
I raised the issue in Parliament and I have asked the Minister to meet with me to discuss tweaking the Energy Bill Relief Scheme so that this gap is addressed.
I gave a speech in the house this week on the new Procurement Bill.
I welcome the new Bill’s aims of openness, effectiveness and transparency but the Government’s record here has been undermined by the PPE scandal.
The sheer scale of Government waste is not just explained by global markets pressures; the UK Government’s failures must also be acknowledged.
Many contracts awarded through the Government’s VIP lane did not go through the Government’s due diligence process and the PPE scandal has seen £4bn of taxpayers’ money wasted on unusable equipment and now £2.6bn-worth of disputed contracts.
I am specifically concerned about contracts awarded to Unispace Global Ltd, which won more than £600m of PPE contracts during the pandemic. It is extremely difficult to follow the financial paper trail: a look at its manoeuvres, and the chopping and changing of its directors, raises big questions.
Private Eye says that the companies’ accounts do not include the £600m paid to them, which begs questions.
We need a Bill that mandates open accounting of public contracts. We need a Bill that allows us to properly follow the money.
I recently lead on a Public Accounts Committee report which combined two topics I am interested in, government spending and public health.
I appeared on BBC Breakfast last weekend, as well as a few radio interviews, to discuss the report which sets out how the Government failed to capitalise on enthusiasm that followed the London Olympics to get more people into sports and active lifestyles.
There were also big failures in the spending around this campaign, with £1.5 billion being handed out since 2016, but has no idea where two-thirds of this went because it doesn’t track the distribution of grants issued to national organisations.
The PAC has challenged the relevant department here to come up with a better plan of action for when it reports back to us this summer.
A quick reminder that a free event I have helped bring to Blaenau Gwent takes place next week and places are filling up fast.
The Google Digital Garage is coming to the EVI, Ebbw Vale to provide a day of free digital skills workshops and mentoring to help local people and small businesses.
This is a chance for local businesses, self-employed people and individuals to learn from the experts at Google about: Building Your Brand Online; Connecting with Customers on Social Media; Digital Marketing Strategy and more.
Register for this event here: https://rsvp.withgoogle.com/events/gwent-ud
Thanks to Cllr Derrick Bevan for joining me at my most recent advice surgery in Cwm.
If you, or someone you know, wants to speak with me but could not make it, please get in touch via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office on 01495 313167