Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
The most recent budget was a chance for the government to unlock Britain’s promise and potential, but instead they decided to continue papering over the cracks of 13 years of economic failure.
Instead of measures to help with the current cost-of-living crisis the Tories gave a £1bn tax cut to the richest 1% of earners via changes to pensions allowances – something I voted against in Parliament.
The Conservative Party is simply not meeting the scale of the financial crisis it is has created.
The hit to living standards over the past two years is the largest since records began. Wages are lower now in real terms than they were 13 years ago. They fell last year and will fall further again this year.
Growth was downgraded in this Tory Budget, but Labour will not allow us to keep bumping along this path of managed decline.
No more sticking plaster politics. Our mission is to secure the highest sustained growth in the G7. We want to create good jobs and grow productivity across every part of the UK.
The government may have given up, but Labour will build a better Britain.
Prior to the budget, my fellow coalfield Labour MPs and I wrote to the Chancellor to call for a comprehensive review of the Miners’ Pensions 50/50 surplus sharing arrangement and for the £1.2 billion reserve fund to be returned to former miners immediately.
Unsurprisingly, this was not mentioned in the budget.
The Tories may consider this matter closed, but we will continue to fight for miners to get their fair share.
Last summer the number one issue in my constituency office, and those of many of my colleagues, was the chaos around delays to issuing new passports – a result of the government’s failure to sufficiently plan for the inevitable surge in applications when travel restrictions lifted.
My staff were dealing with multiple urgent cases every day, on hold for hours at a time trying to help people who were facing expensive holidays being cancelled or being unable to attend funerals or other important matters abroad. Employment opportunities were put in jeopardy as workers were unable to provide a passport as proof of ID.
I raised the issue in Parliament at the time with the Home Secretary and also asked an Urgent Question to push for the government to get a grip on the issue.
I recently co-led on a Public Accounts Committee report into the calamity, the findings of which were broadly that:
• Despite the best efforts of staff, the Passport Office delivered an unacceptable level of service in 2022.
• The Home Office has shown a lack of interest in the impact of the Passport Office’s poor service on those affected.
• Weaknesses in the Passport Office’s understanding of how applications moved through its system caused frustration and confusion, especially when applications were being dealt with by hand due to an overburdened digital system.
• Poor performance by contractors made things worse for customers.
Worryingly, the Passport Office expects a level of demand this summer that will be similar to 2022. It has carried out reviews to learn lessons from its experiences last year, but I have big concerns – the failure to upgrade the existing clunky system being one.
I feat that we may be seeing a repeat of last year’s chaos again in the coming months if urgent changes aren’t made.
It was good to meet up with Tara Robinson, BGCBC’s Connected Communities Team Manager, and Cllr John Morgan to hear more about the manufacturing and engineering education centre being brought to Ebbw Vale.
The vision is for the High Value Engineering (HiVE) facility, a partnership between Coleg Gwent, Blaenau Gwent Council and the Welsh Government Tech Valleys programme, to be one of the most advanced engineering training centres in the UK, giving learners the training and skills needed to work in Digital Technologies and the the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing sector.
I am really pleased by what I’ve heard about the HiVE facility, about the opportunities it will open up for people in our area, the potential to attract engineering firms to set up here, and the plans to involve primary and secondary schools in nurturing an interest in these highly skilled fields.
Recently I discovered that just 2.7% of veterans in Blaenau Gwent have received Government ID cards to help them access the services they need.
Until the Veterans ID card was created, veterans had no easy way of proving they had served. The idea was to give all veterans a quick and simple way to confirm their service to the NHS, the local authority and charities, enabling them to access support with health, housing and more.
However, since the Government promised to provide every veteran in the UK with a card in 2019, just 56,000 ID cards have been issued – that’s 3% of veterans.
This is nowhere near good enough. At the current rate of delivery, it will take 125 years to give every veteran a card.
The Conservatives are failing veterans here in Blaenau Gwent and across the UK. Ministers make big promises about the support they will deliver but it’s all talk.
This is why Labour has launched its Labour’s Veterans’ Voice campaign, to listen to veterans and their families and inform future policy.
I intend on holding an event to bring together veterans to discuss the issues they face and how government can do better later this month in Blaenau Gwent, please let me know if you would like to be part of it by emailing email@example.com
You can also contact Labour’s ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ campaign – to highlight the state of armed forces accommodation – here.
Thanks to Cllr Peter Baldwin and Cllr Sonia Behr for joining me at my surgery in Nantyglo recently.
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.
My next surgery will be at the Tabor Centre, Davies Street, Brynmawr, NP23 4AD with Cllr Jules Gardner on Friday, April 21st (4pm – 5pm)
I will also be hosting a pop-in surgery at the new Community Café at Pen-y-Cwm/Ebbw Fawr.
I had the pleasure of being asked to officially open the café a few weeks ago and have since returned for a visit. I’m really glad to hear that things are going well and the café is being supported by the community.
My surgery takes place on Friday, April 28th 9.20am – 10.30am.
Please come along if you or someone you know wants to have a chat.
I’ve signed up for the Hospice of the Valleys’ Six Mile Race at Parc Bryn Bach later this month.
There’s still time to sign up and help raise money for this great local charity before registration closes this Sunday.
Take a look here.
I have been helping campaign in England ahead of the local elections next month, including important seats in South Swindon and Darlington.
The results in these areas will give us a sense of where we are, with Labour victories sending a strong message.
It is so important to not just win here in Blaenau Gwent, but also in the key seats across England so we can ultimately win the next General Election for Labour
I have also been campaigning locally over the last few weeks.
If you want to put together a campaigning session in your area or can lend a hand posting leaflets please get in touch.
Please contact Gemma Badham on 07929 157337 if you have any questions.