The UK continues its battle to bring the coronavirus breakout under control and hopefully begin to slowly bring some normality back into our lives.
This week the Conservative Government at Westminster issued plans for relaxation of lockdown – plans which have caused a lot of confusion and concern.
In Wales, our Labour Government’s message remains the same – stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives.
The Labour party’s priority remains protecting the public’s health and saving lives. We must get this right.
We need to be honest about the challenges ahead because we are in this for the long haul.
People need to be confident that it’s safe before they go back out to work, travel or use public services.
Over the coming days and weeks, the Labour party will continue to work constructively with the Government to ensure we have the best possible response to this crisis.
We will not shy away from shining a light on failures and holding the Conservative Government to account.

Care homes
I gave a speech in the House this week about the toll the coronavirus has taken on care homes here in Blaenau Gwent and across the whole world.
During the early days of this crisis, I was contacted by a member of staff from a particular care home in Blaenau Gwent. They reported concerns about inadequate PPE and told me that a resident showing symptoms of covid-19 was discharged back to the home from hospital and allowed access to communal spaces. I have sought confirmation of that from the health authority, but the exact situation remains unclear.
Altogether, 16 residents have since died.
I have been raising these concerns for weeks, on an almost daily basis, with the relevant decision makers. What was clear was that these organisations and individuals were being pulled in 101 different directions, making it very difficult to get straight answers and resolve problems quickly.
I am continuing to hold weekly telephone meetings with the health board and my understanding is that testing in care homes is taking place and that there are currently no issues related to availability of PPE.
My question to the House this week was, “Were the processes in place so that care homes could deal with this crisis?”
More should have been done at the start of the outbreak to protect residents and staff.
This crisis has revealed that we need to mend the broken structures of accountability.
There must be an open discussion about the issues that respects the rights of residents and the needs of staff. We need to build something better.
I know how fantastic our carers are and I welcomed the decision of the Welsh Government to make an extra payment of up to £500 to every social care worker and domiciliary care worker in Wales.
I have written to the Chancellor to ask that these payments are not subject to the usual tax and benefit deductions, so that all care workers can receive this award in full.

Shared Prosperity Fund
A few weeks ago I wrote to the Chancellor about protecting the Welsh economy post-coronavirus and highlighting the urgent need for clarity on the Shared Prosperity Fund – something that is vital for us here in Blaenau Gwent.
I also wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales to ask whether plans for economic recovery in Wales after the Covid-19 outbreak included getting the ball rolling on the consultation on the Fund, which was supposed to have taken place before the end of 2018.
His answer provided anything but clarity, simply acknowledging that the Fund will “play a key role” in “driving economic growth in Wales” and assuring that the Government “looks forward to continuing to work closely with partners as we develop the Fund.”
The lack of movement on this issue is very concerning.
It wasn’t even mentioned in the last budget.
I have been asking for clarity on this for a very long time but any information about how the fund will work is still a complete mystery, outside of vague promises that EU funding for Wales will be matched and meaningless slogans about “levelling up”.
We need the Government to share its plan and we need assurance that Wales’ economic recovery will be supported at the end of this crisis.

Court cases
Another issue I have spoken about in Parliament is ensuring that court cases – especially jury trials involving domestic violence and other crimes which cause significant harm to identifiable victims – are processed as quickly as possible during lockdown.
I was very concerned to hear from the Chief Constable of Gwent Police that someone charged could be waiting as long as five months for a first court appearance.
I wrote a letter alongside my fellow Gwent Labour MPs calling for these trials to take place remotely, using available technology.
I am pleased to hear that social distancing measures are now being put in place to ensure that jury trials can start again next week, and I hope that the most urgent cases are being prioritised.
This lockdown has highlighted an issue with our courts and an urgent need to modernise the justice system, something that Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy and shadow attorney general Charles Falconer have written to the Government about recently.

Illegal off-roading
There has been a big spike in illegal off-roading during this pandemic lockdown, across the whole of Gwent.
This is an issue I have been calling for action over for some time. I specifically set up a regional roundtable which meets regularly to discuss the issue with relevant organisations and the police because I know how fed-up local people are with seeing the damage being caused to our mountaintops by these menaces.
I spoke with Police Inspectors from Gwent and Blaenau Gwent last week to push for action and I was encouraged to hear that a phase of strong enforcement activity is in the pipeline.
In the coming months I was told that, as well as enforcement operations, there will also be a big focus on improving how members of the public can report incidents and provide intelligence to help tackle this crime.
Better provision for responsible riders who want to enjoy their sport legally was also discussed, and I’m told that this is something that the police are keen to work on in collaboration with the local authorities.

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