As turbulent and uncertain as this year has been, many will, rightly, be feeling buoyed by encouraging news of an effective Covid-19 vaccine this week.
There is still a lot of work to be done before any vaccine can be rolled-out safely and any eventual roll-out will be a massive logistical challenge. This means we cannot afford to become complacent.
The fact is that the case rate in Blaenau Gwent is still very high – the third highest in Wales at the time of writing.
I am assured by the health board that outbreak clusters are being handled capably through collaborative efforts involving the local council, Public Health Wales and the police. I also understand that the Track and Trace system is working well.
However, community spreading in our valleys is still a major issue and one that is proving difficult to manage.
The health board has urged people to avoid visiting other households unless it is necessary to stop this community transmission.
The health board and Welsh Government have reaffirmed the need to follow the basic steps of washing hands, wearing a mask and social distancing.
Anyone with symptoms should seek a test immediately and follow the guidance on self-isolating.
We all want to return to normality, and we are all hopeful that a vaccine can deliver this in the near future.
In the meantime we must continue to do all we can to keep each other safe.

Although social distancing meant we were unable to mark Remembrance Sunday in the usual way this year, I am very thankful to those who ensured that services were able to take place.
On Saturday I made the annual trek to the top of Trefil to lay a wreath at the T2520 Wellington bomber crash site, joined by Alyson Tippings and members of Tredegar Town Council, and on Sunday I had the privilege of being part of the services in Tredegar and Beaufort.
The services were smaller this year, but certainly no less poignant.

Government Accountability
At a time when being able to question and challenge the Government is of the utmost importance, processes are becoming stunted, poor responses in the chamber are becoming the norm and written replies have become characterised by slowness and delay.
I raised a Point of Order recently laying out the difficulties members are experiencing in getting substantial and straight-forward answers to reasonable questions.
A question I asked recently received just a six-word answer from Michael Gove.
A question I put to the Minister for Digital and Culture received the blunt assertation that I was “misinformed”, something I firmly believe not to be the case.
There are examples of questions which have taken several months to be answered. Frequently the answers received are not suitably substantive.
I know that many of my colleagues have experienced similar frustrations.
As I said in my Point of Order, anyone would think this Government is trying to avoid scrutiny and hide its poor performance.
I appreciate that they are trying to deal with Covid-19 but Parliamentary scrutiny is one of the most fundamental and important principles of our democracy.
We are being prevented from holding the Government properly to account and, frankly, it is not good enough.
I have written to the Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg to reiterate these concerns.
Fittingly, I am yet to receive a response.

Food Standards
An issue I know many people are concerned about is the future of food standards in Britain, and I share these concerns.
The Labour party has consistently voted to protect our food standards, to ensure animal welfare and to prevent cheap, poor quality imports undercutting our farmers.
Last month the Tory party voted against an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would ensure any food imports coming in to the UK meet the same standards required from UK farmers.
They have ignored every concern that has been raised about this in bid to secure a trade deal with the US and in doing so they have broken their promise to British farmers and the public.

School Meals
Public pressure and campaigning from footballer Marcus Rashford forced the Conservatives into yet another u-turn on the issue of providing free meals for children who need them over the winter.
It is shameful that the Tories initially voted to allow more than one million children to go hungry, especially at this time when so many families are struggling.
I know how important free school meals are to some children. I spoke earlier this year about a time when they were a lifeline to my sisters and me.
Thankfully the Welsh Labour has consistently pledged that no child will go without, extending free school meals for every school holiday until Easter 2021.
On a similar topic I have recently written to Blaenau Gwent Council to ask that serious consideration is given to reinstating breakfast clubs in our schools as the most recent Welsh Government guidance advises and as we have seen happening in Torfaen.
Breakfast clubs are so important.
As well as providing a meal they are an important source of childcare for parents, especially single-parent families, whose jobs cannot accommodate a 9am drop-off.
At this time we should be removing any possible barriers to work.
I do not doubt that the decision to suspend breakfast clubs in Blaenau Gwent was made with much consideration, but I have asked for the decision to be reviewed.

Grange Hospital
I visited the new Grange Hospital in Cwmbran this week for a first look.
The new building is very impressive and I am pleased that it is opening ahead of schedule to help the health board deal with winter pressures.
The new hospital opens on Tuesday, November 17.
Information on the changes to healthcare in Gwent can be found here.
An information booklet has been delivered to every home in Gwent and can also be found here.

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