In a momentous moment in our battle against Covid-19, the roll-out of the vaccine programme got under way this week.
This is brilliant to see, but we cannot afford to become complacent, especially given the extremely high case numbers we are still experiencing in Blaenau Gwent.
My most recent conversations with the health board have been characterised by serious concerns over the pressure our hospitals are already under as we enter the winter period.
The latest data shows there are now more Covid patients in Gwent hospitals than at any other time during the pandemic and the ambulance service recently declared a critical incident as a result of demand.
I also spoke recently with the council about the local response to the situation here and, again, I was told that community transmission is still a major concern.
Although the council is able to monitor and manage what goes on in shops and workplaces, this is much more difficult when it comes to the choices people are making at home.
I am continuing to make the case for mass testing as, even though the vaccine is now on the horizon it will be some time before it reaches everyone.
In the meantime we must do all we can to keep each other safe and prevent our NHS from becoming totally overwhelmed during what is always a very high pressure period for staff.
Another issue which has surfaced are concerns around contract cronyism in the UK Government’s procurement process during this pandemic.
I raised a question in the house about this – asking the Health Secretary Matt Hancock about how he intends to make sure that cronyism and profiteering are not a feature of the vaccine roll-out.
He responded by claiming that a recent National Audit Office showed no such thing at any stage of the pandemic.
There are countless stories that contradict this and the report itself actually confirms that hundreds of firms were fast-tracked for lucrative Covid contracts after tips from ministers and MPs.
This goes hand in hand with a lack of transparency from this Tory Government, a lack of accountability in how these contracts were handed out, and what they deliver.
The Labour party will continue to call for the Government to clean up its approach to contracts, tackle the cronyism at the heart of its outsourcing, and treat taxpayer money with more respect.
The Chancellor’s economic update last month finally featured some details of the Shared Prosperity Fund – something I have asked about time and time again in Parliament – and it turns out that Wales has been severely short-changed.
The funding the Conservatives are putting on the table is pitiful – just £220m for the whole of the UK in the next financial year to replace what used to be £375m a year for Wales alone.
Next April, the Government is also planning to cut the £20 a week uplift, or £1000 a year, it introduced to Universal Credit.
While we do not know what the situation will be in April, we do know that the economic fallout of Covid will still be being felt by families right across the country.
Here in Blaenau Gwent 7502 people receive Universal Credit – which includes things like child tax credit and working tax credit to top up wages – and this will have a terrible impact on many of them.
The Government has its priorities all wrong.
If it can afford to fork out £2.1 billion on dubious procurement and outsourcing, then it can afford to support millions of families that are relying on this £20 a week lifeline.
Our frontline workers have also been let-down badly.
After wasting and mismanaging billions and billions during this crisis, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have announced that public sector workers are facing a pay freeze.
After clapping on the doorstep for our frontline workers, the Government is now making them foot the bill for this crisis.
The Government has broken its promises and is failing to deliver the funding that will be so crucial in helping Wales and its people to recover post-Covid.
Health and wellbeing
Something else I want to see at the heart of our Covid recovery is support for sport and exercise.
As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on parkrun – and a parkrunner myself – I recently spoke about the importance of getting events like parkrun active again as soon as it is safe to do so.
This pandemic has been a stark reminder of how important it is to keep healthy and well, physically and mentally.
Sport needs to be a fundamental part of the Covid-19 recovery, not an afterthought.
I know that parkrun is keen to get people back up and running and wants events for children and young people to begin in January if possible.
Keeping children active is a vital part of tackling inequality and involving children in sports when they are young helps infuse them with habits which can prevent health issues in later life.
Similarly, I am glad to see the Government finally moving to tackle problems around promoting unhealthy eating habits in children – something I have campaigned for in Parliament for many years.
The Government has signalled its intentions to implement bans on junk food advertising and an outright ban on online junk food advertising before the end of 2022.
These measures are long overdue and, while it is frustrating that it has seemingly taken a pandemic to kick the Tories into action, I am glad that plans are now in motion.
It’s two years since the Government launched its childhood obesity plan and I would like to see even more of the proposals which were initially set out implemented as swiftly and effectively as possible.
Rent to Own campaign
Another campaign I have fought is for tougher regulation of the rent-to-own sector.
I took up the campaign several years ago after seeing data showing a steep rise in the amount of people struggling to keep up with payments on rent-to-own items in Blaenau Gwent and even raised it with directly with then Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018.
I was very pleased when the Financial Conduct Authority intervened last year and I am delighted to be told that the price cap they introduced has now brought the value of items paid for in instalments much closer to the in-store cost.
This was not a campaign about people living outside of their means but rather one that prevents companies from exploiting those who needed to spread the cost of buying a fridge or a cooker or a cot.
It was totally wrong that firms were able to take advantage and charge people excessive amounts of money – in some cases hundreds of pounds – more than the items actually cost.
Covid-19: Restrictions on Gyms and Sport
Virtual Participation in Debate 1
Virtual Participation in Debate 2
Virtual Participation in Debate 3
Business of the House
Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-out
Written contributions / video / social media links
Junk food advertising
National Lottery Scheme
South Wales Argus column
Health Board update
South Wales Argus coverage, junk food advert ban
Video: Public Accounts Committee
Video: Covid and Parkrun
Cuts to Universal Credit
Health Board update 2
Response to economic update
Video: Changes to bereavement support
Key workers pay freeze
Public Accounts Committee press coverage
Letter to Minister re: funding for litter volunteers
Health Board update 3
Support for RCSLT
Video: Question to Health Secretary on Covid contracts
Labour List coverage of contract cronyism