Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
The Conservatives’ incompetence and irresponsibility have left Britain in the worst economic crisis of any major economy.
They have dithered and delayed and they have wasted taxpayer money. The Chancellor took too long to support jobs before and he’s doing it again.
There are 4.6 million workers still on furlough across the UK and 3,580 people still furloughed here in Blaenau Gwent. Waiting another month to give their employers clarity puts those jobs at risk.
Labour is calling for Rishi Sunak to immediately announce an extension to the furlough scheme and remove any uncertainty.
The scheme must also be made smarter, with training opportunities built-in and with tougher conditions to prevent abuse by employers.
The Chancellor should also set the fourth grant of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme at 80% of pre-crisis profits and open it to people who only have a 2019/20 tax return.
He must also fix the holes which have excluded some people from support for close to a year now.
The Kickstart scheme, which I have questioned the Government about previously, is not working and needs an overhaul. There are 590,000 people aged 16-24 out of work and just 2,000 are now on Kickstart placements.
Families cannot afford for the Chancellor to take his time on these issues.
People are desperate for the security that comes with a resilient economy.
To deliver this, we need to get out of this crisis and get on the road to recovery.
That requires a clear roadmap, with economic support that goes hand-in-hand with public health restrictions.
We must secure jobs, support our high streets and strengthen our communities, and we need action today.
The vaccine programme is continuing apace and case numbers thankfully remain low in Blaenau Gwent.
Wales is leading the way in getting the vaccine out and at the time of writing this more than 600,000 people have now received their first dose – a fantastic effort by all to protect those in the first priority groups.
The Health Board has created an online form for anyone aged 72-79 that hasn’t received an invitation for their Covid-19 vaccination yet.
Anyone aged 80 and over, aged 70-71 or those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should contact their GP if they haven’t yet had their invite.
Steel pensions and support for the industry
I am continuing my work to support those British Steel Pension Scheme members who were targeted by financial scammers.
This month marks three years since the crisis unfolded and action to put things right remains far too slow and insubstantial.
I am still not assured that the Financial Conduct Authority has the teeth to deal with this properly and have called on the new Chief Executive to establish better consumer protection to work on issues like this specifically.
I am also continuing to support the steel industry by calling for the Government to do all it can to protect domestic steel.
I have been in communication with HMRC about the latest issue that this Government is failing to deal with – a loophole involving bonded warehouses that allows cheap steel from Turkey to undercut UK products.
This is just one of many issues that need addressing to support UK steel.
It is still the case that less than half of the steel purchased by the Government is from the UK.
We must provide financial support to the industry and ensure long-term support by placing UK steel at the centre of future green industries, any forthcoming infrastructure projects and the nation’s economic recovery.
Through my work in the Public Accounts Committee I have been trying to get to the bottom of why, last summer, the UK Government spent $500m buying part ownership of a failing US satellite firm called OneWeb.
There were reports at the time that the intention was to plug a gap left when we lost access to the Galileo GPS system – a cheaper option than the home-grown GPS system previously proposed by the Conservatives.
There was also some talk of OneWeb being useful in defence matters.
I asked an MOD chief about this at a recent meeting and was told that OneWeb is strictly a “commercial provider of internet communications” that “is not being used for defence purposes.”
Government statements about OneWeb mainly refer it to it being capable of providing broadband.
So exactly what is it for and why has half a billion dollars in taxpayer money been spent on it?
I have tabled a set of questions to the business department to try and get some answers.
Cronyism and conflicts of interest are rife in this Conservative Government’s management of Covid-19, and Labour is calling for an urgent clean up.
At a Public Accounts Committee last month I pressed joint permanent secretary of the Department of Health and Social Care David Williams about the Government’s use of private consultants during the pandemic.
It had been revealed that 900 private consultants are being paid an average of £1,000 a day to work on NHS England’s Test and Trace system – nearly £1m every day.
This week data has been released which shows that nearly £2bn has now been spent on awarding Covid contracts to companies with links to the Conservative Party.
This is a figure which has continued to rise over the Christmas period despite the fact that, when I challenged Matt Hancock about it back in December, I was told that cronyism and profiteering had played “no part” in the Government’s handling of Covid contracts.
This is not the behaviour of a straightforward and transparent government.
The Conservative party must clean up its approach to contracts and the cronyism at the heart of its outsourcing.
Written contributions / video / social media links
Cancel the Cut
British Steel Pension Scheme scandal
Press Coverage – BSPS
Protecting domestic steel
Animal Welfare Bill
World Cancer Day
South Wales Argus column
Public Accounts Committee – OneWeb
ABUHB vaccine news