Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
Labour launches Safer Communities campaign
This summer Labour has launched its Safer Communities campaign, highlighting the Conservative party’s failures on crime and setting out Labour’s alternative.
The Conservatives in Westminster have cut our police to the lowest level in a generation.
Anti-social behaviour is spiralling out of control and it is our communities that are paying the price.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
A UK Labour government would work with the Welsh Labour Government to drive down crime and antisocial behaviour, tackle the root causes of the problems that communities face and ensure criminals are brought to justice.
Labour would out more police on the beat.
It isn’t just our communities that are bearing the brunt of Tory cuts but also the justice system.
The crown court backlog is now up to a record high of nearly 60,000 cases.
This has been made worse by the pandemic, but the courts were already under extreme pressure thanks to the Conservatives closing half of all courts in England and Wales between 2010-19.
We have also seen increased rates of reoffending, while the Conservatives privatised the probation service.
Conservative cuts of 7,000 prison officer has led to a lack of experienced staff to manage prisoners safely. Meanwhile crime and disorder in our jails is on the rise.
Big changes are needed to make Britain a safe place for everyone. This government is not up to it.
It says a lot about Boris Johnson’s priorities that he’s currently planning to waste more than £200m on a national yacht to promote the Tory government overseas. It is a vanity project that won’t do anything to address people’s everyday concerns.
A Labour government would scrap the Conservatives’ yacht and spend the money on fighting crime in our communities.
Take a look at Labour’s Safer Communities survey and have your say on crime in your area: https://labour.org.uk/crimesurvey
The latest in a long series of stories that highlight the cronyism and profiteering that were at the heart of the Tory’s pandemic procurement was about a former Tory councillor who received a £120m contract for PPE which turned out to be of such poor standard that it has gone almost entirely unused.
I have written previously about the various examples of this I have uncovered through my work on the Public Accounts Committee.
We now know that the Government massively overspent on PPE, much of which is currently sat in shipping containers at a storage cost of £1m every day.
We know that the Government blew £1.5 billion on three billion pieces of PPE that were of no use to the NHS and an additional 230 million items of PPE that were of no use to anyone.
This sort of shoddy business practice not only cost the taxpayer billions of pounds but also, ultimately, cost lives.
And how much of it should be blamed on ineptitude and how much on the Tory Government using a crisis to give their pals a payday.
We have all heard about instances of businesses and individuals being given contracts and jobs they were ultimately not up to, simply because of their links to Tory ministers and the party.
The only way we will get to the bottom of what has gone on over the last 17 months is through an urgent and independent inquiry into every aspect of the government’s dealings during this crisis.
I fear that what we are more likely to get is more smoke and mirrors from a government that is not in the least bit interested in being honest or accountable for its failings.
Make, buy and sell more in Britain
Another Labour campaign I am happy to be supporting is the party’s pledge to make, buy and sell more in Britain.
The Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves recently set out Labour’s plan to help to shape a more secure and resilient economy for Britain, post-pandemic and post-Brexit.
Labour will make more in Britain by asking every public body to give more contracts to British firms big and small, by passing a law requiring public bodies to report on how much they are buying from British businesses, by putting the growth of local industries first and increasing the materials made in Britain used in major infrastructure projects.
Labour will also make sure that we are giving workers and young people the skills needed to succeed in green industries, in tech and digital media.
This is something I have been a part of in Blaenau Gwent, helping to bring the new cyber security course to our local college, with in-built work experience opportunities and a guaranteed job interview at the end of the course.
Labour will work with colleges and universities to develop the apprenticeships we need for the jobs of the future.
The Conservatives talk a big game on the issue of backing Britain, and yet more than half of the steel purchased for UK construction projects currently comes from abroad, British ships and submarines are made overseas and just one UK-based business was shortlisted for £2.5 billion worth of contracts for track and tunnel systems for HS2, alongside three other overseas firms.
There needs to be culture change across government that prioritises local industries, putting materials made in Britain at the front of the queue for major infrastructure projects.
There needs to be a focus on reshoring jobs, supporting British businesses that manufacture and produce their goods abroad to return home.
I am fully behind this campaign. As we recover from the pandemic, we must seize new opportunities in order to build a new future.
The recent investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman set out the serious maladministration and numerous failings carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions when changes were made to women’s State Pension age.
The 4120 Waspi women in Blaenau Gwent already knew this.
Before I took a petition to Parliament o their behalf in 2017, I remember hearing their stories at the coffee morning events I set up to discuss the issue.
These are women who worked hard for decades in jobs that were often physically demanding and who had made decisions about their future with the expectation that the state pension would be there for them.
The government tore-up these plans and landed these women with a choice of financial uncertainty or continuing to work past the point they had intended.
Many have experienced significant financial loss and many have struggled with their mental health and well-being as a result.
While I welcome the recent Ombudsman’s ruling, it does not change anything.
I have written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey to ask for the Government to issue a full apology to the women affected by this issue and outline the department’s plans to put things right.
Boris Johnson mine comment
That the Prime Minister thought it was acceptable to joke that the UK had been given a head start in going green when Margaret Thatcher closed the mines is, sadly, not remotely surprising.
His refusal to apologise in light of the offense he caused, was also utterly predictable.
Boris Johnson has no idea of the lasting impact caused to coalfield communities by his party.
I come from a family of mineworkers. I saw the damage for myself.
The PM’s crass and ignorant comment is especially insulting coming off the back of his government’s recent decision to ignore the recommendations of the Select Committee inquiry into the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme. A complete U-turn on unambiguous assurances made by Boris Johnson during the last election.
He just doesn’t care.
We need a Labour government and a leader that care about jobs and people, not a joker who smirks while insulting entire communities with bad gags.
British Steel Pension scandal
I am continuing my work in Parliament to secure justice for steelworkers who were preyed upon and ripped off by pension sharks in 2017.
I was glad to hear this week that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has fined one rogue adviser nearly £1.3m.
This is the sort of tough action I want to see imposed on those who fleeced steelworkers, although it is frustrating that it has taken so long to start seeing movement.
I would also like to see these cases dealt with in the criminal courts – I believe they are complicated cases of fraud and should be dealt with as such.
This case also highlights the urgent need for the FCA to set up an industry-wide redress scheme for steelworkers given poor pension transfer advice – something I have outlined in my latest letter to the FCA CEO Nikhil Rathi.
I believe that at some point the damage done to consumers must outweigh market consequences and, while a redress scheme would potentially increase the compensation being paid out by the Financial Services Conduct Scheme, it would also send a clear message to the wider industry that the bad actors need to be rooted out.
We are now four years in and more firm action is needed to give steelworkers the justice they deserve.