Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
The most pressing issue that has been coming up on the doorstep in recent days is understandably the cost-of-living crisis.
People are worried sick about their bills.
The government has ignored Labour’s calls for a windfall tax on the profits of North Sea oil and gas producers to fund a package of support for people facing the energy price crisis.
When I challenged the Chancellor about his approach he dismissed it, telling me that people considered the government to be one that is ‘on their side’.
But this is absolutely not a government that is on the side of working people.
They are hitting people with the worst possible tax rise at the worst possible time.
Energy bills are rocketing, inflation is already sky-high, household incomes are dropping to record lows and the Chancellor offered nothing to ease the pressure in his Spring Statement.
Labour has repeatedly pressed him to think again, but this government is simply refusing to change course.
The wrong choices are being made and it is hard working people, ordinary families and the elderly that are paying the price.
You can find Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ full response to the Spring Financial Statement here
Securing justice for British Steel workers who were targeted by financial sharks in the 2017 pension scandal is something I have led on, working closely with pensioners and campaigners over the last four years.
I’m very glad to say that there have been some significant developments over the last few weeks, representing a strong step forward in putting this injustice to bed.
Firstly a new National Audit Office report was published setting out the details of this complex and terrible scandal, highlighting how steelworkers were badly let down, left at the mercy of rogue advisers and scammers without any of the necessary support or advice they needed in the wake of new ‘pension freedoms’.
You can read my full statement on the report here.
I have also been pushing for a redress scheme for some time. Last week the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) finally announced that it would be introducing one as a means of compensating steelworkers.
This process has been like pulling teeth, so this was very welcome news.
I’ll be looking at the details of the scheme to see if further improvements are needed and will get a chance to speak with the regulators again at a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing on April 27th.
The next step should be ensuring those responsible for this scandal are suitably punished, not just the rogue advisers but also their introducer cronies.
Also, as I said in a question to the Leader of the House last week, we must now look at why it has taken the FCA five years to grip this scandal properly.
Over the past two years I have unearthed some staggering information about the cronyism and wasteful spending that has riddled the government’s Covid response.
Last week the NAO published a new report that gathers together some of the worst examples of PPE procurement failures, and it makes for troubling reading.
Some of the points worth highlighting include:
– 5.6bn items are still stored in shipping containers, at a cost of more than £436m.
– Of the 31.5bn total items, 3.6bn items were deemed not suitable for frontline services.
– 176 contracts are at risk of not achieving value for money, totalling £2.7bn
– The Department expects fraud and error to account for between £65m and £650m expenditure.
Although I had already heard most of the examples given, seeing these figures set out together in this report gives a sense of the true scale of the public money wasted, the poor decision making and the profiteering that took place.
The Public Accounts Committee will now look in detail at this report on April 20th.
Randox, the firm that received huge Covid contracts and was at the centre of the lobbying scandal which saw former MP Owen Paterson resign, is another company I have been asking questions about.
A new NAO investigation into the government’s contracts with Randox highlights the alarming lack of records documenting key decisions made around awarding Randox lucrative contracts, about what went on in ministerial meetings with Randox and discussions that took place at the time.
The Department of Health and Social Care was “unable to supply” documentation on the contract negotiations that took place, and provided “incomplete” records, or in some cases no documentation at all, on other important parts of the procurement process including consideration of potential conflicts of interest.
The vast gaps in the paper trail made it impossible for the National Audit Office to provide the usual assurances about this government’s dealings with Randox.
“Emergency procurement” must not be used as an excuse to not record or hand over information. Not only should transparency still be ensured when speed is the priority – it is perhaps even more paramount.
At a recent PAC I once again had the chance to question defence chiefs over the Ajax tank project.
I support the continuation of the project and the jobs it brings to South Wales but the delivery has been a shambles, with vehicles being delivered late and with serious performance problems.
The procurement of advanced technology like Ajax is directly linked to the government slashing Army troop numbers to their lowest in 300 years – something that I challenged the Prime Minister about previously.
Last week I asked the Armed Forces Secretary about plans to cut infantry numbers.
The decision by P&O Ferries to fire 800 staff without notice or consultation was appalling.
The workers have been treated dreadfully and the Prime Minister and the Conservative government did nothing to protect them.
We have heard that the P&O pension pot has a shortfall of £147m and yet its parent company DP World has previously paid £150m to sponsor a golf tournament.
I put it to the Transport Secretary that DP World should step in and pay up. You can watch his response here.
It wasn’t the best weather for it, but it was still great to get out with the local Biodiversity and Ecology team at Parc Bryn Bach recently.
I joined the Citizen Science volunteers to hear about, and help record data on, the species of birds and plants we have at the park.
If you want to find out about similar events and volunteering opportunities visit https://www.parcbrynbach.co.uk/events or email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the mailing list.
You can also download the LERC Wales app and help record data about local plants and wildlife at any time when out in the borough.