Nick Smith MP Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent
Since writing my last report another new Prime Minister has entered the revolving door at Downing Street.
Already, Rishi Sunak finds himself knee deep in controversy around his cabinet appointments and the conduct of his Ministers.
In his first speech as Prime Minister he promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability” and is already failing miserably on all three counts.
Empty promises around cleaning up the Conservative Party and a shuffle at the top of the pile will not repair the damage that has been done to the country.
Keir Starmer summarised it best when he said: “In the last few years, the Tories have set record-high taxation, trashed our institutions and created a cost-of-living crisis. Now, they have crashed the economy so badly that people are facing £500 a month extra on their mortgages. The damage they have done will take years to fix. Each one of these crises was made in Downing Street but paid for by the British public. Each one has left our country weaker and worse off.”
I believe that the British public should be given the chance to have a proper say on who they want in charge. People should have a chance to choose between more Tory turmoil or Labour’s plan to sort out their mess.
The new Prime Minister should call a General Election.
Labour’s plan for working people
The Conservatives are failing working people.
Incomes and living standards have fallen as bills skyrocket. Working people need better rights, stronger unions and a government that is on their side.
Labour recently launched its New Deal for Working People pledging that a Labour Government will bring forward an Employment Bill within 100 days of taking office to: Strengthen rights at work from day one on the job; End fire and rehire; Make work easier to balance work with home and family life; Extend statutory maternity and paternity leave, and review and improve shared parental leave; Ban zero-hours contracts; Strengthen trade union rights, raising pay and conditions; Roll out Fair Pay Agreements to drive up pay and conditions and more.
Find out more here.
Cold Weather Payments
In Parliament I raised the issue of how the Cold Weather Payment rate hasn’t been updated since 2008. It should be worth £37 by now.
I made a case to the Minister that places like Blaenau Gwent should be getting get a fairer deal from the payment scheme. I will be following up his invitation to discuss this in more detail.
I asked a question about the damning police watchdog report that revealed how hundreds of people who should have failed vetting tests may now be serving as police officers.
Among those accepted were an officer convicted of domestic abuse and one accused of sexual assault. Others cleared by the process had committed offences such as robbery, indecent exposure, possession of controlled drugs, and drink-driving.
This is a terrible failure of government and police management. Corners must not be cut at the risk of public safety.
The vetting process for officers must be as robust as possible for the future and the promised – properly vetted – officers in post as soon as possible.
As part of my ongoing campaign to make sure Blaenau Gwent is not left behind by the rollout of superfast broadband, I once again raised the issue in a Public Accounts Committee hearing.
This follows on from a visit I put together in the summer, where I invited members of the Department for Culture, Media and Sports’ Building Better digital team to Blaenau Gwent to talk about why areas like ours must be included in the rollout which, at the moment, is heavily prioritising cities and urban areas, and letters I have written to the department on the issue.
It is essential that our valleys are not left behind again as broadband is upgraded across the UK.
The troubled Ajax armoured vehicle programme is something I am very concerned about and have been keeping a close eye on.
Not only does the project support around 800 good jobs in South Wales – the vehicles are being built at General Dynamics in Merthyr Tydfil – but it is incredibly important for the UK’s defence.
Everything possible has to be done to get this programme rapidly back on track.
This week I asked whether the Defence Minister could confirm that a solution to the noise and vibration issues has now been found.
Former Chief of Staff
Just before she resigned, I challenged then-Prime Minister Liz Truss at PMQ’s over her Chief of Staff Mark Fullbrook.
Mr Fullbrook was in hot water after lobbying on behalf of a Libyan warlord and big tobacco. It turned out he’s also lobbied for PPE giants Sante Global.
I asked the PM whether she thought it was wise to have a lobbyist at the centre of Downing Street.
To try and help a little with the Cost-of-Living crisis I coordinated a pop-up event to bring together organisations offering expertise around reducing bills and costs this winter.
The Cost-of-Living Advice event took place at Ebbw Vale’s Learning Action Centre and close to 100 people came through to speak with organisations such as the Energy Saving Trust, NEST, Care and Repair Cymru, Wastesavers and more.
More than 100 people also attended the Jobs Fair I put on at Abertillery MET with a wide range of employers and agencies offering work and training opportunities taking part.
I was pleased to take part in the 10k fundraising run in support of local boy Cameron Hudd, running alongside Tredegar veterans.
Despite the wild wind and torrential rain, it was a great event, well done to the organisers and all involved. It was lovely to meet Cameron and his family and I hope the Cameron’s Cause fundrtaiser is well-supported.
Having already spent £20bn to steady the market, I recently put it to the new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt that the Government and the Bank of England need to take further action to reassure pensioners.
I asked the Chancellor about the turmoil in our pensions market and wasn’t reassured by his answer – that the issues at hand have “been largely resolved”.
I have been supporting Carolyn Harris MPs’ brilliant campaign to improve menopause support, something I previously gave a speech about in Parliament.
A few weeks ago on #WorldMenopauseDay I was glad to support Menopause Mandate in their campaign for a revolution in the support and advice given to menopausal women.
The government previously said it would “reset the dial on women’s health” but this has stalled.
In the summer I asked for a statement assuring MPs that the government is actually serious about making the much-needed changes that should be introduced.
It was good to hold a surgery at Brynithel Welfare and Community Centre recently, where I was joined by Cllr Helen Cunningham.
Next, I will be holding a surgery at Abertillery Library on Friday, November 25th (4pm to 5pm) where I will be joined by Cllr Ross Leadbeater.
If you, or someone you know, wants to speak with either of us, please just come along on the day.
This Sunday, Remembrance events are taking place across Blaenau Gwent. This year I will be attending Tredegar service in the morning and Nantyglo in the afternoon.
Earlier this week I planted a Remembrance tribute on behalf of Blaenau Gwent in the Constituency Garden of Remembrance in Parliament. I also lent a hand to Poppy Sellers at their stand in Tesco Ebbw Vale and did a stint on the Static Bike to raise funds for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal in Parliament.
You can donate to the Poppy Appeal here.
I was glad to be able to meet with some of the Ukrainian people who have had to leave their war-torn country and seek safety in Blaenau Gwent recently.
Listening to them emphasises the reality of what has been inflicted on their country and their families by Putin’s barbarous invasion.
It’s great that the Learning Action Centre in Ebbw Vale is facilitating a regular place for Ukrainians where they can meet up and improve their English, and I’m proud that Blaenau Gwent has warmly welcomed those whose homeland is experiencing such horror.
Battle of Britain exhibit
I also paid a visit to the brilliant Battle of Britain exhibit at Blaina museum this morning to hear about Wales’ contribution to the Royal Air Force’s greatest test.
It was interesting to hear about squadron leader Edward Graham from Ebbw Vale and his leadership and bravery.
It was good to visit Frog Bikes in neighbouring to hear about their great work encouraging children to take up cycling across the UK.
Frog are the only company manufacturing children’s bikes in the UK and you can see why they’re so popular given the bikes’ cool designs and lightweight frames which makes them easy to manoeuvre and ride.
I was joined by Cllr Sue Edmunds to hear about the partnerships Frog have with other public services across the UK.
To mark Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I paired up with the Anthony Nolan charity to help raise awareness of the work being done to ensure that every patient in need of a stem cell transplant can find a lifesaving donor.
Registering to become a stem cell donor is straightforward and could make an enormous difference to someone with no other chance of a cure.
While anyone on the donor register could be a match for someone with blood cancer, men aged 16-30 are most likely to be asked to donate. They provide more than 50% of donations but make up less than 18% of the register.
Join the register here.