Below is a transcript of the speech delivered by Nick Smith MP in Parliament on June 11, in response to the Queen’s Speech:
In Blaenau Gwent, our local economy needs a big shot in the arm if we are to prosper. Adult unemployment is twice the national average, and we have a youth unemployment rate of 10%. Although unemployment has fallen, the pace of job creation is too slow. People in Blaenau Gwent want to work. We have talent, great potential, an illustrious industrial heritage, and many outdoor attractions.
Much work has been done in the past few years to bring a new motorsports circuit to Blaenau Gwent. It would have attendant engineering, leisure and research facilities, and would be a significant boost for employment in south-east Wales. I am aware that the Silverstone circuit has raised objections to the Circuit of Wales, including questioning the potential use of public funds. The previous Labour Government provided £8 million to speed up construction of the A43 bypass to help
ease congestion near the Silverstone circuit, and Northamptonshire county council has also recently provided financial assistance, so I hope that the Government will be even handed and fair when considering the Circuit of Wales and public support for it.
The key to securing good, sustainable jobs in Blaenau Gwent is infrastructure investment. There has, of course, been major investment in Blaenau Gwent, including improvements to the A465, the new Learning Zone and the Nye Bevan hospital, and we hope in the future rail electrification. In its report published last week, the Transport Committee stated:
“The under-funding of transport projects outside Greater London in recent years cannot be allowed to continue. No area across our nation should be second class in relation to the allocation of transport infrastructure funds.”
The same must be true for Wales. Electrification of the west coast main line to Swansea and all the valley lines is imperative. Last December I asked the Chief Secretary to the Treasury whether the Government would consider bringing forward the electrification of the south Wales valley lines as that would boost employment and regeneration in our deprived area. He said he would look at the case for accelerating electrification if possible, but I have heard nothing further.
Infrastructure investment in a home energy efficiency programme is a jobs-boosting measure that is missing from the Government’s plans in the Queen’s Speech. As an example of delivery in infrastructure investment, our social landlord in Blaenau Gwent, Tai Calon, will spend around £23 million by 2015 on tackling fuel poverty. It is installing external wall insulation and new heating systems across the county to help keep homes warmer and make them cheaper to heat. It also has a team of fuel advisers recruited from the local young unemployed who can visit tenants and show them how they can cut bills and use their systems more efficiently. The Treasury should take note.
As growth finally comes to the economy after four wasted years, we find ourselves with the persistent British problem: a skills shortage. We know that in Wales and elsewhere, in too many cases skilled jobs cannot be filled because the work force lack the relevant skills. We need to improve educational attainment. Our local training and education system in Blaenau Gwent has seen major investment in recent years, but it must up its game.
The Government must get their act together. Blaenau Gwent is a brilliant place, but although good progress has been made, much more investment in skills, infrastructure and jobs is needed for the future. I am concerned that the Gracious Speech will unfortunately be a damp squib for Blaenau Gwent.