May 9th – May 15th.
In the Chamber
On the afternoon of May 9th I spoke in the Work and Pensions debate and asked the following “My constituents have reported huge inaccuracies between the information that they provide against PIP descriptors and the conclusions drawn by Capita’s staff, which causes great stress for people already in difficult circumstances. What is the Department doing to ensure that Capita’s staff are trained to take the appropriate time and care over assessments, so that they are as accurate and as fair as possible?”
I also attended the Backbench Business Universal Credit debate and asked the following three questions:
“Does my right hon. Friend agree that guidance from the DWP that instructs people to work an extra 200 hours a year for no extra money, to make up the thousands of pounds a year that families are set to lose as a result of cuts to universal credit, is unacceptable?”
“Does my right hon. Friend think it right and fair that, as a result of the piecemeal roll-out of universal credit, along with the cuts to work allowances, some families could be more than £3,000 a year worse off than they would be if they were in exactly the same financial circumstances but lived in an area where tax credits were still available?”
“Does my hon. Friend agree that we also urgently need an analysis of the gender impact of the Government’s policy since 2010, because the design of universal credit, like that of other Government policies, does seem to have a disproportionate impact on women?”
On May 12th I Challenged the government to ensure consultation on coal industry is properly thought through & takes the appropriate time. I also advised “I am grateful to the Minister for her response. There are still many people in the UK, in Wales and, indeed, in my constituency of Neath, who work in or are connected with the coal industry.” I asked “What assurances will the Minister provide that the consultation will be properly thought through and will take time to explore the issues thoroughly so as not to leave people unduly concerned for their livelihoods?”
Weekdays at Westminster
On Monday May 9th it was great to welcome our 2 new Labour Members of Parliament Gill Furniss and Chris Elmore to the House of Commons on such a sunny day. Great to have them on our team, I look forward to working with them.
On the afternoon of Wednesday the 11th May I spoke in a debate on the UK steel industry. I was joined by many of my Labour colleagues, from both Welsh and English constituencies.
“Steel and the steel industry are vital to the UK, Wales and my constituency. The Tata steel plant in Port Talbot is in the neighbouring constituency of Aberavon and the Trostre plant is in the nearby constituency of Llanelli. Hundreds of my constituents go to work in those places every day. I have personal knowledge of the community that has grown up around the plants. My father worked at the site of the Steel Company of Wales, which is now Tata Steel. When I was at Cynffig Comprehensive School I played hockey for the Steel Company of Wales. It was the centre of the community. The plant put food on our plates at home and contributed enormously to our social and sporting lives. The same sense of community is felt today by the 4,500 workers and their families who still work at and depend on the plants.
A constituent of mine, Andrew, started as a technical apprentice at British Steel, Port Talbot, in 1994 and worked his way up to the role of laboratory manager. Having spent his entire working life at Port Talbot, Andrew is passionate about steel and the steel industry and is committed to its future in the local community, often championing the company and the apprenticeship schemes. Andrew has made a great many friends over the years, and many of these friendships are forged in a way that cannot happen in other industries; 12- hour shifts in a challenging environment pull people together in a way that makes them feel more like family, and when pain is felt by their colleagues it is felt by all.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. It is time to work together. The uncertainty over the past 12 months has been greater than at any time in Andrew’s 21-year career. Due to the cyclical nature of the steel industry, there have always been highs and lows. Andrew told me about his personal experience of the past few months:
“Back at the end of 2015 I wondered how we can continue with the losses being incurred. Time and time again, Tata asked the Government for help with trade restrictions, yet, month after month we were informed that our losses were huge.”
From initial despair to waves of hope, the plant continued to operate under the most trying of circumstances.
I have asked questions in the Chamber, but I wish to press the point again. Will the Government use the current threat to the UK steel industry as an opportunity to change the way we do things so that new innovations and a thought-through structure can be established that will protect the steel industry for many years to come? Innovation is already taking shape in Neath Port Talbot. SPECIFIC—the sustainable product engineering centre for innovative functional industrial coatings—is an academic and industrial consortium led by Swansea University, involving several strategic partners, and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Innovate UK and the European regional development fund via the Welsh Government. SPECIFIC’s vision is to deliver buildings that generate, store and release their own energy, which is an example of a radical and transformative energy solution using buildings as energy systems. Steel is a key element of that, and SPECIFIC is working with Port Talbot steelworks and its downstream operations to develop functional coatings for steel, which rely on high quality steel. Together, they are creating a pipeline of products for the future that will help to ensure that we have a sustainable and competitive steel industry.
SPECIFIC and Tata are working on innovation in construction, and those products and systems, such as solar integrated roofing products and new forms of heating system, are already entering the marketplace. Steel from Port Talbot is being turned into systems in Shotton. No matter what the asset base or ownership of any future UK steel model, technology and innovation are critical, and it is equally critical that such technology and innovation are in close proximity to the major steel-making sites.”