For people across our communities, this week has been overshadowed by the terrible scenes in Seven Sisters. The explosion on Church Road has had a terrible impact on so many, and the family who lived at the house remain in all our thoughts. I have been in the area speaking to friends and residents who live nearby, and my staff and I are doing all we can to assist wherever possible, as are Jeremy Miles MS and the team at Neath Port Talbot Council. Seven Sisters is my home, and the people who live here are made of stern stuff. They have responded with all the compassion and resilience you would expect but will need assistance in the weeks and months ahead. I will continue to do all I can to ensure they are well supported.
As you will know, this week, non-essential shops in Wales began to reopen in the biggest change to the Welsh lockdown so far. We still have the 2m social distancing rule here in Wales and it is important that we continue to follow these guidelines as the shops reopen in order to protect each other and keep well. If the virus continues to decline, the Welsh Government will issue guidelines to help the tourism industry to put in place the necessary measures to allow them to reopen, which I’m sure will be welcome news both for those who work in the industry and all those who are looking forward to the opportunity to get out and about a bit more in Wales. It would be lovely to have a few days this summer to enjoy the beauty our wonderful country has to offer outside of our immediate local environment!
This week we marked Windrush Day, the anniversary of the arrival of the first commonwealth citizens to help rebuild Britain after the war. They helped to physically rebuild Britain through construction and to create our beloved NHS. We owe them a debt of gratitude and yet the UK Government’s hostile environment led to the scandalous treatment of this hard-working generation, with justice still denied in many cases. Just 60 people have been compensated for lost jobs, families uprooted, loss of access to education. 95% of those who have applied for compensation have yet to receive a single penny. This is simply not good enough and it is time the UK Government started showing some leadership and compassion and supported this remarkable generation.
I was delighted to see the UK Government back down on plans to deregulate Sunday trading hours this week following an excellent campaign by trade unions, led by USDAW. We need to ensure that the economy is able to recover after this crisis, but we will not succeed if we suppress workers’ rights. 91% of shop workers do not want longer Sunday trading hours and more than 50 Conservative MPs have also expressed their opposition to the plans. We want to support our high streets – we need to be mindful of key workers in essential shops who have worked so hard over the last few months to keep our shelves stocked; extending Sunday trading hours is no way to thank them, so let’s hope the UK Government stick to their word.
I’m very pleased to hear this week about the Welsh Government’s new £15m in funding for its ‘Transforming Towns’ project. The idea is to make it safer and easier for people to get around their local towns, both on foot or by bicycle and through public transport when the lockdown eases. We’ve seen a real change in people’s behaviours during lockdown, with many taking the opportunity to walk more or cycle more now that the streets are quieter. These forms of active travel are going to be so important going forward both for our own health and the health of our environment. We want to encourage people to retain much of this behaviour once this crisis passes and this funding will help towns create spaces where people can exercise and travel safely.
It’s also welcome news that libraries in Neath, Port Talbot and Pontardawe will partially reopen from this week with a pick-up service available for residents. This Covid-19 pandemic has, I think, shown us the importance of our cultural and arts institutions, as well as the importance of the science and technological sectors. What would lockdown have been like without the streamed productions from the National Theatre, the entertaining dramas, and the access to great stories? We must ensure that we protect these community assets and that they remain accessible to all.
As always, if you have any questions or issues and want to get in touch, please do not hesitate to drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01639 630152. My staff are working from home to comply with the social distancing measures, but, as always, we remain there should you need to get in contact with us.
I hope you stay well, enjoy the weekend and, remember – stay local, protect the NHS and save lives.