Last Saturday I was privileged to chair the “Increasing Diversity and Encouraging Candidates to Stand for Election” session at the virtual Wales Co-operative Party Conference. Chantal Lee, the new Co-operative Party Equality Officer gave an introduction to the Co-operative Party’s equalities project. Then we heard from the speaking panel. Each member reflected on suffering experiences of inequality in their lives, and how they have tried to overcome these personal, life changing, episodes. We heard from Jackie Jones, former Wales MEP and now Labour and Co-operative candidate for Preseli Pembs in the forthcoming Welsh Parliament elections. Ramesh Patel, chair of Welsh Labour BAME. Baroness Debbie Wilcox of Newport, the first woman to lead both Newport Council and the WLGA. And Philippa Thompson, who was the Labour candidate in the 2017 and 2019 General Elections, and is now the Labour and Co-operative Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for Dyfed Powys. It was a very moving, thought provoking, frank session, and if you would like to listen, please follow in this link.
The week in Westminster began with the APPG for Hospitality and Tourism, with guest speaker, Kate Nichols CEO of UK Hospitality since 2018. Kate urged the UK Government to set out an exit strategy from the pandemic now, so that businesses can plan when they are allowed to reopen. The exit strategy should be a phased approach. Kate highlighted that so many small businesses had fallen through the gaps in support, provided by the UK Government, and made an appeal to the Chancellor to announce support for her industry in the forthcoming budget on 3rd March, including continuation of the reduced VAT rate, (from 20% to 5%), a 100% business rates holiday, and flexible furloughing. It was emphasised that these measures should last until 1st April 2022. Kate would also like tourism to be included in all UK Government Trade Deals.
On Tuesday I was re-elected as vice-chair of the All-Party Group for Alternative Dispute Resolution at its AGM. The APPG was formed in 2015 to bring together MPs and Peers with common interest in ADR and get it onto the political agenda. We seek to promote a harmonious society and help people avoid, manage and resolve conflict without resorting to court action. ADR is a vital component of any well-functioning judicial system, and includes arbitration, mediation and construction adjudication. We hold evidence sessions, panel discussions and inquiries, and I look forward to our programme of work in 2021.
On Tuesday, it was Safer Internet Day. Now, I cannot imagine how we would have coped this past year without the internet to keep in contact with friends and family, for our children to do their schoolwork, and for us all to have some access to the outside world while cooped up at home. However, we must not forget that the internet holds significant dangers, for adults as well as children and for those less versed in web safety. We’ve seen a rise in scam emails and messages relating to Covid-19 during the pandemic, and unfortunately, these scammers are becoming very adept at presenting information that looks true. The dangers for children are also extreme – children chatting online do not always think about the reality of who is speaking to them and may put themselves at risk without all the facts. Of course, we do not want to scare children into never using the internet, but we need to give them enough information, as we do about safety in the real world, to ensure that they are able to keep themselves safe. Just as children know not to talk to strangers in the street, they need to know not to talk to people on the internet they do not know or give out any personal information. It is vital that parents have these conversations with their children, especially now the internet is such an important part of our lives.
Tuesday evening I joined a public Zoom community conversation event organised by the South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael and Neath Port Talbot Council. We had a wide-ranging discussion about many topics including Covid-19 restrictions, online safety including an overview of local initiatives for Safer Internet Day, engagement with young people, domestic abuse, anti-social behaviour, neighbourhood watch, the future of policing, the precept and police funding. Neath representatives – Inspector Matt Otteson, Cllr Peter Rees, Cllr Dean Cawsey and Community Cllr Dai Davies joined the call.
On Wednesday afternoon I attended the Co-operative Parliamentary Group of MPs and Peers Zoom meeting to listen to representatives from our UK affiliate organisations tell us about the challenges of Covid-19 in the workplace. Shop worker abuse, high street business rates, food justice, food recycling, and the competition from online retail were mentioned by representatives from all over the UK. Co-operative stores have workers who are proud of the in-store service that they provide to customers day in day out and we should support them to do their jobs without fear of abuse.
Thursday was a day spent attending Zoom calls where Labour MPs discussed very important issues such as employment rights in the workplace, and the importance of trade union membership in representing workers, as illustrated by the campaign that GMB have organised against the incorrigible British Gas “fire and rehire” policy. Unite has also led a campaign for Heathrow Airport workers. In both cases, workers who have been loyal to these companies for many years have been offered new contracts on very inferior terms and conditions, on the threat of being sacked if they do not accept. The danger is, if one company gets away with this, then many more companies will try to do the same. I am very proud that our Welsh Labour Government has used important law-making powers to reverse the Tory UK Government’s damaging anti-trade union legislation. The Trade Union (Wales) Act overturns the pernicious and harmful laws that the Tories had introduced across the UK to dismantle the rights of public sector workers.
On Friday morning I attended our regular Swansea Bay University Health Board update Zoom call for MPs and MSs in the region. SBUHB will complete their programme to offer a vaccination to every person in the top four groups of the JCVI list by this weekend, due to the tremendous effort of NHS workers, GPs and volunteers working at Mass Vaccination Centres and GP practices throughout the region. They are following up those individuals who have missed their appointment and reaching out to those people, who have not attended, for whatever reason, to rearrange appointments and to make sure that those who have refused to be vaccinated can change their minds. Every week I take the opportunity to thank the incredible dedicated health and social care staff, emergency services and volunteers who are putting their lives on the line, every minute of every day, to help to keep us safe from this pandemic. Next week I am visiting the Mass Vaccination Centre in Margam to personally thank the staff who are administering vaccinations on behalf of SBUHB. Please follow the link to read the SBUHB weekly newsletter.
Friday lunchtime I joined the Zoom call update about the Valleys Regional Park. Former First Minister Carwyn Jones initiated this project in 2017, and a prospectus was produced the following year. Wales is the land of discovery and adventure. Thirteen local authorities, from Carmarthen to Pontypool, and from Bridgend to Merthyr, will be the “discovery gateways” to the Valleys Regional Park. Bridgend CBC is the host council, and the important elements are – our wonderful Welsh valleys landscape, reconnecting people with our valleys and improving the local economy. It’s about pride, identity, partnership, culture, recreation, well-being, social prescribing, tourism, innovation and enterprise, alongside scale, ambition, and structure. Cllr Anthony Hunt, Leader of Torfaen Council, emphasised that all levels of Government are working together to make sure this vision is realised over the next two years.
This week we had the fantastic news that free school meals have been guaranteed for all eligible children in Neath, up to and including Easter 2022, as the Welsh Labour Government have introduced the only national, government-funded programme to tackle holiday hunger anywhere in the UK. No child should ever go hungry and no child should ever have their life chances limited by something so simple as a decent meal. A good breakfast, lunch, and dinner are such simple things and taken for granted by most of us, but they are vital in ensuring that children are able to concentrate on their lessons which offer them the best chances in life. Hungry children are not happy children and children who are not happy are not able to learn properly, interact well with other children, or find inspiration for what makes them happy. I am proud to be a Welsh Labour MP that works to protect the most vulnerable and support everyone to achieve their potential.
As always, if you have any questions or issues and want to get in touch about matters that fall under my role as an MP, 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, and remember – observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe.