On Saturday 27th February Llafur held their second Zoom event in their Spring Series “Migration and Wales” dedicated to the memory of Llafur’s President Hywel Francis, who sadly and tragically passed away on the 14th February. Part 1 of the series is looking at “Communities and People”, and this meeting’s theme was “Revisiting Tiger Bay”. Chair of Llafur Ian Rees introduced the event which was chaired by Vice President Gaynor Legall. We heard from three speakers, Trevor Godbold, Yasmin Begum and Mymuna Soleman, reflecting on the history of Tiger Bay.
On Monday 1st March we celebrated St David’s Day, but in a very different way due to the restrictions imposed on our nation by the coronavirus pandemic. However, it was very uplifting to see the many photographs of children dressed in Dewi Sant costumes.
On Tuesday 2nd March, in advance of the UK Government’s Budget, I attended the Gaps in Support All Party Parliamentary Group. As vice chair of the Group, I paid tribute to my dear friend Hywel Francis. We discussed the APPG Pre-Budget Reportand listened to trade union leaders, Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of Community Union and Mike Clancy General Secretary of Prospect, representing the views of their members who have received little, or no, support from the Chancellor, and suggestions for solutions.
As an officer of the All-Party Group for Mutuals, I attended the first evidence session for our enquiry into the planned demutualisation and takeover of Liverpool Victoria by Bain Capital. We listened to and asked questions of Martin Shaw, CEO of Association of Financial Mutuals, and John Gilbert Friendly Societies and Mutual Insurance Legal Expert.
On Tuesday afternoon it was the funeral of Hywel Francis. His cortège left his home in Crynant, passed up the Dulais Valley through Seven Sisters and Onllwyn, then down through Taibach to Margam Crematorium for a family funeral. Hywel’s friends and colleagues lined the streets to pay their respects. I stood outside the Palace of Culture (Onllwyn Welfare) with Wayne Thomas (NUM), Sian Williams (South Wales Miners Library), Rob Humphries, Cllr. Dean Cawsey (County Councillor for Onllwyn, where Hywel was born), Lesley Smith of Dove Workshop and Onllwyn Choir – Hywel has been President for 40 years – and many, many more people. Matthew Sims, the conductor of Onllwyn Male Voice Choir and also independent funeral director, walked in front of the hearse, and stopped the cortège in front of the Palace of Culture. We brought the Banners – South Wales Miners, Seven Sisters Lodge, Abercraf Lodge – it was a truly iconic moment that will stay with me throughout my life.
On Tuesday evening I attended the PCS Union Parliamentary Zoom call. We received an update into the number of coronavirus cases, the health and safety issues, and the proposed industrial action by PCS members working at the DVLA. The six MPs across the Swansea region have signed a statement of support for the workers.
Later that evening, as a Labour and Co-operative MP, I attended the AGM of the Swansea Neath Port Talbot Co-operative Party branch zoom meeting and was honoured to be elected vice-chair.
The big news in Westminster this week was the Budget. Sadly, the Chancellor gave a very weak and disappointing response to the enormous impact of the pandemic on our communities. In a country that has experienced both the worst death toll and the worst economic crisis, we needed to see a Budget that put people first, that emphasised the importance of investment in job creation and training, that ensured businesses were given the support they need to rebuild and return strongly, and that supported the families that have suffered so much.
Instead, we see no immediate support for business and suggestions of tax rises that will hit struggling families hard. This is not levelling up; this is returning to the same insecurity and inequality that has wreaked havoc over the past ten years. An unequal economy is not a prosperous one. We need investment across the whole of the UK, and jobs to give people the security and the local economies the strength that they need to really rebuild after this crisis.
Although he extended the Furlough scheme and the uplift in Universal Credit, it was only for six months, creating a new cliff edge for people in receipt of support at the end of September. The majority of the three million excluded from the Chancellor’s support schemes, remain without support. The Chancellor’s only concession being to extend support to the newly self-employed with tax returns for 2019/20. The Welsh Labour Government has filled in the gaps by providing the most generous support package in the UK despite its funding from the UK Government being cut, for example the £2 billion Economic Resilience Fund has secured 141,000 jobs in Wales. But this UK Conservative Government Budget yet again has cut funding to Wales by 4% per head in real terms than in 2010-11 and provided nothing in capital spend for the future. This is played out against the background of the Internal Market Act which has taken back powers from devolved nations. The Counsel General for the Welsh Government and MS for Neath Jeremy Miles has issued proceedings against the UK Government alleging that the Act is contrary to the devolution settlement. There was good news for Neath in that the Chancellor announced the long awaited £30 million funding for the Global Centre of Rail Excellence to be built on the Nant Helen Opencast site and Washery in Onllwyn. This project has been driven by Welsh Government in partnership with landowners Celtic Energy and rail companies, and I eagerly await written confirmation of the contract agreement.
This week is Food Waste Action Week. Staggeringly, around a third of the food we produce worldwide is lost or wasted and not surprisingly, it’s having a significant impact on climate change. There are so many ways that we can make little changes to the way we eat to support the environment. For those who do eat meat, consider having a few vegetarian meals each week – there are some fantastic recipes out there for curries, pasta dishes, and soups that can help you feel healthy and environmentally friendly. We can also try and shop local as much as we can to ensure that our food has as small a carbon footprint as possible and with the added bonus of helping local businesses. We can do so much to stop wasting food, which will also benefit our wallets as well. Make a list and plan your meals and portions for the week, making sure to consider how you can use up leftovers and what food could be frozen and kept for later. Check your fridge temperature and turn it down to 5°C or lower to keep your food fresher for longer and keep an eye on use-by dates to make sure you use up food before it goes off.
We also marked World Book Day on Thursday, another of those days that has gained a new significance thanks to the lockdown. The OECD have found that reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success – more than their family’s circumstances, their parents’ educational background, or their income. It’s so important, therefore, that we encourage children to read and ensure that everyone, regardless of their family budget and circumstances, is able to access reading materials that are fun and inspirational. There are so many fantastic children’s authors out there and every child should be able to find books that match their interests, from dinosaurs to space, sports to history. Neath’s libraries are still operating an online and ‘call and collect’ service – take a look if you aren’t already a member and see what books interest you and your children!
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 me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 01639 630152. My staff are working from home to comply with the social distancing measures, but, as always, we remain there for you should you need our help.
I hope you stay well, and remember – observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe.