As vice-chair of the APPG Gaps in Support, I attended a zoom meeting entitled “Support for Ltd. Company Directors – Where do we go from here”. We heard from representatives of the #ForgottenLtd campaign strategy team to discuss next steps post budget as the UK economy unlocks and the UK vaccine roll-out continues. ForgottenLtd exists to raise awareness of the lack of support for the small business community across the U.K. The group was formed in April 2020 and has been calling on the UK Government to address the disparity by extending Covid-19 support packages to those left behind. The representatives stated that they felt that they had done all they could to plead with the UK Government to help them, but the Chancellor kept repeating that the issues of alleged fraud and dividends as a remuneration were the valid reasons not to assist this sector, despite ForgottenLtd providing evidence that the Chancellor’s reasons were unfounded. The APPG will be writing to the Chancellor asking him, yet again, to plug the gaps in support for these very important small businesses who have received practically no support since March 2020. These businesses are now folding because those that have been able to secure Bounce Back Loans have had their year’s repayment grace and must now start paying back the loans, but are unable to do so, because they have not been able to trade.
As vice-chair of the APPG for Boxing, I joined a Zoom meeting where we discussed delivering sport, and particularly boxing classes, in prisons. We heard evidence from Professor Rosie Meek, Royal Holloway University, Bevis Allen and Avoen Perryman England Boxing, that the research and pilot schemes that had taken place in selected prisons before the pandemic had indicated that the power of sport can change people’s lives for the better. Professor Meek presented her report commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, and eventually published in August 2018, entitled “A Sporting Chance” with 12 recommendations on using sport to rehabilitate prisoners. The UK Government accepted all but recommendation number 7, which advocated using martial arts and/or boxing. In a leaked letter to the Sun, the Ministry of Justice stated that this was “teaching offenders to fight”. Bevis and Avoen, set up a pilot scheme in a prison in January 2020, for non-contact boxing. The Ministry of Justice rules prohibit contact sport. The pilot was compiled of two phases. The first phase consisted of 3 days of 4 workshops covering training, mental health benefits, boxing and crime, professional boxing. Phase two, after 20 identified selected offenders from phase one had been released, would have placed one in each of 20 boxing clubs, to train to be qualified coaches, and then they would be integrated into the community through jobs set up through the charity CLINKS. But phase two was stopped due to the first lockdown in March 2020, and unfortunately, the Ministry of Justice are less than enthusiastic about running these pilot schemes in other prisons in the future.
I joined the PCS Union update Zoom call about the continuing lack of Covid measures at the DVLA, and the recent 4-day strike action on the 6th April. The DVLA had given an undertaking to meet with PCS officers after the strike, and open negotiations to resolve the safety issues, but unfortunately the DVLA had not fulfilled this promise. Apparently, the DVLA couldn’t meet because they were in mourning for Prince Philip, but other UK Government departments have been operating throughout. Consequently, PCS has balloted its members about further strike action which will take place from 4-7th May.
As chair of the APPG Hairdressing, Barbering and Cosmetology, I organised a meeting with Toby Perkins MP, the Labour Shadow Minister for Apprenticeships, so that representatives from the hair industry could make Toby aware of the very serious issues facing Salon owners, apprentices, and hairdressers who have been practicing for many years without the current NVQ Level 3 qualifications. There are two major issues. Firstly, salon owners found out on March 8th 2021, that the 3 major insurers had ceased to cover apprentices for washing hair, and practicing hair skills on a model, or a member of the public. This unconscionable action ruled out apprentices from being able to complete their practical courses. Salon owners were not consulted and when they found out Collette Osbourne Founder of Salon Owners United, and Keith Conniford CEO/Registrar of the Hair Council, who between them represent over 22,000 members throughout the UK approached other insurers and managed to secure alternative cover. Apprentices, as with qualified hairdressers, haven’t been able to work during lockdown periods, and are already lagging behind with completing parts of their NVQ awards, but not being able to work in a salon would have been disastrous for apprentices and salon owners who depend on their trainees. Another aspect of this immoral move by the large insurers affected hairdressers and barbers who have been working and running salons for many years, but have never completed NVQs or the equivalent awards. These were also unable to gain insurance cover, and many salons would have remained closed when lockdown restrictions were lifted. Another issue which our APPG has been campaigning for is the mandatory registration for all practitioners in the hairdressing sector. The Hair Council is the statutory authority for the hair and barber industry under the Hairdressers (Registration) Act 1964, and mandatory registration would bring regulation to an industry in which it is possible for unscrupulous practitioners to operate without any formally recognised qualifications. We have urged the UK Government to amend the 1964 Act to include “mandatory registration” and extend its provisions to the “beauty industry”. During the lockdown, some practitioners operated undercover, so the pandemic has highlighted the need for uniform regulation for mobile hairdressers, salons and hair equipment/product manufacturers. Shadow Minister Toby Perkins was very understanding of our issues and has agreed to help us in our campaign to the UK Government for these improvements to our industry.
The APPG for Restorative Justice held its inaugural meeting and I was honoured to be elected its vice-chair. Restorative justice brings those harmed by crime or conflict and those responsible for the harm into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward. In future APPG meetings we shall be taking evidence from those involved in all aspects of restorative justice.
The Show Racism the Red Card APPG is co-chaired by Chris Stephens MP and Ali McGovern MP, and is one of the largest all-party groups in Parliament. We heard from former Liverpool footballer John Barnes who said that to say that “we are all the same” is wrong, because there are genetic differences which give individuals different physical traits. But that modern racism started 500 years ago and it was created to enslave others. It is a political agenda based on historical hierarchy and it is this that must be dismantled. We also heard from Christine Blower, Vice President of Show Racism the Red Card, who said that they had been working successfully with the Welsh Labour Government and so are in a very good position in Wales. Christine particularly commended all the Wrexham schools who were marking Stephen Lawrence Day.
It was great to join MPs on the Unite Parliamentary Group briefing, chaired by Graham Morris MP, on their campaign to end the appalling and immoral “Fire and Rehire” tactics that a number of companies are using in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Our aim is to get this deplorable practice outlawed by the introduction of a Bill in the Queen’s Speech on 11th May. Ireland, Spain, and France have already banned “Fire and Rehire”, and on Monday 26th April, Unite will be launching its UK wide campaign, which will include an information push on what “Fire and Rehire” means, because this practice is escalating. We know that companies of all sizes are finding things difficult, but ordinary workers with families are also struggling. The TUC survey found that one in ten workers in the UK have been threatened with “Fire and Rehire”. Some employers have exploited their power during the coronavirus pandemic to reset employment terms and conditions. Those workers who have not accepted lower wages for working more hours, have been fired. It’s the back door way of employers ripping up contracts. But the consequences are wider than this because trade union reps have been amongst those who have been fired, thus decimating trade unions in the workplace. Furthermore, the Tories should appreciate that driving down wages will lead to an economic depression, so capitalism suffers as well. It is unconscionable that companies are planning to fire hard-working, conscientious, and loyal workers only to rehire them on worse contracts that force them to work longer hours or receive fewer benefits. Is this really the “back to normal” that we want as a society? We want to see a fairer, more equal society as we recover from the pandemic and we want to see those workers who have supported us all through this pandemic and those who have suffered so much to be recognised for their hard work. These tactics are the very worst of business – we want our Britain to be representative of the best.
It was an absolute pleasure to join Jeremy Miles on the doorstep again this week to support his campaign for re-election to the Senedd. Jeremy is a fantastic representative for Neath and a Welsh Labour Government will continue to support our communities in the recovery from the pandemic #MovingWalesForward. It was fantastic to meet with people (however socially distanced) to chat about Welsh Labour’s record in Government here in Wales, the support that we’ve given to people during the pandemic, and what lies ahead – both the challenges and the opportunities. Thank you for the wonderful welcome we received, and I look forward to being able to get out and about more often in the coming weeks and months to talk to people in our wonderful constituency of Neath.
This past weekend further changes to the Covid-19 regulations were brought in. From Saturday 24 April, 6 people from any number of households can meet outdoors. From Monday 26 April hospitality venues in Wales will be allowed to open outdoors. In addition, organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people can take place from today, and wedding receptions, funerals and wakes for up to 30 people at regulated venues can resume too. Please remember, if you are from different households, to continue to follow social distancing and wash your hands regularly. We have made so many sacrifices to get to where we are and I know how much we all want to see things return to normality, but we must remain vigilant and do our utmost to keep the rate of Covid low.
It was also announced this week that relaxation of restrictions which were planned to be lifted on the 17 May will be brought forward and lifted on the 3 May. This is in no small part because of everything people in Neath have done to keep Wales safe. From Monday 3 May gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities will be allowed to reopen; people will also again be able to form extended households with one other household. The additional relaxations will mean that people can resume indoor supervised activities for children; indoor organised activities for up to 15 adults (such as exercise classes and swimming lessons); and the reopening of community centres.
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 email on email@example.com or call on 01639 630152. My staff are working from home to comply with the social distancing measures, but as always, we are available 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.