This week saw an unusually high number of All-Party Parliamentary Group meetings.
I attended the AGM of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for MS and was honoured to be elected vice-chair. The theme of the discussion in the meeting was “let’s make it work: supporting people with MS to find work.” In 2016 we produced a report on supporting people with MS in the workplace, and we revisited this to see what has changed and the challenges that persist. We heard from speakers who have experienced issues with employment, the MS Society and the Brain Charity. The pandemic has resulted in some MS sufferers managing their employment better, with greater flexibility of working from home, but some have lost their employment. As restrictions ease, and workplaces reopen, we want to ensure any recovery takes into account lessons from the pandemic and creates a stronger more inclusive society, including access to meaningful employment.
The inaugural meeting of the Wales All-Party Parliamentary Group for Hospitality, Events and Major Food and Drink Businesses was held this week. My dear friend Jess Morden MP for Newport East was elected chair and I’m very pleased to become a vice-chair. The APPG will work together with Welsh Government, local authorities and other stakeholders across different parts of the industry and, in every part of Wales, to create an information exchange, a networking circuit, to highlight the positive economic benefits of businesses to Wales.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gaps in Support met to hear from Excluded UK and to assess the current position of the campaign for financial support for the millions of people who have not been eligible for the UK Government’s grant schemes. The group are hoping for a public enquiry into why this was allowed to happen, and to seek justice for those who have received no support during the pandemic.
I was very proud to be re-elected chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sepsis at its AGM. Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection that can lead to tissue damage and organ failure, and death. It’s the body’s immune system over-responding to an infection. The APPG works with the UK Sepsis Trust to provide a medium through which parliamentarians, organisations, and those affected by Sepsis can discuss the current provisions for the illness which claims nearly 49,000 lives in the UK every year. We raise awareness and promote understanding of Sepsis, and advocate for simple but timely interventions to be implemented as standard procedure across the NHS. The UK Sepsis Trust is run by a small number of dedicated volunteers who have had personal experience of Sepsis.
At its AGM I was elected a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ireland and the Irish in Britain. Irish in Britain are the secretariat and work closely with the Irish Embassy to promote Ireland through community organisations and leadership programmes throughout the UK. Wales has always had close cultural and economic links with Ireland, and every year St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Banwen at the site of St Patrick’s Stone, just off Roman Road, near Dove Workshop. The famous Banwen historian George Brinley Evans has researched and published articles to lay claim that St Patrick and his sister were kidnapped from Banwen when Patrick was a child, and taken to Ireland. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, this year’s St Patrick’s celebration was held online, and we were honoured to have Mark Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, as our guest speaker.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Coalfields Communities met to hear from our coalfields organisations: the Industrial Communities Alliance, Coalfields Regeneration Trust, Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation and the National Union of Mineworkers. There was agreement that we were all concerned about the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund and Community Renewal Fund. Instead of targeting less prosperous areas most in need, it is a competitive bidding process for local authorities, which take up staff time, and removes cross border collaboration. The timescales to submit bids is far too limited, the deadline is 18th June, and the funding must be spent by end of March 2022. Short timescales place strain on already overstretched staff and don’t encourage creative, strategic, thinking. The list of priority areas excludes Bridgend and Caerphilly, which were classified as severely disadvantaged areas under EU funds. The process bypasses Welsh Government, who historically distributed EU funds, and have responsibility for local agencies which play a huge part in regional economic development. There is no new money, because the funding comes from the now discontinued Local Growth Fund for England, with Barnett consequentials for Wales. The UK Government has transferred funds and reduced them from £1.5bn to £1bn per year. The UKSPF, when it eventually emerges from the UK Government, will merely replace EU funds, and will not be an increase on the £1.5bn per year that used to come from Brussels.
At the final All Party Parliamentary Group I attended this week, I was absolutely delighted to become chair of the APPG for Sport. Former Olympians Lord Colin Moynihan and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson were elected vice-chairs. Sport is very close to my heart. As a former Welsh Squash International with over 100 caps, a former Squash Wales National Coach, and the only racket coach to be awarded the “Sport Wales Coach of the Year”, I have been campaigning for many years for squash to be included in the Olympic Games.
This week, the Coronavirus Alert Level in Wales was downgraded to 2 and restrictions were loosened. Indoor hospitality has reopened with up to 6 people (from 6 different households) now able to book a table together. Holiday accommodation is also now able to fully reopen, along with entertainment venues and indoor visitor attractions, including cinemas, bowling alleys, theatres, and museums and galleries. Up to 30 people can take part in organised indoor activities and up to 50 people in outdoor activities.
We have all been looking forward to the easing of restrictions, and looking forward to seeing friends and family after such a long and difficult year. But we must still be careful. Please continue to social distance, continue to wash your hands regularly, and continue to wear a mask on public transport and in public places such as supermarkets. The vaccine programme in Wales is going tremendously well – thank you so much to all our hardworking vaccinators – so I hope it will not be too long until we can remove all restrictions.
I was pleased to be given the opportunity to speak during Wales Questions this week. I asked Simon Hart MP, the Secretary of State for Wales, to accept that it is Mark Drakeford’s superb stewardship of the Welsh economy and the Welsh NHS that secured Mark’s overwhelming re-election in the recent Senedd elections and I asked Mr Hart if he would welcome the Welsh Labour Government’s new 10-year infrastructure investment plan for a zero-carbon economy. The Secretary of State dodged my questions by talking about the vaccination programme and the Union. I also asked Mr Hart when the UK Government would release the promised funding for the Global Centre of Rail Excellence that is due to be built here in Neath. Whilst the Secretary of State acknowledged agreement of the UK Government in developing the centre in Neath, he refused to clarify when funding would be released. The Secretary of State and his UK Government speak of the positives in collaboration, but we now require them to hold up their end of the bargain – release the funding so that we can help Welsh communities recover from this terribly difficult year.
This week saw the Urdd’s annual Peace and Goodwill message, which this year centres on equality for women and girls. Women’s rights are human rights. Our international development aims are dependent upon ensuring development for women around the world, but equality begins at home. Let’s remember that women can be self-confident, not bossy; independent not blunt; powerful not emotional; successful not stubborn. How we talk about women and young girls is important and develops a view of what women should be and how they should behave in ways that we simply do not do for men. The Covid pandemic has offered us a reset on how we behave in the world; let’s use that reset as a chance to make things better and not just return to the same.
On Friday morning I attended the reinstated regular Zoom meeting with SBUHB for MSs and MPs in the Swansea Bay Region following their postponement during the Senedd elections campaign period. SBUHB Chair Emma Woolett, vice-chair Steve Spill, CEO Mark Hackett, Director of Public Health and Gold Commander Keith Reid, Deputy Director of Transformation Dorothy Edwards, and Chief of Staff Irfon Rees updated us on progress of the vaccination programme, guidance on vaccination and travel, variants of interest and concern, services and hospital visits, and service impact. SBUBH newsletter updates are found on its website.
Friday afternoon, as vice-chair of the newly constituted All-Party Parliamentary Group for Restorative Justice, I held a Zoom meeting with Julia Houlston-Clark, Chief Executive of WRAP (Wales Restorative Approaches Partnership), which is an innovative co-operative social enterprise and a not-for-profit community interest company, which supports the building, maintaining, and repairing of relationships across the criminal justice, education, families, communities, and business sectors. Restorative approaches include the day-to-day skills involved in pre-empting conflicts and harm, building and maintaining relationships and community, as well as reacting and responding when things go wrong.
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.