Members of Parliament return to Westminster on Mondays after spending the weekend in their constituencies. Parliamentary business in the Chamber starts at 2.30pm with Oral Questions, and following the end of Orals, there are often UK Government Statements, and/or Urgent Questions (UQs) about events that have occurred throughout the world and the UK over the weekend. The UK Government decides which Statements it presents, but it is the Speaker who chooses which UQs are granted.
Last Monday there were 2 UQs at 3.45pm on The Future of GB Railways, and The Imminent Closure of Doncaster Sheffield Airport, which was followed by a Statement on The Publication of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse: Final Report.
The MPs were eager to see which UK Government Ministers appeared at the Dispatch Box after the new PM had appointed his members of Cabinet and Front Bench. Kevin Foster MP has been Transport Minister from 7th September 2022, and he appeared for the UK Government in the first UQ, (but was sacked on Wednesday). Katherine Fletcher MP (South Ribble) was promoted to Under Secretary of State for Transport and appeared in the second UQ. The Statement was delivered by Grant Shapps, as Secretary of State for the Home Department, but the new PM replaced Shapps with Suella Braverman, who had been sacked by Liz Truss following a breach of the Ministerial Code. Mr Shapps was only in post for six days, and Ms Braverman was only out of post for six days. Mr Shapps was appointed as Secretary of State for BEIS, after the Boris-backer Rees-Mogg was sacked.
The rest of the Chamber business for Monday was financial supplementary estimates, the Stamp Duty Bill (England), EU Delegated Legislation (without debate), and an Adjournment Debate on Doncaster Airport granted to Doncaster Central MP Nick Fletcher.
There are many events that take place outside the Chamber. One of which are All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) that are very important for raising issues and campaigning for worthwhile causes.
This week, I attended 4 APPGs.
The APPG for Liver Disease and Liver Cancer has been at the forefront of raising awareness of the hidden prevalence of Liver Disease in the UK. The UK is facing a liver disease public health emergency with the main causes being alcohol, obesity, and viral hepatitis, which are prevalent in disadvantaged communities. Public Health Data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) highlights that liver disease mortality rates are nearly 4 times higher in most deprived areas, with regional variations.
We heard from Professor Julia Verne, Deputy Director in the OHID, about her research on levelling up liver disease outcomes to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy. Professor Verne previously worked at a Liver Unit and saw first hand the challenges facing patients with cirrhosis and advanced liver disease. Mortality rates are very high for patients diagnosed at a late stage. But 90% of liver disease is preventable and in many cases can be reversed or halted, because if diagnosed early, the liver has the ability to regenerate.
Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Comms at the British Liver Trust, gave an update of the launch of Liver Cancer UK. Its research found that only 26% of areas in the UK have an effective pathway for the early detection and management of liver disease. Urgent action is needed to level up inequalities in liver disease care and outcomes. Liver disease is the leading cause of premature deaths and lost working years. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will place a statutory duty on the UK Government to report back on delivery of narrowing the gap in healthy life expectancy between areas of lowest and highest areas by 2030, and increase healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. But the British Liver Trust and our APPG are calling for a full review of adult liver services by NHS England to address unwarranted variation in treatment care and outcomes. Health and Social Care are devolved, and there is an established early detection and management pathway operating in Wales.
The APPG for Steel and Related Metal Industries continues to promote the importance of UK Steel Production which strengthens national resilience, its jobs are crucial to levelling up, growing market opportunity, vital to environmental challenges, and boosts infrastructure potential. The UK Steel Sector produces 7.2 million tonnes a year, 70% of UK requirements, directly employs 34,500 people with a further 43,000 in the supply chain, pays an average £37,629, 45% higher than UK national median, contributes £2.4 billion to UK GDP, and £3.1 billion in supply chains. The priority for the sector is competitive electricity prices, net-zero steel strategy, level trading field, using UK steel in UK infrastructure projects, and innovation.
The APPG for Hospitality, Events, Major Food and Drink Businesses in Wales was addressed by Dave Chapman, Executive Director, UK Hospitality Cymru, and Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive, UK Hospitality. We were joined online by a number of businesses located in Wales who told us about the challenges of operating in the hospitality and events sectors following the major challenges resulting from years of austerity, Brexit and Covid-19.
Businesses are struggling to survive because of rising costs, and diminishing footfall. Energy bills have doubled, and suppliers are not offering favourable deals after the 6 month UK Government support scheme ends in April 2023. There is an acute shortage of labour which has caused many hospitality venues and events to reduce operations from full time opening to around 80%. There is a UK vacancy rate of 10% and it’s 15% in Wales. UK Hospitality are calling for a Welsh Government Minister for Hospitality who would work with UK Government, an All-Party Senedd Group for Hospitality, deregulation of the immigration regime which takes at least 12 weeks for a work visa application to be processed, and it does not support a tourism levy.
The APPG on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund has written many times to UK Ministers in BEIS, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Department DLUHC, who change every time there is a new PM, asking for clarification on how the UKSPF would operate. The latest letter on 20 September 2022 was to Simon Clarke, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, who held the position for the duration of Liz Truss’s reign. We told Mr Clarke about the very successful UKSPF Stakeholder Online Event, attended by over 180 representatives from public, private, voluntary, community and business organisations across England, Scotland and Wales, setting out their views. We highlighted five problematic areas: the short timescale for drawing up investment plans; the local authority-led structure for drawing up investment plans is a problem for organisations that operate across boundaries; all investment plans should be published online by DLUHC, so that organisations can work out how they fit in; the hiatus in funding in 2023-4 will cause redundancies and re-recruiting in 2024; the EU 7-year programme with a roll-on spending option for a further 3 years has been replaced with a 3-year (now two and a half years) UKSPF with no guarantee of funding beyond 2024-5. Mr Clarke did not respond to our letter before he was replaced. The APPG has always had difficulty in finding out which UK Government Minister is responsible for the UKSPF, which crosses Whitehall Departments. And when we do have constructive dialogue with a Minister, for example Neil O’Brien, they are replaced, and we have to start again. Another problem is that the UK Government Spending Reviews work on a 3-year timeline, and 2024-5 hasn’t been signed off yet, and this will produce a “cliff edge” for any prospective UKSPF projects. The UK Government has created the Future High Streets Fund, Towns Fund, Levelling Up Fund, Community Renewal Fund, and the UKSPF. There is a rumour that these would be amalgamated and the UKSPF will be subsumed. The APPG decided that we would meet again after the LUHCC Cross Party Committee concludes its enquiry into Levelling Up, which it launched on 20th October 2022, and includes looking into whether the UKSPF is a sufficient replacement of EU Structural Funds – evidence sessions begin next month.
There is a stand-off between UK and Welsh Government. The APPG wrote to Vaughan Gethin, Minister for Economy in the Welsh Government, and his reply stated that the UK Government’s engagement with Welsh Government Ministers and its officials has been unacceptable. Despite years of work in Wales developing the strongest possible model for post-EU regional investment, the Welsh Government were only consulted in April 2022, because the UK Government wanted to publish its SPF prospectus before the local elections in May 2022. The Welsh Government does not endorse and will not support delivery of UK policies and programmes in Wales which are flawed and undermine the devolution settlement. The Welsh Government suggested a simple formula based on the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD) taking into account a wide range of socio-economic factors, including income, employment, education and distance from services. The UK Government gave the WIMD a 30% weighting and combined it with its Community Renewal Fund Index. But this disadvantages Welsh local authorities with larger populations, and as a result, two of the more populous local authorities Rhondda Cynon Taff (RCT) and Caerphilly, which would have high allocations under the WIMD, will have allocations barely above the Wales average. The Welsh Government was not consulted on the final allocations before publication by the UK Government, and consider the SPF formula to be complicated, methodologically flawed, and not reflective of economic need. The UK Government’s repeated promises to replace EU Structural and Investment Funds in full falls £1.1 billion short between January 2021 and March 2025. For these reasons and those set out in Mr Gethin’s written statements of 13th April and 1st June, the Welsh Government will not be using its resources to support the implementation of the SPF in Wales but will support local government partners to implement the fund, despite its inadequacies. Mr Gethin has also written to Michael Gove to stress that the Welsh Government would welcome further discussion and a genuine co-decision-making arrangement.
The APPG on Pension Clawback, which was formed to campaign against banks such as HSBC and Midland Bank, clawing back state pensions from the amount of occupational pension that they pay to former employees, met online to listen to an update from our chair, Clive Betts MP, and to have a preview of research being conducted by University of Exeter Law Department into Defined Contributions and the use of State Clawback. This independent research is using personal experiences of the post-1974 Midland Pension Scheme Section, with respect to the legality and actions of organisations who have applied clawback to pension schemes, and the impact on employees in these organisations. I look forward to its publication.
I went into the chamber for Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) Wednesday lunchtime to watch the new PM’s first performance at the Dispatch Box. Keir Starmer asked whether the PMs officials had raised concerns about the decision to re-appoint the Home Secretary just days after she had been sacked for a security breach, but Rishi Sunak failed to answer. Keir said the Tories put Party first and Country second, with working people paying for their mess. Keir said that Rishi was a PM who got trounced by his successor who herself was beaten by a lettuce. There were repeated calls for a General Election from opposition MPs.
When I returned to Neath constituency on Thursday 27th October, I attended Dove Workshop in Banwen.
DOVE Workshop has been awarded a tree from Buckingham Palace, as part of the late Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee initiatives. The tree has been awarded to Dove Workshop in recognition for all that it has achieved; for the work it has done in inspiring the communities it serves, and on the understanding that there is an expectation they will continue to deliver services of the same quality for a good many years to come.
The ceremony was led by the Lord Lieutenant, Mrs Louise Fleet JP, and Dove Workshop’s Manager, Lianne Byrne. The Tree of Trees was planted in Dove’s Sarn Helen Garden, where it will take pride of place and by nurtured to grow as a reminder of this moving tribute to both Dove Workshop and our late Queen.