Supporting DVLA workers, scrutinising Government cronyism, and joining the Shadow Treasury team - Weekly update 25/06/2021
This week I was delighted to announce that I will be taking up the position of Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves. I am honoured to be asked to take up this position, and look forward to working with Rachel and the rest of the Shadow Treasury team in scrutinising the UK Government’s plans for the recovery.
On Monday, I took part in a Westminster Hall debate on UK Government contracts during the Covid-19 outbreak. During my speech I gave a taster of what has been happening behind closed doors whilst our frontline workers have been battling to keep us safe, including a £102.6 million contract for PPE with Samir Jassal, former No.10 adviser to David Cameron and twice Conservative parliamentary candidate, which was awarded without tender. The much-maligned Test and Trace system in England similarly was awarded to a chum of David Cameron, and has so far cost £37 billion. The UK Government must offer more clarity on where this money has gone. The Public Accounts committee has been pretty scathing in its assessment of the whole thing, saying that the system does not seem to have made much of a difference to the spread of Covid-19. The public have the right to question the validity of giving millions of pounds of public money to contracts which don’t even work, and they deserve answers.
On Tuesday I spoke in the European Assembly on the topic of media freedom, public trust and people’s right to know. People often choose to read the media that is easiest to access, which is often on social media. I believe there is an obligation on parliamentarians, such as myself, and on institutions such as the Council of Europe to ensure that people have the skills required to be able to think critically about what they read and develop their own opinions when receiving new information. I also joined other parliamentarians around Europe in demanding the release of prisoners in Belarus, who are still being illegally detained. I welcome that the UK Government has notified all UK airlines to cease all flights over Belarusian airspace and to suspend the operating permit of the Belarusian airline Belavia with immediate effect.
The formerly agreed deal between the PCS Union and senior management that would bring to an end to the industrial dispute over Covid safety at the DVLA was recently retracted at the last minute. During Transport Questions on Thursday, I asked the Minister if this happened as a result of his direct intervention. It is unprecedented for a deal such as this to fall through in the final stages, yet the Minister refused to answer the question, instead claiming that the site had been made sufficiently Covid safe. He has clearly paid no attention to the numerous Covid outbreaks which are at the root of this industrial action, which plainly show the safety measures the Minster claims have been put in place are not effective. I will continue to work closely with the PCS Union to bring the negotiators back to the table with the hope of reaching an agreement to end the dispute.
This week we heard an End-to-End Rape Review statement from the Ministry of Justice. Rape convictions and persecutions are at a record-low following a decade of Conservative incompetence and cuts, so Labour have been pushing the UK Government for clarity on the actions they plan to take to increase the number of rapists being brought to court and convicted. Previously the Justice Secretary apologised for the Government failures, but after committing to bring rape convictions and prosecutions back to at least 2016 levels, Robert Buckland has now labelled such targets constitutionally illiterate. Dithering and blame shifting are the last thing victims of rape need. Women and girls deserve to feel safe; we need urgent action from the UK Government.
On Saturday we mark Armed Forces Day, an opportunity to remind ourselves of the varied work our Forces do and the essential contributions they make. The Covid pandemic has highlighted the importance of all our servicemen and women here in Britain: engineers helped build the Nightingale hospitals, medics and dentists contributed to the development of the testing and vaccination programmes, and their expertise in leading in a time of crisis has been invaluable. Abroad our Forces carry out vital work protecting shipping lanes from piracy, continue to promote humanitarian work in countries across Asia and Africa, and in the Caribbean, they provide essential support during hurricane season. The adaptability and expertise of our Forces is something to be proud of, so this Saturday I will be saying thank you for all their work.
You can keep up to date with Welsh Government announcements and information on their dedicated coronavirus page. If you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 01792 899025. My office is not open, my staff and I are working from home, but my email and phone are still being monitored and responded to. You may experience a slight delay in receiving a response from us as the demand has increased, but we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Keep well and remember – and remember - observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!