This week’s Budget announcement from the Chancellor was perhaps as disappointing as it was unsurprising. Where we needed to see support for businesses, investment in jobs and high streets, and assistance for hard-working, struggling families, we instead saw delayed support and a threat of tax rises. The Government is on the wrong side of the argument, as it has been during much of this pandemic, with organisations from the CBI to the OECD to the IMF agreeing with Labour that now is not the time for tax rises. Now is the time to invest and to recognise the sacrifices that so many have made during this pandemic. We need to invest in education and jobs, and we do not want to see viable businesses fail due to the pandemic, people out of work, where they could be driving the recovery and rebuilding their communities. This Budget is just more Tory austerity that punishes those in insecure work, and which simply continues the inequality that we’ve seen for too many years.
I took part in a Petitions Committee debate this week on the abolition of TV licences. The Covid pandemic has shown us just how much people from all walks of life have depended on the BBC’s invaluable service. It has shone a light on the cost of keeping up with the myriad of pay to view services, which puts a strain on family budgets. The value of having regional public service broadcasting is clear. Viewership of BBC Wales programming has been growing year on year, and figures for BBC Wales Today, the flagship news programme, are up 30%. Welsh-language broadcaster S4C is also funded by the licence payer. S4C is a vital component of the promotion of the Welsh language and ensures that speakers and learners of Welsh can keep practicing, even when they live in different parts of the UK.
Despite the difficulties sports are facing at the moment, at least we are able to watch live sport again. On Saturday, 1.3 million people in Wales tuned in to the BBC to watch Wales beat England in the Six Nations and claim the triple crown. With rumours rife that rights to the Six Nations will be sold and put behind a paywall, I think it's so important that live rugby is available to watch free at point of broadcast. I fear that losing this will risk losing a generation of future rugby players. The TV Licence is the BBC's main source of funding and revoking it could jeopardise the broadcaster's ability to broadcast sport franchises. TV that is free to watch at point of broadcast is so important for the provision of impartial news, to allow for educational documentaries, and to inspire young people to become sports players, musicians, politicians, - whatever. We cannot lose this.
At the end of last month, the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill was formed to examine the Armed Forces Bill 2019-2020 and to hear evidence from stakeholders across sectors. We had our first meeting at the start of this week and began hearing evidence. We heard from General (retired) Sir John McColl, who is Chair of the Confederation of Service Charities, Laura Pett, who is Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns for the Royal British Legion, and Ted Arnold, who is the Senior Public Affairs and Policy Manager for Help for Heroes. It’s so important that we hear from charities who work with serving personnel and veterans so that we can ensure the Bill is relevant and addresses the areas that need addressing. We also need to ensure that the Bill directs adequate resources to the places that it needs to reach.
I was also pleased to meet with Labour Councillor Wendy Lewis for Cockett Ward who is Swansea Council’s Armed Forces Champion to discuss the work that is being done locally to support serving members of the Armed Forces and veterans. We have seen during the pandemic the varied and significant role that the Armed Forces play in our lives; they are not only deployed to do the soldiering that we all imagine when we think “military” but they also provide vital support to civil organisations in times of crisis, whether that’s support following serious flooding or manning Covid testing centres, driving ambulances, and delivering PPE to hospitals. We must support our service personnel and veterans when they need it and help them readjust to civilian life and present opportunities for them to continue contributing with their multitude of skills; after everything they do to protect the country, we owe them support at the very least.
During Welsh Affairs committee this week, we discussed green energy in Wales, and I asked about the development of onshore wind farms. When we discuss green energy, we think about the positive impact that can have on our environment, the impact it will have on jobs, and how it can support local economies. But we rarely think about the fact that there needs to be infrastructure in place to move the energy from the point of production, say an onshore wind farm in mid-Wales, to the points where the energy is needed, say Cardiff or Swansea. We have some fantastic developments in the pipelines - excuse the pun! - but we need the transmission infrastructure in place as well. We had a really positive discussion and I hope it will help move policy forward so that Wales can lead from the front in the green revolution in the UK.
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!