When Wales went into its firebreak the Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to extend the furlough scheme, but that changed when the second wave hit London and the south-east. Furlough must be fair for all.
“Levelling up” also needs to have substance: a modern manufacturing renaissance, with steel at the heart.
I raised these two issues on the floor of the chamber:
Stephen Kinnock: Like many hon. Members, I would like to start by paying tribute to all the British public, including those in my Aberavon constituency, who have shown such resilience and fortitude throughout an extremely difficult 2020.
These new restrictions are, of course, for the people of England, but the economic package accompanying them will have a significant effect on Wales and on my constituents. Regrettably, it has become all too evident that the Prime Minister and Chancellor only took decisive action in terms of economic support once London and parts of the south-east were put into tier 2 and then full lockdown. When we in Wales went into our fire breaker, the UK Government refused to extend furlough. When the north of England went into tier 3, the Government refused to extend furlough. Now, with new restrictions affecting the south-east, the money suddenly appears as if by magic. Furlough must be fair for all—it is as simple as that.
During his successful general election campaign, the Prime Minister promised to level up the UK. In reality, the very opposite has happened. This virus has turned the gap between the south-east and the rest of the UK into a chasm. We now need a clear and specific plan that states what levelling up is actually supposed to mean in practice. This plan must have our steel industry at its heart.
A focus on steel would deliver three interlinked benefits. First, it would support the creation of high-skilled, well-paid jobs in areas of the UK that have been ignored by successive Conservative Governments since 2010, including in south Wales. Secondly, it would strengthen the UK’s sovereign capability. One of the most important lessons of the pandemic is that we are far too dependent on supply chains from other countries, and increasingly, those countries are run by authoritarian Governments who are not our natural allies. Thirdly, it will enable our transition to net zero, backing the industries of the future but also greening current industries. Yet, by failing to provide the UK’s largest steelmaker and the employer of 4,000 steelworkers in my constituency with the emergency loans during the pandemic to plug the cash flow gap caused by the fall in demand, the Government have again chosen to sit on their hands. There can be no post-pandemic recovery, no levelling up and no modern manufacturing renaissance without a strong and healthy steel industry.
I will end by saying a few words on test, track and trace. While Welsh Labour backed local experts and our local authorities, the UK Government have put test, track and trace in the hands of Serco, without any proper tendering process. Serco won huge contracts to the tune of £500 million and, through no fault of the vast majority of its employees, I might add, utterly failed our country at this time of need. The choice that the Government have taken is to privatise and centralise when they should have been keeping what is a truly public function in the public sector and allowing local authorities to mobilise the expertise that they have on the ground. I hope that the UK Government will look to Cardiff Bay—to the Welsh Government—learn the lessons of Test and Trace, and take this four-week lockdown as an opportunity to fix the system and learn from the way in which the Welsh Government have done it.