Looking back on the last year it probably won’t go down as one of the greatest in Wales’s illustrious history. Nor indeed in the history of any of the other UK nations.

Indeed, it has been so tragic for so many.

But this St David’s Day I want to pay tribute to the way in which we have all come together in a united collective effort to defeat Covid-19 in Aberavon and across Wales.

The community spirit that Welsh communities are renown for came to the forefront.

Over 500 people volunteered with Neath Port Talbot Council’s Safe and Well scheme to support residents who have been told to shield.

Community groups sprang into action to help the vulnerable with food shopping, picking up prescriptions, running errands, making scrubs for frontline workers, delivering food parcels and making face masks.

Businesses reconfigured and produced PPE and equipment to help businesses reopen. And, of course, our frontline workers gave everything to keep our country running.

In Wales the Welsh Government has taken decisive action on coronavirus to protect our health, jobs and the NHS.

Wales has the best contact tracing system in the UK, the most generous support package for business in the UK, and we have free school meals fully funded through the school holidays up to Easter 2022.

Wales was also the first UK nation to offer a vaccine to everyone in the top four priority groups.

Contrast this with the UK Conservative government.

While we welcome some of the UK economic packages, the Conservatives have too often been slow to act and then shamed into acting.

They are threatening to cut Universal Credit payments, and they continue to ignore the plight of those in so many industries; from the creative arts to hospitality, to tourism sector, and do too little for the self-employed who fall through the cracks in UK Government support schemes.

The UK Conservative government must also do much more for residents in Skewen.

During the heavy rains of 21st January, a blockage in disused mine workings caused a blow-out and thousands of gallons of water cascaded through homes, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. Families have lost everything.

I’d like to pay tribute to the response of the emergency services, the Council, the community, and Skewen Salvation Army which has done a tremendous job fundraising – and to residents who have handled themselves with such dignity.

Regrettably the situation is being made even more difficult and traumatic for residents by the intransigence of the Coal Authority and the UK Government, who are refusing to take responsibility for the damage caused to homes.

There is growing anger and an increasing sense of betrayal amongst residents for this stance. The blow-out related directly to blockages in disused mine workings which are man-made.

Each property should be returned to the condition it was in before the incident occurred, but this should not come out of residents’ pockets.

The Coal Authority and UK government have a moral responsibility to provide funding to help residents who are not insured and to fill the gaps that are not covered by insurance.

Will the Secretary of State make the case to his colleagues in BEIS to set aside their ‘computer says no’ legalist view on this and adopt a more pragmatic and fairer approach to help the victims in Skewen?

Finally, we need proper support for the Port Talbot steelworks, which will be critical to the post-pandemic economic recovery. Electricity prices for steelmakers are 86% higher than for German competitors.

The Prime Minister recognised this in response to my question in the chamber, and confirmed that “we must indeed address the discriminatory price of energy”, so I will be holding him to that.

Mr Speaker, let’s end on something positive.

We can look ahead to a brighter future in 2021.

Not only do we have the vaccine rollout to cheer on, we have  Wales playing in Euro 2021 to look forward to, but more immediately a 6 Nations win against England in Cardiff on Saturday to secure the Triple Crown and the prospect of a Grand Slam show down with France.

Sport might seem secondary in times like these.

But these national moments give us a real opportunity to rally round and celebrate the culture and the courage of our great Welsh nation.

Thank you.

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