In this years St David’s Day debate I decided to speak about the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, steelworkers pensions, steel procurement, Personal Independence Payments and of course Banksy!
Stephen Kinnock: It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) on securing today’s debate. As she is an avid Welsh rugby fan and former Wales international, I know that she will have enjoyed the match on Saturday. It was a stunning win and a great way to kick-start the St David’s Day celebrations. Eddie Jones led his England side down the M4 and got stuck in traffic along the way before coming completely unstuck against a Welsh side determined to stop his chariot. We were given little chance of winning that match but, as the Welsh always do, we rose to the challenge and triumphed in the face of adversity.
Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington): I congratulate Wales on their victory at the weekend. It was mightily impressive and a real demonstration of power. Does my hon. Friend agree that the renewables sector provides a huge opportunity for Wales to refound itself through offshore wind and onshore through hydroelectric?
Stephen Kinnock: I agree with my hon. Friend. Wales was of course the cradle of the industrial revolution and it should be the cradle of a green revolution. Unfortunately, we are dealing with the most incompetent and short-sighted Government in living memory, who refuse to go forward with the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. I think that sends a clear signal about what really makes them tick.
Today’s St David’s Day debate is marked with sadness following the loss of our good friend and colleague Paul Flynn, the former Member for Newport West. He had a razor-sharp intellect and a rapier-like wit. He was an outstanding parliamentarian who was passionately committed to social justice and opportunity for all—a lovely man, who always had a helpful word of advice for us new kids on the block. He will be sorely missed.
Just as I had complete confidence in the 23 men in red on Saturday, I have confidence in my fellow countrymen and women to rise to the challenge of Brexit, but the challenge is truly daunting. We are two and a half years on from the referendum and fast approaching 29 March. We are also two years on from a general election when the Conservative manifesto promised to set up a new UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU funds after 2020. But with just 29 days to go until we leave the EU, we know little more about the UK shared prosperity fund than we did in June 2017.
Like much of Wales, my Aberavon constituency has benefited hugely from European money—from the Bay Campus at Jersey Marine to the sunken gardens and toddler play area on Aberavon beach; from the Croeserw community enterprise centre to the Cognation mountain bike trails in the Afan valley; and from the transport hub to the Port Talbot magistrates court. These projects would not have been possible without European funding.
Between 2014 and 2020, west Wales and the valleys were set to receive from European structural funds investment worth more than £1.6 billion, yet nearly everything about the shared prosperity fund is still to be worked out. We still do not know how much funding will be available, how it will be divided across the country, what activities will be eligible for support or who will take the decisions on how the money is spent. There is a huge fear that this will be not just a financial grab, but a power grab, and that the Westminster Government will use this opportunity to reduce funding for areas that need it most and to claw back powers that sit naturally with the devolved Administrations.
These deep-seated concerns led to the creation of the all-party parliamentary group for post-Brexit funding for nations, regions and local areas, which I am truly proud to chair. The wide-ranging review that we carried out heard from 80 organisations across the UK, including the Welsh Government, councils in Wales and the Welsh TUC. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Wales back in November, seeking a meeting about the findings of our APPG, but have yet to receive a response. Those representations were unanimous in saying that the UK shared prosperity fund must comprise not a single penny less in real terms than the EU and UK funding streams it replaces. Westminster must not use Brexit as an opportunity to short-change the poorest parts of the UK. Equally, the UK Government must not deny devolved Administrations the appropriate control over funds. Local decisions must not be made by a bureaucrat or by a Tory Government sitting at the other end of the M4. The Government’s inaction cannot continue; they must provide guarantees on the shared prosperity fund.
Of course, one group of people who know very well about this Government’s inaction are the steelworkers in Port Talbot, Llanwern, Trostre and right across Wales. They have gone above and beyond to save our steel industry, but their actions have not been matched by the Westminster Government. When unscrupulous pension advisers took the opportunity during the pension transfer to swoop in like vultures and rip off steelworkers, the Government did nothing. Now there is a very serious risk that thousands have been conned into transferring out of the scheme, almost always against their best interests. It is imperative that steelworkers are notified of this, so that it can be remedied before the opportunity is missed, but the Government’s inability to support steelworkers does not stop there. At the height of the steel crisis, the UK Government consistently showered steelworkers with warm words, but since then they have failed to create a sector deal for steel, and last year less than half of the steel bought by the Government came from the UK, despite British steel being the best in the world; that is simply not good enough.
Disabled people in my constituency have also been badly let down. The personal independence payment is there to support individuals with the extra costs of living associated with a disability, but the system in place now is working against disabled people, instead of for them. Three quarters of people in Wales who challenged the decision of the Department for Work and Pensions to stop or reduce their PIP were successful in having that decision overturned, which just shows how fundamentally broken the system is. In Wales, one in 10 people waited more than a year to win back money that they were initially denied—a dreadful failure.
I am a proud Welshman. I was born in Tredegar in 1970. My grandfather on my father’s side was a coalminer in the Welsh valleys, while my grandmother was a district nurse—the backbone of the NHS. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a railway signalman in Anglesey, supported by a grandmother who was truly the rock of the family. Their never-say-die attitude and commitment to working hard for their communities has been passed down the generations and it is with that spirit that I will continue fighting hard for my Aberavon constituents in Westminster.
We are a proud, unique community in Aberavon. Even Banksy picked us out last year as a worthy home for one of his wonderful creations. But, like every area, we need a UK Government and a Welsh Secretary who will stand up for Wales; and that means, more than anything, that we desperately need a UK Labour Government. Happy St David’s Day to all.