After two years of waiting, the 40 Welsh MPs finally gathered for a Welsh Grand Committee meeting to discuss the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. It was particularly historic as MPs were now able to contribute in both English and Welsh. During the debate, I said:
As a starting point, we know that the Prime Minister and her UK Tory Government have slashed funding to Wales by more than £1bn, imposed a public sector pay cap that impacts on Welsh workers and those across the UK in our most vital public services. We know also that the Government has refused to invest in vital Welsh infrastructure projects like the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and rail electrification.
Unfortunately, the Chancellor did not use the opportunity of his Autumn Budget to address these shortcomings and invest in Welsh infrastructure, or to end the Tories’ failed austerity, agenda or lift the public sector pay cap. This budget really did feel like missed opportunities as far as Wales is concerned. It is clear that this Tory Government has proven time and again that they have little or no respect for Wales.
With respect to the Public Sector Pay Cap, Mr Hanson, whilst the UK government has made pay offers in excess of 1% for some sectors, the pay cap effectively remains in place for the vast majority of public sector workers. It is important that the Government does not cherry pick pay rises for some public sector workers in what could be seen as an attempt to divide. We need to see an end to the public sector pay cap, with a fully-funded pay rise for all those working in our public services.
I know that local authorities for example have tried to help ease the situation, the 2 local authorities serving my constituency Merthyr Tydfil CBC & Caerphilly CBC took decisions during the previous council term to become living wage employers, thus helping to mitigate against the pay cap. Across Wales, the Welsh Government have indicated their support for our public sector workers and have repeatedly called on the UK Government to end the cap on public sector pay and give workers across the UK a much-deserved pay rise, funded properly by the UK Government, stating, “The UK Government must do the right thing and lift the pay cap right across the UK public sector as part of a wider strategy to end their damaging policy of austerity”. There are suggestions that the Welsh Government could take action, however, lifting the public sector pay cap unilaterally in Wales, would mean that for every 1% above the existing cap, would mean £110m being taken from frontline services, with approximately £50 million coming out of the budget for NHS Wales alone. Clearly Mr Owen, this would threaten thousands of jobs across the public sector in Wales so is not a practical or sensible way forward. With huge cuts to the Welsh Budget and local government in recent years, they are clearly unable to take further action without the funding from the UK Government. It is therefore incumbent on the UK Government to take action, do the decent thing and remove the pay cap across the UK. The Welsh Government have already committed to use any funding consequentials they receive from the UK Government as a result of public sector pay rises more generally to raise the pay cap for public sector workers in Wales.
I would also like to take this brief opportunity to highlight the impact that the Tory budget and the austerity agenda more widely is having on keeping people safe in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and across the country. Evidence that this Tory Government is failing to keep our communities safe is apparent after new figures revealed crime in South Wales and Gwent Police Force areas is increasing. The new crime figures show the highest annual rise in police recorded crime since comparable records began in 2002. Two thirds of my constituency is covered by South Wales Police & the remaining third is covered by Gwent Police. In the South Wales area, violent crime rose by 15%, sexual offences rose by 42% and total recorded crime rose by 11%. Meanwhile in Gwent, violent crime has risen 20%, sexual offences rose 31%, with total recorded crime rising 14%.
Meanwhile, we know that Tory cuts has sent Police officer numbers nationwide to the lowest level in three decades. South Wales Police has lost 257 officers, while Gwent Police has seen the loss of 283 officers since 2010. I think it is shameful Mr Owen that the public are now being forced to pay the price for the risk the Tories took with community safety when they slashed 21,000 Police officers across England and Wales.
I have worked to build close relationships with both South Wales Police and Gwent Police forces, and have raised the issues of police cuts numerous times in Parliamentary debates. I have also been privileged to have spent shifts with officers in both Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, seeing first-hand the officers’ dedication and excellent work they are doing to keep our communities safe, despite ever diminishing resources. Our Police officers are working extremely hard in very difficult circumstances. However, the Government must realise that cuts have consequences and these latest figures certainly reveal the Tories are failing in their duty to protect the public.
Finally Mr Hanson, I would like to raise the issue of jobs and public procurement. In the budget and the Brexit negotiations, the Government constantly claim that they are working hard to protect jobs and the economy. However, I recent months there has been much speculation about MOD contracts for the new Mechanised Infantry Vehicles (MIVs) being awarded to German firms on a single source basis. This is deeply concerning for me as the representative of Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney where we have General Dynamics starting to assemble the new generation of Armoured Vehicles. General Dynamics have a long and proud history in South Wales, based for many years in my hon friend the member for Islwyn’s constituency. The additional base in Merthyr Tydfil demonstrates GD’s commitment to the area and to Wales. I believe that General Dynamics are well placed to compete for these contracts but should at the very least have the opportunity to compete in an open and transparent tender process. I hope that the Secretary of State can today confirm that the Wales Office are doing all that they can to ensure that the MOD will give Welsh firms, including General Dynamics the opportunity to bid for this work to support and sustain hundreds of Welsh jobs.
There are many other areas where this Government needs to take stock and listen. Their austerity agenda is failing, failing Wales and failing the UK. If this Government is unable or unwilling to do what is necessary to improve the lives of our constituents then they need to move aside and make way for a Government that will do the right thing.