Nick Smith MP has called for a new deal for the Valleys to revive our economy after the decimation caused by the loss of industry in the eighties.
In a Parliamentary debate on coalfield communities, the Blaenau Gwent MP said the Tory destruction of the mining industry had for decades crippled areas such as South Wales.
He added without the infrastructure and support for those communities to have a shot at bringing in business, the UK Government were hobbling areas such as Blaenau Gwent all over again.
He said: “We can all recognise that jobs and opportunities are clustered in the big cities or rich areas such as South East England, but that shouldn’t mean boroughs such as the one I represent being left to rot.
“If this Tory Government is going to continue to attack public services – and we’ve all seen the cuts it has forced our councils to make – then they have a duty to give our communities an equal chance to compete.
“I’m proud of my home and the childhood and chances it gave me. I want to know that for the generations coming through, they will realise their potential.
“This is why I’m calling for a Valleys agenda. With promises such as the Jobs Guarantee scheme, I’m confident a Labour Government could lead the way to a better future.”
The speech was as follows:
A few weeks ago, my borough of Blaenau Gwent had the privilege of screening the Welsh premier of “Still the Enemy Within” in our historic and award-winning Market Hall cinema. That moving documentary about the ’84 strike captured the most important trade union dispute of our lives. It reminded me of the worry that I felt for my family—the knot that I had in my stomach for that whole year, when nearly all my uncles and cousins were colliers on strike. It took me back to the time when the community was united in standing by our lads. It also reminded me of Tory Minister Nick Ridley’s insidious plan to take on the miners—the miners whose side I would always be on and for whom I would always work.
Blaenau Gwent was built on the two pillars of coal and steel. The community and the culture were as strong as those pillars. There was not a lot of money in anyone’s pocket. I remember picking coal off the mountains as a small boy to heat our home during one strike. Families knew the toll that the heavy industries took—a terrible legacy that is shown these days in our poor health record. Despite all that, we had strong roots to rely on and high hopes for the next generation.
In the 30 years since, Blaenau Gwent has had a fight on its hands to get back on its feet. The two pillars are long gone and not enough private sector industry has filled the gap. Blaenau Gwent is slowly pulling itself up by its bootstraps, but we need a new deal to get us properly back on our feet. We have received good support from the Welsh Government and Europe for towns such as Ebbw Vale, which has a new school complex, a new hospital and much more on the site where the steelworks once stood. We now need support that not only strengthens our public services, but gives us a chance to thrive once more.
Blaenau Gwent is not alone. Our neighbouring valley boroughs need support too, and we need a valleys agenda to help us move forward. That is why I will continue to campaign for infrastructure improvements, such as the electrification of the valleys rail network and a new metro system. That would help to improve the access that valley people have to the bigger jobs market on the coast.
We need first-rate guidance for young people to dramatically improve their social mobility and access to the professions, so that they can get well-paid work and do not get trapped in low-skilled, low-paid jobs. We need a range of employers to be given every incentive to make coalfield communities such as Blaenau Gwent their home. Half measures are not enough. We have a strong responsibility to give every young person in Blaenau Gwent the chance to succeed. They do not have to pick coal off the mountain during strikes like we did, but they have their own difficulties in getting a good start in life.
The people in the south Wales valleys towns deserve the best possible support and a new deal for a better future. Only a Labour Government can see that job through.