Today in Parliament, we had the rare opportunity to contribute to a Welsh Grand Committee debate. Sadly I was called in to the Commons on other business so I wasn’t able to speak – but I had planned to raise so many points about our local area.
You can read the speech I had planned – including some bits in Welsh – below:
It is a real privilege to speak in today’s debate, and I am absolutely thrilled to see the return of the Welsh Grand Committee after so many years.
I want to preface the beginning of this speech by putting on the record that I am very much a Welsh learner and so I apologise in advance for any incorrect pronunciations in my Welsh contributions to follow.
Mae cadw’r iaith Gymraeg yn fyw yn gwbl hanfodol i hunaniaeth Cymru yn y DU a’r gymuned ryngwladol ehangach, ac rwyf wrth fy modd bod yr Uwch-bwyllgor Cymreig yn rhoi cyfle i mi amlygu hynny.
Ers cael fy ethol yn 2019, rwyf bob amser wedi dweud fy mod wedi ymrwymo i fod yn llais uchel a balch dros y rheiny sydd yn byw ym Mhontypridd a Thaf Elái.
Mae heddiw yn dro cyntaf i mi, yn siarad yn Gymraeg, ond gallaf sicrhau Aelodau a chofnodwyr Hansard fel ei gilydd – y bydd fy sylwadau yn fyr.
Mae’r drafodaeth heddiw yn gyfle gwych i mi ganu clodydd y datblygiadau rhagorol a’r twf o ran seilwaith yr ydym yn ei weld ar draws Pontypridd.
Mae gennym gymaint i ddiolch i Lywodraeth ragorol Llafur Cymru amdano, yn cynnwys eu pecyn cymorth busnes i helpu yn ystod y pandemig.
Cyhoeddwyd eu pecyn £450 miliwn anhygoel o gymorth i’r sector lletygarwch, hamdden a thwristiaeth yn Rhagfyr 2020 a dyma’r cynnig mwyaf hael a wnaed yn y DU.
Wrth gwrs, mae’n rhaid i ni gofio bod hwn yn gyfnod pan gafodd y sector ei ddifrodi’n sylweddol gan coronafeirws.
Fel cydweithwyr ar draws y Tŷ, cefais fy llethu gan geisiadau taer gan fwytai, tafarnau, caffis a champfeydd oedd i gyd angen cymorth yn ystod y cyfnod anodd hwn, a gwn o brofiad personol gymaint oedd yn dibynnu ar y pecyn a ddarparwyd gan Lywodraeth Llafur Cymru.
But I’m pleased to announce that the good work hasn’t stopped there – and thankfully for those listening I’m now switching back to the language I have a much better grasp of!
In Pontypridd we’ve seen huge changes on our high streets and I’m so proud at how my community have managed to bounce back through a very difficult period indeed.
Looking at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and changes in the way we shop and use our highstreets in the years before, it has been incredible to see people and businesses across the community really re-imagining what our highstreets can be and how they can serve our communities.
In Ponty Town we’ve seen a real explosion in the number of cafes, restaurants and bars making use of the space – and while I know I can’t list every single one, I will give a quick shout out to some of the incredible places I’ve visited in recent months.
From the award-winning Janet’s Northern Chinese in Ponty market, to the new Gatto Lounge – both of which I visited with my team in the autumn – to the new No. 12 cocktail bar which is handily located just next to my office, we really are seeing a huge growth in what our highstreets have to offer.
And old favourites, like Alfreds and Princes are drawing in more and more people than ever, especially with the pandemic encouraging people to support local businesses where they can.
Crucial to this success is the hard work of the fantastic Pontypridd Bid team who have done so much to support businesses in recent months.
Indeed, across my constituency our many small businesses have had to get creative over the past few years.
As ever there are too many to mention, but a handful include the brilliant Kookoo Madame in Ponty, The Pink Zebra in Llantrisant, Glamorgan Brewery, Bragdy Twt Lol in Treforest, Best Buds by Samara florists in Tonyrefail, Bradley’s Coffee in Talbot Green, Cortile Coffee in Pontypridd Town, and The Delicatessen in Pontyclun.
And special mentions must go to the incredible efforts of Dawn Parkin and the team at Interlink who fundraised to support people at the beginning of the pandemic, to the team at Beefy’s Baps who have helped the elderly by distributing free food for those in need.
And it isn’t just small businesses who have been at the heart of our covid recovery, our fantastic local tourist destinations have also helped to lead the way in our road to normality.
The Royal Mint in Llantrisant – who at the beginning of the pandemic rapidly went from making coins to PPE to then acting as a major covid testing site for much of the pandemic – really is a fascinating place to visit, especially whilst they’re making coins to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this year.
So too is the Nantgarw China Works, which I recently visited alongside the Welsh Government Minister for Arts and Sport, Dawn Bowden MS.
Investing in local tourist destinations like these is a crucial part of supporting communities across Wales in their recovery from the pandemic.
And long term, sustainable changes are also crucial to towns and communities like mine if they are to continue to be fit for purpose for our residents in the long run.
For example, I’ve started to see Pontypridd as something of a transport hub – we play host to the new Transport for Wales office right in the centre of town, and this combined with our strengths in Aviation and Engineering and fantastic local coach operators like Ferris Holidays and Edwards Coaches bring vital jobs and infrastructure to our community.
And whilst we know the Leader of the House has no idea what’s going on in Welsh Politics – with thanks to my Hon Friend the Member for Cardiff West in the Commons last week for his brilliant question – I want to briefly talk about the importance of devolution to my constituents.
All Members participating in this debate today understand the importance of devolution and working closely with our counterparts in Welsh Government.
Our Labour Government in Wales has worked hard throughout the pandemic to take a cautious approach – leading by example, unlike some people – and working to support everyone through the significant challenges we have faced.
I’ve been in Parliament a few years now and my experiences as a Welsh MP and as former Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland have made it clear to me that for much of the UK Government, the devolved nations are a distant second thought.
The less said about the Prime Minister the better at the moment, but his failure to wish Wales well – alongside England and Scotland – for the 2020 Euros was yet another slip-up in frankly a long line of errors during his premiership.
And we all remember well the controversy that surrounded the UK Government’s disastrous attempt to cut free school meals for children in England– a policy I’d hope Members from all political persuasions could see was an appalling idea from the get-go.
Luckily for children and families in my area, our fantastic Labour-led local authority Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council have been providing parents with the vital cash needed to put food on the table for children for some time now.
We’ve also seen the Welsh Labour Government boldly invest in our creative sector in a way that continues to be missed by the Chancellor in Westminster.
Just last week they announced an additional £15.4 million to support the arts and cultural sector through Covid recovery in the third round of the Cultural Recovery Fund.
Clearly the Welsh Government recognises – in a way that seems to be missed in England – the unique value of our brilliant local creative sector across Wales.
And of course it would be remiss of me to speak about the creative sector without making reference to the news we all heard yesterday about this UK Government’s decision to effectively end the BBC as we know it.
The consequences of freeing the BBC license fee and the idea of a new funding model in 2027 could have huge ramifications for the future of the brilliant Welsh-language channel, S4C, too.
As colleagues will be aware, S4C is the fourth-oldest terrestrial television channel in Wales after BBC One, ITV and BBC Two – and it is a hugely important institution in Wales which must be maintained.
But we also all know that in Wales, our proud cultural heritage is not just focused on television.
In Pontypridd and across RCT we have some incredible musicians – including our fabulous Welsh icon, Sir Tom Jones – but there are smaller groups and organisations who have hugely benefited from Welsh Government support too.
From RCT’s Cory Band to our very own Dance Crazy Studio based in Llantwit Fardre and the Green Rooms in Treforest, I’m pleased to report that our creative industries locally are still alive and kicking despite an extremely difficult few years – and long may they continue.
To conclude, it is of course undeniable that there is more work to be done and we are not yet out of the woods in terms of coronavirus and its implications for our local communities across Wales.
What is clear however is that the union – our United Kingdom – is at its strongest when we are able to celebrate and respect our differences but unite against adversity.
I’m confident that the First Minister in Wales and Welsh Labour are the team Wales needs to see us through the pandemic and beyond.
And I will of course continue to work in partnership with them over the coming months and years because only by doing so will we able to truly rebuild a thriving, ambitious and successful nation out of this crisis.