I commend Craig MacKinlay, who made an excellent maiden speech. He has had a bumpy but successful journey here. Like him, I welcome the measures in the Queen’s Speech to ban psychoactive drugs. Mephedrone is a bane in south Wales. I have campaigned on the issue for three years, and it is good that the Home Office wants to address that scourge. I also welcome the expansion of the troubled families initiative, which has been discussed in the Public Accounts Committee in recent years. It is a good thing, and I am pleased that it is being rolled out.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to full employment, but the emphasis on full employment must not be a false promise. That commitment is the focus of my speech.
Let me say how proud I am to represent once again the people of Blaenau Gwent. It is the place where I grew up and the place I call home. Its historical importance in the Chamber cannot be underplayed. I stand on the shoulders of political giants, and it is humbling, but it cannot be enough to come to the House as Blaenau Gwent’s MP and celebrate history. Standing up and looking only at history does Blaenau Gwent a disservice—a disservice to those I follow, from Nye Bevan to Michael Foot; and a disservice to the constituents who look to me to build on their legacy. Instead, all hon. Members are here to serve our constituents, and to help to deliver a better future.
The Government of the past five years were happy to see parts of the country get back on their feet and surge ahead, but that vision of Britain is short-sighted. It is a vision in which parts of the country thrive while large swathes of communities that still need support are left to wither on the vine. Struggling communities cannot be left behind. They need a fair deal to pull themselves up. We should not be content with a two-lane economy, with one heading to the future and one leading to a dead end.
Comparing the economy to a highway is more than just a turn of phrase. We all know that infrastructure, our roads and our transport links are at the heart of any thriving constituency. In that respect, Blaenau Gwent has started a new chapter in the past five years. The Welsh Labour Government have borne the brunt of cuts from Westminster, yet they have driven ahead with improvements to the heads of the valleys road, which will make such a difference to my community. I have campaigned with others for improvements to our valleys rail network, and now electrification is to be delivered as we welcome Ebbw Vale’s new town station.
For Blaenau Gwent, those economic lanes could be literal ones if the Circuit of Wales racetrack proceeds. The jobs and finance in tourism and engineering that it could bring would be game changing in the south Wales valleys.
We can rightly be proud of all those developments, but the Government cannot now say that they have done all they can. When speaking to the people of Blaenau Gwent on the doorstep over the past two months, the refrain was the same: Blaenau Gwent needs jobs—I can see from the hon. Members with doorstep tans around me that many have done the same in their constituencies. The improvements to road and rail that are being delivered are the start. They attract businesses to our areas. They help youngsters and they help skilled workers to get to jobs elsewhere. But that is only the start. The future is not in reach just yet.
We are a proud borough, despite the difficulties of recent decades. We do not lack in culture, in countryside or in community. Our brass bands and our choirs are the envy of the country—I would say that they are a little bit better than those of my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds. Our valleys are breathtaking, and we are on the doorstep of the Brecon Beacons. Even when cuts have threatened to eat at Blaenau Gwent’s community, it finds a way to fight back. Our Market Hall Cinema in Brynmawr has gone from being a casualty of Tory funding squeezes to an award-winning social enterprise.
Those are just a few examples of the beautiful, harmonious, loud and proud Blaenau Gwent. They do not deserve to be abandoned in the pursuit of growth for a few. The Government need to take action to make a difference in Blaenau Gwent. We need an effective Work programme that gets our youngsters and those being retrained back on the career ladder; much better education and training to ensure that we have a skilled workforce for our businesses; and strong economic growth in south-east Wales, not just in south-east England.
I do not want to stand here in five years’ time talking about the past, however noble it may be. It is up to me and to all hon. Members to fight for our communities, not just for what they are, but for what they could be. I want to fight for a better future for my constituency of Blaenau Gwent.