2020 has surely been one of the most challenging years faced by the country for many decades. In Monmouthshire, it began with some of the worst flooding in living memory and was followed immediately by the Covid-19 disaster. Across the constituency people have dealt with bereavement, job losses or falls in income from businesses that have been unable to operate, damage to property and huge restrictions in civil liberties. The emergency services have worked flat out and there have been many unsung heroes too.
I have been humbled to meet some of those who kept going - and kept the rest of us going through this difficult year: Teachers at Raglan CiW VC Primary School who managed the central hub school for children of key workers when the pandemic was as its height; members of the Royal Gwent Hospital’s respiratory team who set up a groundbreaking rehabilitation programme based in Newport for coronavirus patients; staff at the Monmouthshire County Council depot in Mitchel Troy who worked around the clock filling sandbags for homes threated by flooding; engineers from Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water who carried out an enormous logistical operation to maintain Monmouth’s water supply when the treatment centre in Mayhill was completely destroyed during Storm Dennis, and who rebuilt it in a week! There were many more besides and of course the work continues.
At the start of the year, I began my role as a minister in the Wales Office. Whatever political differences exist between the Welsh Labour Government and Conservative UK Government, I have tried to ensure ministers from all departments have worked together so every part of the UK comes through this crisis. Unfortunately, coronavirus cases are rising again and both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and First Minister Mark Drakeford have had to bring forward further restrictions. I am glad opposition leaders in the Welsh Parliament have been largely supportive of the First Minister and not sought to make political capital from the fact a worrying surge in cases has forced a sudden change in the rules.
In some good news, the vaccine programme is now firmly underway. The pandemic is far from over and there are certain to be further hitches over the coming months. We still face an economic crisis and the most vulnerable will need the support of this government – and they will get it. Nonetheless, it seems we can look forward to a new year with fresh hope. I will continue to do all I can to support the Monmouth constituency as the local MP and our nation as a Wales Office minister. Happy Christmas and here’s to a brighter 2021.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 23 December 2020 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 24 December 2020*