It was wonderful to welcome President Zelenskyy to Britain this week. I had the privilege to hear him address Parliament where he thanked Britain for all of the support Ukraine has been given.
As Keir Starmer said, as a country we've always been at our best when we stand up to tyrannical aggressors, threatening their neighbours and peace.
That's why the Labour Party helped found NATO and why our commitment to NATO is as unshakeable today as it was back then.
The tragedy unfolding in Turkey and Syria
The tragedy that is unfolding in Turkey and Syria is immense. With a reported 21,000 deaths so far, I want to send my sincerest condolences to everyone with loved ones who have died or are missing due to the earthquakes.
I know for the large Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian diaspora communities in the UK, that this is a very uncertain and distressing time as they wait for news back home.
Given the close ties of family and friendship between our countries, it is essential that the UK steps up and plays it part.
I want to send my heartfelt thanks to the search and rescue teams that are already flying out to Turkey as we speak, including eight volunteers from West Midlands Fire Service. They are truly heroes, springing to action to help save lives within hours of the terrible news.
In the coming days and weeks, it is essential that the UK deploys more support to assist a swift and comprehensive humanitarian response. We know that in these kinds of emergencies, the first 72 hours are crucial.
It is essential that the Government does not let pressures on the aid budget hamper a swift and effective response. But yet again we are seeing chaos within the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office due to development experts not being allowed to get on with their job.
Despite this, I am thankful that we live in such a generous country. The DEC appeal which was launched just yesterday to support humanitarian efforts has raised £30 million in just one day.
National Apprenticeship Week
Over the last decade, new apprenticeship programmes have declined by 3,930 in Birmingham and incredibly by as many as 21,610 across the wider West Midlands region. The Conservatives have failed to ensure people have the skills to meet business need in order to tackle the national skills shortages.
I’m appalled that the West Midlands has lost over 21,000 apprenticeship opportunities. This is a fundamental part of the regional mayor’s responsibilities. What is the point of having a Conservative Mayor if he isn’t going to engage with his own Government and stand up for our region?
First it was the investment zones which were abandoned, then we were passed over in favour of party politics over the levelling up fund and now our region is being further let down by a lack of ambition in respect of skills and training.
Young people and adults are aspirational for their families’ futures and want to learn new skills to get new jobs and progress at work. But they are being let down, unable to find training opportunities. Labour will reverse this trend, giving businesses the flexibility they need to train people up with new skills, from digital technologies to the green skills needed to tackle climate change.
I’m proud that the next Labour Government will give businesses the flexibility they are asking for, in order to train their workforce and deliver growth. We will start by turning the Tories’ failed apprenticeships levy into a ‘Growth and Skills Levy’.
The Conservatives’ levy has seen millions of pounds unspent on skills and training, even as businesses report growing skills shortages. Labour will give businesses flexibility and would ensure this money is directed at a broad range of training courses which will include English, maths and digital skills.
And, as part of a wider package of reform, Labour will establish a new taskforce, Skills England, to drive forward a national mission, delivering the skills needed for the next decade. This will be driven by pushing power and decisions on skills spending out from Westminster to local communities.
Speaking at the Centre for Global Development
This week, it was an honour to be able to speak at the Centre for Global Development. It was fantastic to have aconversation withSir Mark Lowcock, who is the former UN Relief Chief, the Department for International Development (DFID)’s longest serving Permanent Secretary and current Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development.
We spoke about the UK’s role in development with topics ranging from climate to conflict-affected countries, Britain’s soft power and place in the world order.
Out and about in the community
This week I had the pleasure of meeting with Paul Sansom, headteacher Chad Vale Primary. I was really pleased to see the school acting as leaders in active travel having joined the Modeshift STARs programme which encourage children and parents to walk, cycle and take public transport to school. They have also taken part in the Junior PCSOs programme to challenge poor parking and behaviour.
I was outraged this week to hear that West Midlands Police has been asked by this Government to look after prisoners in Police custody cells due to acute overcrowding in prisons. We already have a shortage of officers, and we need those that we have out on the streets, not acting as prison guards. The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Foster, is absolutely right. It's outrageous the Government has the nerve to ask.
I also visited Elmhurst Ballet School. This is a true asset in our constituency. It was wonderful to see and hear the school's philosophy that talent is classless. While it’s one of the top ballet schools in the world, they offer a genuine commitment to providing opportunities to young people regardless of their backgrounds. It was incredible to hear about everything that is happening ahead of celebrations of their 100th year.
The Government is looking to offer money to councils to buy homes to provide temporary accommodation for Afghan and Ukrainian refugees. This will be discussed by Birmingham city council next week as a bid for funding is to be prepared. An initial 30 homes could be bought under the scheme with the potential for another 20 to be added at a later date. However, I am concerned that the Government is giving some money to house asylum seekers but offers no money to support increased pressure on schools, GP practices and other services. Birmingham will always be a welcoming city, and proudly so, but the burden needs to be shared equally with the rest of the UK.
And finally, we have the Mobile Household Recycling Centre returning to Edgbaston. The centre will be available between 7am – 12 pm on Elvetham Road, B15 2LZ, on Tuesday 21 February.
Preet Kaur Gill MP
Birmingham Edgbaston covering Bartley Green, Edgbaston, Harborne and Quinton