Two things have dominated recent times here in Erdington: the battle to save the GKN plant on the Chester Road and the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan.
Ever since Melrose announced they were planning to close the historic GKN plant, we have fought hard to establish an alternative to closure.
This has included securing debates in Parliament, meetings with Government Ministers, and rallies in opposition to closure. The GKN workers and their trade union, Unite, have also presented an alternative business proposal to Melrose, but they rejected it out of hand. Furthermore, Melrose has refused numerous invitations by Government to join talks over the future of the plant, instead reaffirming their decision to close and export production to the continent.
We must avoid the closure of this plant at all costs, as losing the factory that sits at the heart of one of the poorest constituencies in the country would be a hammer blow to our local community. There are many families who have had multiple generations work at the plant, enhancing their life chances.
Furthermore, the 519 jobs at the Chester Road plant are highly skilled jobs, the loss of this expertise to mainland Europe would be a betrayal of the British national interest at just a time when we are looking to increase our domestic manufacturing capacity.
The workers have been left with no choice but to take industrial action, which is set to commence Monday 27th September. They have explored all alternatives, but Melrose are simply refusing to engage. The workers balloted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, by a margin of 93.1%. One thing is for sure, the workforce has my full and unequivocal support.
Now, to the situation in Afghanistan.
Like many of you, I have been following developments in Afghanistan with horror. The speed with which the Taliban were able to take control of the country following the US withdrawal was frightening. There is no doubt it took everyone by surprise, but we should have been much better prepared for what happened.
The scenes in Afghanistan are truly heart-breaking. Families have been torn apart, people forced from their homes, and millions are now living in fear for their lives.
My team and I have been working tirelessly over the past few weeks trying to help as many Erdington residents and their families as possible escape. We have had some successes, including one Erdington resident and his family of 8 with their disabled son in a wheelchair. However, despite our best efforts, there are still many eligible people left behind.
Now that evacuation flights have finished, our attention must turn to diplomatic routes to ensure those remaining British and eligible Afghan citizens are allowed to leave the country. We owe a duty not only to British nationals, but to every Afghan citizen who has helped allied forces over the past 20 years. They risked so much to help us, now we must not abandon them in their time of need.