Here's the latest Argus column by Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith:

THE local elections were a success for Labour across Gwent, especially here in Blaenau Gwent where we took back control of the council.

Well done to the candidates, to local Labour party leader Steve Thomas and the whole team for putting in the hard yards and running such an effective campaign.

Listening to people on the doorstep over the last few weeks, the most pressing national issue remains the cost-of-living crisis.

Understandably, people are worried sick about their bills and the soaring cost of their weekly shop.

MP colleagues from across Britain will have been hearing the same thing.

It would therefore stand to reason that the headline news from last week’s Queen’s Speech should have been the government’s plan to help people at this desperately difficult time.

We needed a plan, an emergency budget including a windfall tax on energy companies to relieve the pressure.

We got nothing of the sort.

The Queen’s Speech was the government’s opportunity to act and reassure those who are struggling that help is coming.

Not addressing the crisis is a major failure by the Conservatives and it is ordinary families that will continue to suffer.

  • My office has been inundated with messages from people affected by long delays at the passport office.

I am concerned by what I’m hearing and dismayed by how difficult it is proving to get hold of anyone to help.

A member of my staff was on hold for four hours last week while trying to raise urgent cases on behalf of constituents.

I raised these issues with home secretary Priti Patel, urging her to get on top of the problem and ensure the backlog is cleared.

Her answer was not especially helpful - asking that I forward on any problematic cases I have.

I also raised it in an Urgent Question to the Home Office Minister - setting out the mess the government has made of this.

After years of Covid, families want to get away. Instead, they are dealing with stress, uncertainty, long queues at the passport office, and hours on hold to helplines.

And, during a cost-of-living crisis, telling people to spend an extra £100 per person to fast-track their application is rubbing salt into the wound.

The government had plenty of time to prepare for an inevitable surge in passport applications when travel restrictions lifted.

This was avoidable. It isn’t good enough.