Like so many of my colleagues and constituents, I was deeply moved by the address to Parliament this week from Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. His forthright determination to defend his country makes him a truly fitting leader for the courageous people of Ukraine.
With Putin bombing a hospital full of children and expectant mothers this week, we must redouble our efforts to help the Ukrainians in every way we can. I am pushing for visa-free travel for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict. Ukrainian refugees are mothers with children, and vulnerable older people. Our friends in Poland and other bordering countries are offering heroic levels of assistance to their neighbours, and we are not doing our part to help them yet.
We must also strengthen our sanctions programme. On Monday, I spoke in the House on the Economic Crime: Transparency and Enforcement Bill. I spoke to support my colleague Layla Moran's proposed amendments, which would close large loopholes in the bill that benefit high net worth individuals, including Russian oligarchs. I added my own clause, which would address the lack of transparency around the use of freeports to dodge financial authorities.
While I welcome the Government's decision to phase out Russian oil imports, more must be done to increase our energy security, so we are not at the mercy of hostile states. In addition to increasing our supply of clean energy, we must cut our energy demands if we are to achieve net zero while making our country energy-independent. I wrote to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng this week calling for increased investment in renewable energy, a comprehensive retrofitting scheme for all buildings, and a VAT cut on home insulation, among other measures. You can see my letter to the Business Secretary here.
If you are keen to help supply humanitarian aid to Ukrainian refugees, Richmond residents can see the Council's page of Ukraine response initiatives here. And Kingston residents can see Kingston Council's page of recommendations here.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
Tuesday was International Women's Day, a day to raise awareness of women’s issues and celebrate women's lives and achievements. I was pleased to participate in a number of events to help work towards the goal of a diverse society where women and girls are safe and respected, and everyone's contributions are celebrated and recognised equally.
To mark International Women's Day, I secured a Westminster Hall debate on misogyny and sexual harassment in the Metropolitan Police. It is now a year since the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard. I thought it was important for the House of Commons to discuss the culture and processes inside the police that allowed an officer like Wayne Couzens to remain in post and gain Sarah Everard's trust.
Many of my colleagues spoke powerfully in the debate about the effect this case had on them and their constituents. You can see the text of my full opening speech here and my summary speech at the end of the session here. And you can see a short clip of my opening words here.
Later in the day on Tuesday, I was proud to stand alongside my female Liberal Democrat MPs to present my Gender Pay Gap Bill, which would require the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to review the effectiveness of gender pay gap reporting requirements. We must find out if our current actions on this are having the desired effect.
Fully 70% of our Liberal Democrat MPs are women, and we each introduced a Bill on a women's issue to the House of Commons on Tuesday. Having been the sole female Liberal Democrat MP when I was first elected in 2016, it was a great pleasure to now be joined by 8 other women in presenting our Bills. You can see me presenting mine here.
I was also delighted to introduce a fantastic conference on women’s rights in Afghanistan organised by the Afghan and Central Asian Association. I was inspired by the powerful advocacy of the Afghan women presenting at the conference, despite the many challenges they have faced and are still facing today.
SMART ROAD PRICING
On Wednesday I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the topic of smart road pricing. My view is that any new road pricing scheme must be matched with adequate investment in public transport. In London, that begins with a long-term funding settlement for Transport for London. Constituencies on the outskirts of London like Richmond Park require a dense public transport system that allows them to travel easily and quickly, if we are to decrease car usage.
The further ULEZ expansion that was announced last week must go hand in hand with improving public transport in outer London, including new orbital bus services, reduced fares and restored train timetables as well as an ambitious scrappage scheme for non-compliant vehicles.
MEETING WITH SOUTHWEST LONDON NHS LEADERS
Earlier this week I met with Southwest London NHS leaders, who were keen to update MPs on their work. They reported that they have made good progress on clearing the backlog of elective surgeries. Before the Covid-19 pandemic they had virtually no patients waiting more than a year for surgery. At the height of the problem, in May 2021, they had over 2600. They have now reduced that to about 960, thanks to a massive effort across the area. Strategies included joint referring among all the Southwest London hospitals to pool resources, and four new surgical treatment facilities constructed in the car park at Queen Mary's Hospital. Southwest London now has the lowest number of complex surgeries waiting over 52 weeks.
I was pleased to hear about the progress on clearing this backlog, and was very interested in their ongoing work to better integrate health and care throughout southwest London. I would like to hear that they are applying this level of determination to some of the other areas where care is fragmented and waiting lists are long, especially the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.
I will continue to engage with NHS leaders at all levels about this and will report back to constituents.
ROBIN HOOD WAY FLY TIPPING
I am pleased to let my Coombe area constituents know that after a long campaign we have succeeded in getting a full clean-up of the fly tipping on Robin Hood Way (alongside the A3.) The clear up started on 28 February and works were completed this week.
In terms of long-term deterrence, I asked Kingston Council to add the site to the SCRAP IT scheme led by the Kingston fly-tipping task force . The site will be monitored and signage displaying warnings that fly tipping is a criminal offence will be put up. In addition, the Council is exploring the installation of cameras.
I know how dismayed my constituents who live in that area were by the mess in their road, and am very glad to see it cleaned up at last.
SECONDARY SCHOOL OFFER DAY
I was pleased to hear this week that both Richmond and Kingston councils have made improvements this year on giving pupils places at their preferred schools.
In Kingston, 1,913 children applied for a secondary place for September 2022. 89% were offered one of their top three choices, including 70% offered a place at their first choice secondary school, (compared to last year’s figure of 64%.) There were unfortunately 97 children who have not yet been offered a secondary school place. However, this is fewer than the 158 unplaced children at this time last year. All children are expected to be offered places in the next few months as parents release places they don't intend to take up.
Kingston Councillor and Education Portfolio Holder Diane White writes:
“The number of unplaced children is a reminder of the need to ensure that there are enough permanent school places in the borough. Although it won’t provide places for children this year, the Diocese of Southwark’s proposal to establish a six-form entry secondary school in the borough in September 2025 was approved by the Council last year. This means that, subject to planning permission, there will be greater certainty for local parents in the longer term.”
In Richmond, 85% percent of the 2,173 in-borough applicants have been offered a place at one of their first three preferred secondary schools. 64% of applicants have been offered a place at their first preference secondary school, compared to last year’s figure of 60%. In Richmond there are currently 70 children without an offer of a secondary school place, compared with 114 at this time last year.
This reduction in unplaced children has been partly achieved by making it possible for Richmond Park Academy, Christ’s School and Grey Court to make additional offers this year, with extra classes to be accommodated as needed by temporary classrooms. In Richmond, as in Kingston, all unplaced children are expected to be offered places in the coming months. Parents will have received detailed information with their offer letter about the procedures for children who have not been given their first choice immediately, and for children currently unplaced. If you are in this position, please follow the advice very carefully. If you need help understanding the system, you are welcome to contact me on email@example.com for assistance.
All of our secondary schools in Kingston and Richmond are Ofsted rated as either Good or Outstanding. They are all well run and provide a strong and balanced secondary education. Parents should feel confident that all of our 11 year olds will find themselves in a good school come September.
RICHMOND PARK FEATURED ON NEW TELEVISION SERIES
The Royal Parks played a starring role in the this week's episode of the new four-part documentary series, 'Secrets of The Royal Gardens', which aired on Wednesday on More4. The episode reveals behind-the-scenes insights into the secrets of the Royal Parks, including appearances by Richmond Park's beloved red deer. You can see a trailer and more details on The Royal Parks website. Or you can stream Episode 2 of Secrets of the Royal Gardens here. (You may need to create a free streaming account with Channel 4 in order to watch.)
TACKLING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS
The Richmond upon Thames Community Safety Partnership has approved a new strategy to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in the borough. Richmond Council has fully supported this strategy and provided additional funding of £139,000 to deliver a broader approach focusing on the safety of women and girls at night.
The strategy, which has been informed by survivors and victims and developed with key partners, is based on a preventative model and plans to deliver the cultural and behavioural shifts needed to deliver long-term change in men’s attitudes to women. The strategy is supported by a comprehensive action plan which sets out partnership working to deliver on these priorities, through activities including system-wide training and education, as well as ensuring frontline services delivered to victims are coordinated.
EASTER ACTIVITIES AT HAM YOUTH CENTRE
Ham Youth Centre has written to tell me about their Easter holiday activities for kids. Young residents will be able to choose from a wide range of exciting activities and workshops designed for 10 to 19 year olds.
The courses will run from Monday 6 to Thursday 14 April. All activities are free and are run by qualified youth workers tutors and coaches. The youth club is open from 12 to 4pm each day with young people allowed to drop in any time. Healthy lunches will be provided.
Throughout the week there will be lots of exciting activities such as table tennis, arts and crafts, cooking, pool, computer games, badminton, dodgeball and basketball. There are also a number of additional courses on offer, which must be booked as spaces are limited.
GREEN RECOVERY INITIATIVES
A total of £300,000 has been awarded vb Kingston Council to 18 local businesses for innovative initiatives that support growth and help develop the borough’s green economy. The money has been made available through the Council’s new Recovery, Adaptation, and Innovation Support for Enterprise (RAISE) grant scheme. The funding will support the borough’s post-pandemic economic recovery and help take climate action. The successful initiatives range from funding staff bicycles and e-bicycles to allow carers to attend calls in a carbon-neutral manner, to saving honeybee trees which otherwise would have faced destruction.
MAYOR'S COMMUNITY AWARDS
I want to offer my congratulations to everyone who received one of the Mayor of Kingston's Community Awards, celebrating exceptional residents who have given up their time to help others over the last year. Award winners came from all across the borough - including a special 'Sports Award' for a nine year old who walked every single road in Kingston throughout lockdown Find out more about all of the winners.
SEWING ANGELS SALE
The Sewing Angels will be having a sale in north Kingston on Sunday 20 March, Mothering Sunday, in aid of local charities. The sale will be from 11am - 2pm outside Spraggs, on the corner of Burton Rd and Kings Road, KT2 5JE. The Angels will be selling a selection of Mother's Day gifts, including a 'secret' £5 stall for children to select a gift, hand made Easter egg holders, creme egg knitted bunnies, Easter bonnets, hand made cards for all occasions, summer themed items, bags, aprons etc. There will also be the opportunity to pre- order Jubilee bunting in advance of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. All proceeds will be donated to Kingston Churches Action against Homelessness and MIND in Kingston.