I would like to wish my Chinese constituents a very happy Chinese New Year today. I am sorry there is no parade in London this year, but the London Chinatown Chinese Association is organising a virtual celebration that families can enjoy from home via its YouTube channel on Sunday.
A number of my constituents have written to me about the closure of Sun Inn Flowers in Barnes. I was so sorry that they’ve had to close during the pandemic but am delighted that they’re able to offer an online click and collect service. Don't forget to place your order for Valentine's Day!
The message this week from health authorities is quite a positive one: case rates in both Richmond and Kingston boroughs have dropped below 200/100,000, and are continuing to decline. We will need several more weeks of improvement before we can say the second wave is over, but things are going in the right direction. Thank you for everything you have done to reduce transmission rates here.
With schools on half term break next week, I want to remind everyone that we are still in lockdown. Families are not allowed to travel around the country or mix with other households, unless you are in an established childcare or support bubble with them.
The vaccination program continues to go well. The NHS has vaccinated about 1.5 million people in London so far, and believes that everyone in the top four priority groups has now been invited for their vaccine. If you have not yet been invited for a vaccination, and you are over 70, or on the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable list, or you work in the health or care sector, please contact the NHS to book an appointment. You can also book a vaccination by calling 119 free of charge. If you are not registered with a GP, you can do so on the same page. I am especially asking those who work in the care sector to get vaccinated as soon as possible, to help protect those who are vulnerable.
If you have had a vaccination, please remember that the vaccine takes time to take effect, and that we do not yet know whether you can transmit the virus even when you are yourself protected by the vaccine. So it is vital that all those who have been vaccinated continue to follow the rules on staying home, social distancing, mask wearing and hand hygiene until they are lifted for everyone.
PAC HEARING ON PPE PROCUREMENT
The Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, released a report this week on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) procurement. The report revealed that the Department for Health and Social Care’s decision to prioritise hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic meant social care providers were left exposed by lack of PPE. The report, which you can read in full here, highlights the appalling situation of staff having to care for people with COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 without sufficient PPE to protect themselves or others from infection.
At a time of monumental national emergency, there were some absolutely shocking practices taking place. Some of the reports we heard in the Public Accounts Committee, of front-line staff badly let down by an ill-prepared government, were utterly harrowing. This process was mishandled on many levels and it's important that lessons are learned from what happened. The Public Accounts Committee will certainly return to this issue.
In this week’s PAC session, I questioned the head of the NAO, the Comptroller and Auditor General, about the difficulties associated with carrying out effective audits during a pandemic. He revealed that they hadn’t been able to carry out an effective audit of the PPE inventory because they didn’t know where it all was! See my video below for more details. The PAC will continue to hold the government to account for wasteful spending on PPE.
The Government took some steps to address the ongoing cladding scandal this week, but I want to assure constituents who are caught up in it that I know the Government's offer does not go far enough. I will continue to push the Government to give tenants and leaseholders in buildings under 18m the same consideration as those in taller buildings. My constituents should not have to absorb sky high remediation costs to compensate for poor fire safety regulation.
MEETING WITH MET POLICE COMMANDER
On Wednesday I had a very constructive meeting with Chief Superintendent Elisabeth Chapple, Leader of Met Police's South West Command Unit, which comprises the boroughs of Kingston, Merton, Richmond and Wandsworth.
I was informed that all, overall, almost all types of crimes are down, with the pockets of crime that are being reported including vehicle theft and thefts of catalytic converters. CS Chapple and her team are starting work now to pre-empt anti-social behaviour problems this summer following the issues we experienced last year in Canbury Gardens, Richmond Riverside, Richmond Green and Barnes Riverside.
Elsewhere, mental health remains a big problem: domestic abuse and child protection are two issues that are being watched closely.
SMALL BUSINESS SURGERIES
Today I had the pleasure of speaking with some local small business owners about the challenges they’ve faced as a result of Brexit. Despite the horrendous situations many have found themselves in, I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with them directly and gain first-hand insight. It’s clear that there have been huge issues relating to customs checks on exports and I fear we’ll see similar issues with imports as of April. Over the next few weeks I’ll be lobbying the relevant government departments to urge them to introduce measures that will protect our small businesses and relieve them of the bureaucratic obstacles they’re facing.
Next week I’ll be holding another session with a focus on Covid-19. This session will be on Friday February 19 at 12:00. To register, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
HALF TERM FUN AT HOME
There are lots of fun activities planned throughout half-term for children, young people and their families in Richmond. Achieving for Children has a programme of virtual events to keep young people busy, including art, sports, music, parkour, cooking and photography sessions, as well as wellbeing support.
Some of the other activities on offer locally include:
Make your own pottery kit at home with the Happy Potter in Teddington.
Make your own tote bag with Royal Parks
Young photographer competition with Marble Hill House.
"Starry, Starry Night" – online workshop with the Museum of Richmond about the universe and constellations
‘Cover Story’ -- a book review competition for young people aged 11-14 from RIchmond Libraries
For more information about activities during half-term, go to: www.visitrichmond.co.uk
FREE SCHOOL MEALS OVER HALF TERM
Children from Richmond's lowest-income families will receive school meal vouchers this February half term. Richmond Council has continued to fund school holiday food support packages for vulnerable children, meaning that children from the borough’s lowest income families don’t go hungry over school breaks. Families who require additional assistance, can also apply for funding from:
This week Kingston Council has been celebrating their amazing apprentices and highlighting the benefits apprenticeships can offer. This year's theme is 'Train, Retain and Achieve', celebrating the diversity of opportunity and value that apprenticeships bring, and how they can help individuals and employers build their future. There is a wide range of apprenticeship opportunities available at Kingston Council.
You can find out more on their website.
HEALTHWATCH KINGSTON - EVENTS FOR RESIDENTS
Healthwatch is an independent champion for people who use health and social care services. Their locally based organisations make sure that service providers put people at the heart of care. Their aim is to understand the needs, experiences and concerns of people who use health and social care services and to speak out on their behalf.
Kingston residents are invited to join Healthwatch Kingston's open meeting on Tuesday 16 February to find out more about the COVID-19 vaccination programme, the impact of 'long COVID' and much more. Or if you are interested in learning more about what we can all do to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, join the Time to Change Kingston Champions on Wednesday 17 February from 4-6pm on Zoom (Meeting ID: 851 9743 8288 and passcode: 729942).
IMPROVING KINGSTON COUNCIL'S DIGITAL SERVICES
Kingston Council would like to talk with residents, local businesses and organisations about their online experiences with Kingston Council. They are conducting research across a range of services in order to learn what our users need and to understand how to deliver services that work for everyone.
If you would like to take part in research to help improve their website and online services, please complete this short form.