On Wednesday, I spoke in the debate on the Finance Bill in Parliament. The Bill, which would enact the measures announced by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement, is opposed by the Liberal Democrats. It is a largely deceptive piece of legislation which claims to be ‘cutting taxes’, whilst in reality, maintaining measures such as the income tax threshold freeze otherwise known as the ‘stealth tax’.
I therefore attempted to amend the Bill on several points, the first being to block water companies who dump sewage in our rivers from being able to access ‘full expensing’, a form of tax deduction, unless they take concrete action to stop polluting our rivers. I also tabled a further amendment to force the Government to report on HMRC staffing provisions, something which would help crack down on tax avoidance, but this was blocked by Conservative MPs.
CRIME ON THE TUBE
Earlier this week, research conducted by my team and reported by the BBC, found that over 900 sexual assaults were committed on the London Underground in the last year. The figures, which also showed thousands of robberies and assaults had been committed, are yet more evidence of the need for my campaign to return to a more community oriented approach to policing. Officers should be visible and present in public spaces, rather than solely focusing on reacting to reports of criminal activity.
Shockingly, Police Community Support Officer numbers across the capital are down 32% since 2015, and we seem to be stuck in a political battle between the Mayor of London and Home Secretary as to who shoulders the blame. Rather than yet more rhetoric and arguments, both sides should get around the table, devise a strategy to reduce crime and start putting our communities first.
Last year, both the London Borough of Hammersmith (LBHF) and Fulham and Ministers from the Department for Transport (DfT) stated that the carriageway across Hammersmith Bridge would be reopened to cyclists early in 2024. We have been beyond patient with both LBHF and the DfT, and I am extremely concerned they will treat this deadline the same way they have treated all other previous deadlines.
As such, this week, I tabled a series of written to the Minister for Roads and Local Transport, Guy Opperman MP, seeking clarity on the status of the stabilisation works, the timeframe for a partial reopening, the Government's position on a toll, and crucially it's commitment to completing these works. TfL is slowly returning to financial viability, however, it is still not in a position to directly finance the works in their entirety. This means that only Ministers have both the authority and the funds to pay for the repairs should either LBHF or TfL not be able to make good on their commitments.
I have also written to Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of LBHF, with two requests. First, clarity on when the carriageway will be reopened, second, if he will confirm his support for my campaign to reinstate a new pedicab scheme across Hammersmith Bridge. So far, my campaign has gained the support of representatives from the Mayor's Office, the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, and Peers from both sides of the House of Lords. I intend to meet with Department for Transport Ministers at the end of the month, and with both Mr Cowan's and the DfT's support, we will be one step closer to ensuring all residents can cross the bridge quickly and easily.
TRAFFIC IN NORTH KINGSTON
This week, many Kingston residents have been subjected to near total gridlock at times as a series of roadworks on the Richmond Road and Clifton Road have reduced traffic in some places to a single lane. This comes on the back of a series of emergency roadworks by Thames Water which have caused serious congestion across the community over the past few months.
While I do not challenge the need to conduct emergency works, I would like to see far better coordination between the agencies responsible. In the past, TfL have alerted drivers travelling through the constituency that they should avoid certain routes wherever possible and, at my urging, tech providers like Google and Apple have rerouted their guidance apps away from the area.
As such, I have reached out to both TfL and these companies to ask that they take the same action for Kingston over the coming days and work to coordinate their efforts in the future. If you would like to know the status of the works near you, I would suggest visiting this website to find out when they are expected to be complete.
SUPPORTING UKRAINE'S CHILDREN
I am extremely pleased to offer my support to the Rotary Club of Kew Gardens' fundraiser for Ukraine. Over the past two years, the club has raised almost £52,000 in total (with £37,000 from crowdfunding) towards the reconstruction effort in the country, providing three schools with storage batteries in case of power cuts, 102 laptops to children and staff, and other essential educational items.
This exciting project to assist the education of schoolchildren who have had and continue to witness traumatic experiences is being followed by a new project. With an initial funding of 20,000 US Dollars that is being supported by additional funds we are raising, the club plans to start with one school that was severely damaged and equip the science laboratories plus an engineering department with first class equipment and machines so that it will become outstanding in science and engineering.
While continuing to support the Ukrainian Government's defence of the country is essential, it is vital that the Ukrainian people have a functioning state at the end of this conflict. Alongside military and humanitarian aid, a huge effort will be needed to rebuild Ukraine. This project is a fantastic start and I would urge anyone who is able to give what you can to this excellent cause.
All work related to the fundraiser is voluntary or self funded so 100% of all donations are spent on items to help rebuild Ukraine.
Pictured: Left and centre: schools in Ukraine after the invasion, Right: evidence of Russian shelling in Ukrainian communities (All photos taken during member's of the Rotary Club's visit to Ukraine)
2023 COMMUNITY HEROES AWARDS
Do you know of an inspiring person, organisation or business that has made Richmond upon Thames and their local community a better place? Help recognise them by nominating them for the 2023 Community Heroes Awards!
The awards programme is a chance to celebrate and thank the people in Richmond upon Thames who are willing go above and beyond to improve people’s lives and their communities, without expecting anything in return.
There are 10 award categories ranging from business's who have contributed to the community to environmentalists and young person of the year. Click here to find out more and submit a nomination.
THE MET'S NEW PLAN
On Thursday 18th of January, Acting Superintendent Christopher Scammell of the Borough Command Unit, Metropolitan Police Service, will speak to the Richmond Society about the new Metropolitan Police Plan for London and the Borough.
This will be an excellent opportunity to learn more about what the Met is doing to improve and keep us safe, and for members and guests to raise issues on local policing. Tickets are free for Members of the Richmond Society and cost £7 for non-members or guests. Tickets are available on Eventbrite here.
KINGFISHER LEISURE CENTRE PUBLIC EXHIBITION
Tomorrow, between 1 pm and 4 pm Kingston Council will be holding a public exhibition event at Kingston Quaker Centre, Fairfield East, Kingston upon Thames, KT1 2PT. The event is a great chance to meet the team working on the project and learn more about the proposed concept design.
The outline plans for the new centre include an 8 lane swimming pool and a teaching pool with spectator seating, as well as a four court sports hall, studio spaces, gym, squash courts, and a cafe. Reflecting a new business model it also includes features such as a wellbeing suite and spa facility alongside a larger soft play area than in the previous project.
You can find out more about the event, and find the dates for other exhibitions across the borough here.