On Wednesday, I participated in a debate on the Procurement Bill, which reforms existing public procurement rules derived largely from the EU. Public procurement accounts for around 1/3 of all public spending. It is essential that we have a transparent, effective procurement system with sufficient safeguards in place to ensure value for money for the taxpayer, especially at a time of straitened public spending.
I welcome aspects of the Bill that will speed up and simply the procurement process and create greater opportunities for SMEs. However, this legislation fails to ban so-called ‘VIP lanes’. Furthermore, it is not aligned to our climate and environment goals, and does not give sufficient regard to social value.
The Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, found that the bypassing of the usual procurement rules via VIP lanes during the pandemic saw £3.8 billion of taxpayers’ money handed over to 51 suppliers of PPE, many closely tied to Conservative Ministers and their friends. The Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment to ban VIP lanes in the Lords, but this was voted down by the Conservatives. We will be looking to re-table this amendment in the Commons.
ENERGY SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES
The Government has announced that the current energy support package for businesses and other non-domestic consumers will be significantly reduced from 1 April 2023 onwards. The scheme will change from a price cap to a discount on wholesale rates. This will reduce support by around 95% for a typical pub and around 85% for other small businesses. It has been reported that the average small business will receive just £50 in support over the next year. For full details of this new package please click here.
Like many business groups, I am very concerned that this reduction will cause thousands of firms to go under. After months of declining business conditions and soaring running costs, this is a terrible time for the Government to slash support. I have written a letter to the Business Secretary, alongside all of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, to raise our concerns. You can view this letter here.
There is also an issue with commercial energy suppliers failing to pass down wholesale price reductions to consumers. I am pleased that the Government has instructed Ofgem to look into this.
If you are a business-owner or publican in Richmond Park, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office for clarification of the support offered by the Government.
UPDATE FOR HOUSEHOLDS ON HEAT NETWORKS
Households belonging to heat networks and those with other forms of communal energy provision receive support through the business scheme. This cost saving is then passed down from the managing organisation to the consumer.
Following the Government’s announcement that the support offered to businesses will be significantly reduced, I have written to the Energy Secretary alongside Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham, to ask what this will mean for heat network households. You can read a copy of this letter here.
The Government has repeatedly promised that domestic consumers without a standard energy contract would receive ‘equivalent’ support to other households. It is vital that they honour this commitment. If you would like to join my mailing list to receive updates about the support offered to such households, please send an email to email@example.com with the subject title ‘heat networks’.
LESS SURVIVABLE CANCERS AWARENESS DAY
On Wednesday, I was invited by a number of constituents to attend a drop-in event in Parliament to mark Less Survivable Cancers Awareness Day. This event was organised by the Less Survivable Cancer Trust (LSCT) which represents six less survivable cancers - lung, liver, brain, oesophageal, pancreatic and stomach - with an average five-year survival rate of just 16%. A UK-wide survey carried out by the LSCT has found that awareness of the symptoms of these cancers is as low as 1%.
As well as a focus on symptom awareness, the LSCT is calling for all UK governments to commit to increasing survival rates for less survivable cancers to 28% by 2029 by eliminating avoidable delays in diagnosis and proactively investing in research and treatment options.
Early diagnosis saves lives. I would encourage constituents to find out about the symptoms of these types of cancer and contact your GP if concerned. More information is available here.
SOUTHWEST LONDON NHS
On Monday, I tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament to pay tribute to the fantastic work of the South West London NHS, and other local care providers who deliver such a high standard of service here.
The Motion also called for the Government to make a fair pay offer to NHS staff which rewards them for their work, encourages them to stay and attracts new people to the health service. My Motion has been co-signed by both Munira Wilson MP and Ed Davey MP. You can read the full text if it here.
In yesterday's Public Accounts Committee hearing, I took the opportunity to question the Director General of the BBC, Tim Davie, regarding the proposed reforms to the BBC known as BBC Digital. I particularly focused on concerns that the merging of the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News may jeopardise the quality of content produced, and mean that depth of coverage is lost at times. I also raised the announced departure of three senior BBC news presenters, and the effect this may have on news presenting going forward.
I was reassured that Mr Davie responded by guaranteeing the quality of news content from the BBC, and by confirming that coverage of major news would not be changed from the levels to which we have become accustomed. Should you wish to see a full version of my question, you can do so here.
VISIT TO QUEEN'S SCHOOL
I enjoyed a delightful visit to Queen's C of E Primary School in Kew today. The school is engaging in a variety of activities to prepare for the Eco-Fair they are working on with St Luke's Church in Kew. I had the pleasure of choosing the winners of a competition for posters to be used to promote the event. Following the judging I was treated to a tour of the school by the children. I also enjoyed a school dinner with the children, who were very happy to have the chance to talk about their eco activities.
Pupils Lottie and George (above centre) were very active in setting up the Eco-poster competition. The school has a designated group of Eco Ambassadors who meet to help think of ways the children can help the environment. The Eco-Fair event with St Luke's Church will be on Saturday March 11 from 10:30 - 2:00 at St Luke's Church in Kew.
The aim of the Eco-Fair is to inspire the local community to action on climate change, with an emphasis on empowering individuals to make positive changes in their lives. It will feature a repair cafe, clothes swap, childrens' activities, eco products on sale, an active travel festival and more, with broadcaster Jeremy Vine officially opening the event.
THAMES WATER RIVER PLANS
In an effort to tackle future water shortages, Thames Water has announced that they plan to divert between 50 million and 150 million litres of water out of the Thames per day to reservoirs serving London. The lost water would be replaced by treated sewage or effluent further downstream.
While treated sewage is generally safe, these plans could have a significant impact on the ecosystem of the Thames. The effluent release would raise the river’s temperature and increase its salinity, damaging both local fish populations and microscopic organisms essential to the river’s health.
I am seeking further information on the potential impacts this plan would have. Although it is vital we secure London’s future water supplies, it cannot come at the cost of destroying the Thames’ biodiversity.
Thames Water is hosting an information event this Monday, 16 January, from 2pm to 8pm at Richmond Old Town Hall. I would urge all interested residents to attend to learn more about the scheme and make your views known. You can see a drawing of the scheme at the bottom of this page.
Register for the event here.
This week, I received information detailing a rough timeline for the works to Hammersmith Bridge. Despite delays in 2022 caused by the war in Ukraine, the stabilisation works are finally on track and should be completed by the end of February. This is fantastic news; once these works are complete, the awning and heavy machinery on the carriageway can be removed and the deck reopened to cyclists. While we do not have an exact date for when this will be, I believe current plans indicate the carriageway should be reopened by late spring.
Turning to the strengthening works, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham aims to submit the Foster + Partners and Cowi “double decker” solution in the spring of this year, beginning procurement for the works by April. This is dependent on LBHF’s outline business case being approved by the Department for Transport and Transport for London. I know that many residents are eagerly awaiting more information on this topic, and I am pressing the Government to provide further details as soon as they are available.
ROYAL MAIL DISRUPTION
I have received a number of enquires from residents about significant delays they are experiencing when waiting for letters or parcels. I know some areas have not received urgent appointment letters or bills. We are not alone in these issues -- 37% of Londoners have experienced a letter delayed in the last week, and of those who experienced delays, 33% faced serious negative consequences such as missing a crucial bill.
While the problems Royal Mail has been experiencing have been exacerbated by the Communications Workers Union strike, it is my understanding that the local issues are due to layoffs throughout the year and staff absences in the Christmas period. It appears as if there has been a critical lack of contingency planning. Workers have not been available to cover routes, and mail is building up in sorting offices.
I have written to Royal Mail seeking clarification from their team on how residents can get their delayed post and what measures are being taken to clear backlogs. I have also sought assurance that letters and parcels which are held up in transit will not be destroyed. You can read the text of this letter here.
Richmond Council has announced that nominations are now open for the 2022 Community Heroes Awards. If you know of an inspiring individual, organisation or business that has made the community a better place you can put them forward for the recognition they deserve.
There are ten award categories including Young Person Achievement, Community Project of the Year and the Environmental Award. Nominees should be nominated for work in a voluntary capacity only and their work should benefit communities in the borough of Richmond.
If you know someone you consider to be a hero to your community, submit your nomination by Wednesday 1 March 2023. An awards ceremony for shortlisted candidates will be held on 25 April 2023.
Further information can be found on the Community Heroes webpage.
THAMES WATER RIVER SCHEME - PUBLIC INFO EVENT ON MONDAY!