Like my constituents, I am absolutely appalled at the further information that has come to light this week about the Prime Minister's breaches of Covid-19 rules: a garden party at Downing Street during the first lockdown, while some of my constituents were saying goodbye to dying loved ones over the phone; a boozy Christmas party during the December 2020 lockdown, when so many vulnerable people had to spend Christmas on their own; a raucous party at Number 10 in April 2021, the night before our grieving Queen sat apart from her family at the funeral of her husband of 73 years.
I have been receiving stories from constituents this week about the sacrifices they have made during lockdown and their anger at the Prime Minister’s disregard for them. They can rest assured that I share their anger and dismay and that I join with my fellow Liberal Democrats in calling for the PM to resign.
PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE – BOUNCE-BACK LOAN SCHEME
On Monday I led a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing into the bounce-back loan schemes that were designed to provide smaller businesses access to finance during the pandemic. Independent reports have estimated that between 7% and 11% of loans handed out were done so fraudulently. So I was really
eager to take the opportunity of this debate to question senior civil servants from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) about how this happened. Ultimately, the taxpayer bears the cost, which is why it was so important to question BEIS officials and ensure lessons are learned.
OPPOSITION DAY DEBATE ON SUPPORT FOR BUSINESSES DURING THE PANDEMIC
On Tuesday I participated in a debate on the continued need for business support in the pandemic. I took this opportunity to highlight the dire situation many business owners now find themselves in as they try to contend not just with the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic but with life outside of the EU.
For our economic recovery from Covid-19 to be as strong and sustainable as possible, we need opportunities - opportunities for those seeking work and opportunities for businesses to grow their enterprise and trade freely. However the Brexit trade deal has made commerce much, much harder for UK firms who trade with the EU and has ultimately limited opportunities.
The government must get a grip on the situation by providing firms with the support and guidance they need, or we will be severely undermining our economic revival.
To see part of my contribution to this debate, click here.
APPG ON BAME BUSINESS OWNERS
As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Black and Ethnic Minority (BAME) Business Owners, I have been working alongside our Special Advisor, Diana Chrouch, to better understand the key barriers that ethnic minority entrepreneurs face.
Following the listening exercise we carried out last summer, we have been calling for a national system for data collection to help provide policymakers with the evidence base that they need to enable them to identify barriers and successfully address them, to enable BAME business owners to recover and scale their business as the economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2018 BAME businesses contributed £25bn to the economy, so it is essential that the government turns its attention to this matter urgently. With that in mind, on Wednesday, I took the opportunity to ask the Minister of State for Equalities whether she would agree to meet with us to discuss ways in which we can improve data collection and, ultimately, strengthen access to finance for those who play such a vital role in the UK economy.
You can watch the exchange here.
SOUTH WESTERN RAILWAY SERVICE REDUCTION
South Western Railway announced this week that they will be running a reduced service from Monday 17 January 2022 because of staffing shortages due to the Omicron variant.
I was dismayed to hear about this reduction in trains on top of the infrequent and unreliable service my constituents are already having to put up with. I wrote to South Western Railway to question why this measure was needed when the case numbers show that infection rates are dropping and this wave of Covid-19 has already peaked. With only two trains an hour from some of the stations in my constituency, any further reductions will be a grave disservice to local users. You can see my letter here.
COVID-19 TESTING CHANGES
You may have heard that the rules around COVID-19 testing have changed this week. This is a temporary measure while cases remain high, but here are the current rules:
If you test positive on a lateral flow test, and have no symptoms, you should still self-isolate immediately. You no longer need to take a confirmatory PCR test though.
This change only affects those with no symptoms. If you do have coronavirus symptoms, you should still get a PCR test - you can get PCR tests at local test sites.
ADVICE TO PREGNANT WOMEN
Local NHS leaders are particularly urging expectant mothers to have both the flu vaccination and all of their Covid-19 vaccinations to protect themselves and their babies, at any stage of pregnancy.
There is good evidence that pregnant women have a higher chance of developing complications if they get flu, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. Studies have shown that it is safe to have the flu vaccine during any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks up to your expected due date. Book your free flu vaccine via your midwife, GP surgery or visit a local pharmacist offering the service. Visit the NHS website for more information on the flu jab in pregnancy.
Recent studies have confirmed that pregnant women are especially vulnerable to Covid-19. Since July, one in five COVID patients receiving treatment through a special lung-bypass machine were expectant mums who have not had their first Covid-19 jab. If you are pregnant and have not received all of the doses you are eligible for, please book yourself an appointment here.
Or if you don't want to make an appointment, you can see opening times for local walk-in centres here.
APPEAL FOR BLOOD DONATIONS
With fewer people donating blood last year, the Twickenham blood donor centre is experiencing a shortfall. One blood donation can save up to three lives, and it only takes around one hour of your time. I donated blood at this centre last year and can recommend the experience highly. The staff are brilliant and the process was easy and rewarding. Start this year by doing something amazing. Find out more
NEW OMICRON BUSINESS GRANT
Hospitality and leisure businesses can apply now for a new Government grant. The Omicron Hospitality and Leisure Grant was announced by the Government in December and provides support to hospitality, leisure and accommodation businesses struggling due to the new variant. Eligible businesses will get a one-off grant. The amount will depend on their rateable value. More details can be found here.
COUNCIL WINS APPEAL ON INJUNCTIONS AGAINST UNLAWFUL TRAVELLER CAMPS
In 2021 the High Court delivered a ruling that would prevent the Council taking action against any unknown travellers without Court approval. This meant that it often took the Council days to get permission to ask traveller groups to move on, sometimes putting local residents at risk.
A group of 14 councils appealed this decision, and yesterday the Court of Appeal found in their favour, recognising and confirming the benefits of preventative injunctions. The Council will now be seeking to reinstate its Injunction to protect public spaces at high risk of encampments.
DONATE YOUR OLD DEVICES
Do you have any unwanted or old tech lying around after Christmas? Mayor of Kingston Sushila Abraham is calling for donations to raise funds for the Mayor's Charitable Trust. By donating your devices at one of the drop-off points, you will be supporting the environment, and helping the people of Kingston. Find out more and donate now.
WINTER HOUSEHOLD SUPPORT PAYMENTS
If you know someone locally who is worried about how to manage their money this winter, or may not have enough money for food or fuel, they can apply to Kingston Council for help. They can call the council on 07516 226396 or use this email form. They will contact you to explain the process and make a referral if appropriate.
CELEBRATION OF TAMIL HERITAGE IN NEW MALDEN
All local residents are invited to come along to an event in New Malden celebrating the Tamil Harvest Festival next Saturday 22 January. The event will include dancing, a parade along the high street, and a Tamil heritage exhibit.
You can come to the unveiling of the twin cities sign at 11:00 on Burlington Road near PC World, and then attend a series of cultural events in St Georges Square, finishing with a civic and cultural service in the Methodist Church at 1:30. You can see more details in the poster below.