It was a very busy return to Parliament after recess this week. I had the opportunity to speak on a number of important subjects.
On Tuesday, I spoke in the House in response the Budget and Finance Bill, which disappointed me in a number of ways. I am deeply concerned about the future of small businesses, which are the lifeblood of our high streets and communities. We urgently need a plan to support these innovative entrepreneurs and local employers, before the end of furlough brings a tsunami of business closures and job losses. I called on the Chancellor to address the future of small businesses directly and substantively right away.
I also spoke up about the continued absence of support for the sectors and individuals who have not been assisted through the pandemic. This bill is yet another missed opportunity to support the travel, cultural and events sectors, and the hundreds of thousands of freelancers and small business owners who have been excluded from support.
Lastly, I told the Government how disappointed I am that this bill does not address the climate emergency. It is clear that the Government is not serious about achieving net zero or fostering a green recovery from the pandemic. There was nothing on green homes, electric vehicles, cycling and walking infrastructure, public transport or industrial strategy.
You can see some of my remarks here or read the full text here.
Also on Tuesday, during Oral Questions, I asked Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock what he is doing about the crisis in children's mental health services. Children and adolescents are waiting a year or more for treatment for serious mental health conditions, getting more unwell while they wait and missing important educational opportunities. I have heard many distressing accounts of this from my own constituents and I know that colleagues in neighbouring constituencies have as well.
I am addressing this on the local level with colleagues, but I thought it was important to challenge Mr Hancock on it in the House. You can see my question and his response here.
On Wednesday I spoke in the House in the debate about Greenshill Capital. I am appalled that public servants think it is acceptable to take remuneration from businesses regulated by their departments. Government ministers and civil servants must hold themselves to a higher standard than this or public trust in their actions will rightly disappear. Liberal Democrats have been calling for reform to lobbying rules for many years, and I will support any effort to put a stop to existing unsavoury practices. You can see my remarks on this subject here.
With serious questions to answer about cronyism in procurement and financial support to businesses, the Government must allow us to scrutinise their large business support loans. You can see my question to Paul Scully, Under Secretary of State in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, about the long-overdue publication of the list of loans made under the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme here.
HAMMERSMITH BRIDGE DEBATE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
On Wednesday, I spoke in an adjournment debate about the continuing delay to funding the Hammersmith Bridge repairs.
I explained the enormous negative impact it has had on children in the constituency to be cut off from their schools by the closure. I know how hard this has been for them at a time when their education has already been disrupted.
Residents who are affected by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge might like to see the transcript of the full debate, where the case for the Government to act was put very strongly by myself, Putney MP Fleur Anderson, Hammersmith MP Andy slaughter and Brentford & Isleworth MP Ruth Cadbury. The Government tried to defend its indefensible position by attacking Hammersmith and Fulham Council, implying that the Council is obstructing progress by refusing to contribute funds that they manifestly do not have and cannot raise. I am appalled that the Government continues to play these political games while my constituents, and residents in neighbouring areas, continue to struggle and suffer.
You can find the full text of the debate here.
CALL FOR RE-OPENING OF HAM GATE TOILETS
Along with ward councillors for Ham, Petersham & Richmond Riverside, I am still calling on Royal Parks to re-open the toilets at Ham Gate in Richmond Park. Despite multiple letters sent to Royal Parks and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and an online petition which is approaching 1,500 signatures, park management have remained unwilling to enact change.
With the recent announcement that Richmond Park will be introducing car parking charges, I feel there is an opportunity to reinvest the expected revenue into re-opening the toilets. Royal Parks’ concern around financial pressures is perfectly legitimate, but the increased revenue would merits re-consideration of the financial viability of re-opening the toilets. To sign the petition to re-open the toilets at Ham Gate, please visit: Change.org/OpenHamGateToilets.
VACCINATION FOR THOSE OVER 45
The NHS has just opened the mass vaccination programme to people aged 45 - 50, who can now book their appointments by calling 119 or by clicking here. Appointments are regularly added and people are advised to keep checking back over a few days if their nearest site doesn't show up on their first try.
The JCVI announced their strategy for Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout programme this week, now that Phase 1 is officially complete. They have recommended that the rollout continue prioritising the remaining adult population strictly by age. The JCVI acknowledges that it would be justifiable to prioritise people who are more likely to spread the disease, or whose jobs are more likely to expose them to it, but that after examining the data closely they are not recommending such a course. Their statement says
"Speed of vaccine deployment is the single most important factor for an optimal programme that maximises public health benefit. A simple age-based programme is considered the keystone of rapid vaccine deployment. Maintaining this structure through phase 2 of the programme should enable the high pace of vaccine deployment to continue."
If you would like to see the full statement explaining their reasoning, you can see it here. I would defer to the JCVI's judgment on this and I only hope that we will be able to move down through the age groups quickly and have everyone protected soon.
This week I would like to highlight the work of two of my constituents, brothers Feras and Wael Al Moubayed. Feras and Wael are both deaf and use British Sign Language. Feras recently got in touch with me to highlight the increased difficulty the deaf community has faced in communicating during the pandemic. Mask-wearing has made lip reading impossible, making the pandemic experience even more isolating for people with hearing impairments.
Wael and Feras are founders of AMB Deaf Accessibility. They provide packages to teach people sign language, tailoring topics to what people need to know. With Deaf Awareness Week coming up in the first week of May, I would like to encourage Richmond Park residents to consider learning basic sign language, such as ‘Hello’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘How are you?’ Feras emphasised to me the importance of inclusion for deaf individuals, and small efforts such as these can really put a smile on someone’s face.
If you would like to learn more about Wael and Feras’ work, you can visit their website here. And if you would like me to shine my Community Spotlight on you or someone you know, please email me on email@example.com .
JOIN ME FOR A VIRTUAL COFFEE MORNING NEXT WEDNESDAY
My next virtual coffee morning will be Wednesday, April 21 at 10:00am. If you would like to come along and hear an update on what I am doing as your MP, followed by a discussion of local and national issues with your fellow constituents, please sign up here.
SUSTRANS BIG PEDAL 19-30 APRIL
Schools can compete in this year's national inter-school competition to see who can get the highest percentage of their pupils, staff and parents cycling, walking, wheeling or scooting to school.
There are prizes to be won and it's a great way to keep children active and get them thinking about how they travel in their local area. Find more information on the Big Pedal website or register today.
ORANGE TREE THEATRE: LIVE SEASON ANNOUNCED
I am delighted to report that the Orange Tree Theatre has announced plans to reopen their doors. Public booking will open on April 30 for the Recovery season starting at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond on 22 May. Over 3,500 tickets will be available for £15 across the season. The season includes:
Short Shaws - two short plays by Bernard Shaw: How He Lied to Her Husband and Overruled
Bryony Lavery’s Last Easter was midway through rehearsals when the theatre closed in March 2020. It will finally receive its London premiere, directed by Tinuke Craig, from 3 July.
Actors Touring Company Artistic Director Matthew Xia returns to the OT to direct the UK premiere of Rice by Asian-Australian writer Michele Lee.
Paul Miller’s production of Terence Rattigan’s While the Sun Shines rediscovered a classic comedy in 2019. It returns from 20 November.
Each of these productions will also be filmed by The Umbrella Rooms and live-streamed with OT On Screen, following the success of the streaming of new plays project Inside/Outside.
JOIN YOUR SAFER NEIGHBOURHOOD BOARD
Every London borough has a Safer Neighbourhood Board, which is an independent group charged with monitoring police performance in the borough, including stop and search policies, crime data and trends, complaints, public confidence and satisfaction.
The Richmond Board also ensures that every ward has a Police Liaison Group, and provides funding for various projects. The Richmond Safer Neighbourhood board newsletter sets out their work, and encourages you to join them. You can find the newsletter here or learn more about the board itself here.
OUTDOOR DINING IN RICHMOND
VisitRichmond has compiled a list of pubs and restaurants in the borough that have outdoor dining, and might need booking in advance. Find out more here.
SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE ENJOYING KINGSTON Kingston First's new campaign 'Colour Your Senses in Kingston' invites you to rediscover all the town has to offer, recalling the familiar sights, sounds, smells, feelings and tastes of Kingston that we’ve all missed. To welcome you back, the town centre has been dressed with colourful bunting, stencils, floral displays and there is additional seating so you can enjoy catching up with friends and loved ones safely outdoors. You can get involved by sharing how you #ColourYourSenses in Kingston - from what you’ve been savouring in restaurants and cafes, to the time you’ve shared with friends in pub gardens and the sunny scenes you’ve enjoyed in Kingston's beautiful streets and spaces. You can also view opening hours and offers for local businesses on InKingston's website.
NEW VIDEO HISTORY INSTALLATION
Echolocation is an eleven-meter-long, three-channel video installation that seeks to excavate more than a millennium of local history, referencing bats, past English Kings, a long-gone church and chrono-photographer Eadweard Muybridge in an ethereal projected experience. The artwork can be found in the alleyway near Kingston's All Saints Church. Read more about the project.