I was hoping to take this opportunity to wish all my constituents a very happy Christmas, especially after the difficult year we’ve all had and the constraints on celebrating last year. Unfortunately the news about the rapid spread of the Omicron virus will be casting a shadow over many people’s plans. So instead, I want to urge you all to get your booster jabs and to heed the advice of Professor Chris Whitty about prioritising who you have contact with over the Christmas season.
The good news is that the boosters should protect most of us from getting seriously ill, but new measures to restrict transmission may mean many of us isolating over the next week, including on Christmas Day itself.
With that in mind, can I instead wish all my constituents a safe and careful Christmas, however and whenever you end up celebrating. Please spare a thought for our NHS staff who will be working hard again this year to keep us all safe. Although it may feel as if we’re back at square one with coronavirus, we are in fact in a much better place this year than last, and there is plenty to look forward to in the New Year. Stay safe, stay positive - we all still have so much to be glad about.
CASES IN LONDON
Today I had a call with local health care officials. They informed me that London has the highest rates in the UK, with 23,000 new cases yesterday. Cases are doubling every few days, with 73% Omicron. It appears cases are rising largely due to increased household contact.
Some 80% of Covid patients in ICU are unvaccinated, with the remainder having serious underlying health conditions. That makes it all the more important for those who have not yet had their jab to come forward a soon as possible. The good news is that it looks like they are, and while NHS and emergency services staff absences could well become problematic, so far it is resilient. I was also encouraged to hear of the increases in capacity for both vaccination and testing centres.
EARLY PRESENT FOR LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: A NEW MP!
As the majority of you will now have seen, Liberal Democrat candidate Helen Morgan won yesterday's by-election in North Shropshire, which was the 58th safest Conservative seat in the country with a majority of almost 23,000 votes in 2019.
I am absolutely thrilled for Helen, not just for the stunning scale of the result, but the fantastic campaign she ran. She’s handled the unique challenge of being a by-election candidate with grace, good humour and charm. I look forward to welcoming her into Westminster into the new year and supporting her in what I'm sure will be the beginning of a long and successful career in politics.
VACCINE CLINICS IN RICHMOND
A further walk-in booster clinic will open on Monday 20TH at Richmond Adult Community College from 11am until 6pm. From Tuesday 21st December it will be open each day until Friday 24th December, from 9am-6pm.
This is in addition to walk-in centres available across South West London, including at West Mid Hospital Vaccination Hub. See here for dates and times.
The clinic at RHACC is open to anyone aged 12 or over, however young people aged 12-15 may need to wait for nurses to become available. No appointments are needed, but as seen elsewhere in the country, queues maybe long. First and second doses of the Pfizer vaccines will be on offer, and booster jabs (for those eligible) will also be available.
URGENTLY REQUIRED BUSINESS SUPPORT
At this critical and depressingly familiar juncture of the pandemic, the government's messaging has once again failed to reflect the reality of the situation for so many businesses.
If the government wants people to stop socialising, as Chris Whitty suggested this week, it needs to give clear directions to business that they should shut down, and back that order up with a package of financial support. It's clear that many will not be able to survive another desolate festive season.
Last week, Daisy Cooper MP, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson, and I wrote to Paul Scully, the Minister for pubs and Covid-19 business support, asking him to convene an urgent hospitality summit to bring together representatives from hospitality, leisure and the supply chains with hospitality workers and government, to put in place an emergency plan to save our pubs, restaurants, hotels and nightlife from collapse.
Separately I have called on the Chancellor to provide a £4.5bn package of tax cuts for local businesses to help ailing high streets. The package would see the reinstatement of the emergency 5% rate of VAT for hospitality, accommodation and attractions and 100% business rates relief for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. These changes would offer a vital lifeline to over 800,000 businesses.
CHILD SAFEGUARDING DURING THE PANDEMIC
Emerging evidence shows that in August, only 1/3 of mandated health visits were conducted in-person. This is a serious safeguarding concern.
Revised public health guidance now recognises virtual contacts as valid mandated health and development checks. This weakens the standard of support parents should expect to receive and it puts babies and young children at risk.
I've therefore written to the Department for Health and Social Care, urging them to update public health guidance to make the five mandated health visiting contacts face-to-face by default and to invest in rebuilding the health visiting workforce so this can be delivered to every baby and their family.
VISIT TO CHRIST'S SCHOOL CITIZENSHIP DAY
Last Friday I was invited to Christ's School to attend a GCSE citizenship class. I had many interesting and informative conversations with the students about a wide range of topics, including but not limited to sexual abuse, the Israel Palestine conflict, sexualisation of women in the media, institutionalised racism and homelessness in Richmond.
I was also pleased to meet with headteacher, Helen Dixon to discuss how important it was to focus on adolescent mental health and well-being at this time.
IMPORTANT E-SCOOTER NEWS
TfL has announced that all privately-owned e-scooters and e-unicycles, including those that can be folded or carried, have been banned on London’s transport network as of Monday 13 December. This is the result of safety concerns about these items following recent fires on TfL premises and services. Customers in possession of such devices will not be permitted to enter any premises on TfL’s network or travel on any of its services, including on the Tube, buses, Overground, TfL Rail, Trams and DLR.
HOMEBASE, MANOR ROAD CONSULTATION DEADLINE EXTENDED
The Greater London Authority’s (GLA) consultation deadline for the Homebase, Manor Road application has been extended to 6th January 2022. This follows my office taking up complaints about misleading information on the GLA website. Erroneously it had said only 385 flats were proposed for the site, not 453, and that objections should be sent to Richmond Council, not the GLA. And there were other mistakes and poor sharing of information by the GLA. The authority has corrected the misleading information and extended the consultation to 6th January to make amends.
I would encourage anyone who has not yet submitted their comments to the GLA about developer Avanton’s proposals for the Homebase, Manor Road site, to do so. More information about the application and how to submit comments can be made by clicking here. I shall be submitting my own comments in due course.
FINANCIAL HELP AVAILABLE THIS WINTER
Local families and individuals who are struggling financially this winter and need help and support accessing food, energy bills or other household essentials, can still come forward to apply for financial help.
As part of the Government’s Household Support Fund, support will be given to low-income households and families with children particularly affected by the COVID pandemic and the higher costs of household essentials throughout the winter period, where alternative sources of assistance may be unavailable. Low income working households are also eligible to apply and are recommended to approach Citizens Advice Richmond or Richmond AID for further guidance.
To apply for help, contact one of the below organisations:
Citizens Advice Richmond (freephone 080 82 78 78 73. Lines are open 10am-5pm Monday to Friday. Or complete this online form.
For people with long term health conditions, disabilities and carers please contact Richmond AID by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: call 020 8821 6070
In addition, you can see the other funding available here: www.richmond.gov.uk/i_need_help.
GREEN HOMES GRANT IN RICHMOND
Richmond Council has secured additional funding for the next phase of the Green Homes Grant, which provides up to £10,000 of funding to help residents improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
The scheme is for homeowners and landlords in England to support the installation of energy efficient and low-carbon heating improvements to their homes. The types of improvements that can be made include insulation, double-glazing, air source heat pumps and heating controls.
For more information, click here.
TRANSPORT IN KINGSTON
Given the ongoing uncertainty around TfL's finances, I was pleased this week to co-sign Ed Davey's crucial letter to the Department for Transport, along with Andreas Kirsch, Leader of Kingston Council and Stephanie Archer, Portfolio Holder for the Environment and Sustainable Transport Committee at RBK, urging them to reach a long-term, sustainable funding settlement with TfL, not simply another short-term extension - as was announced this afternoon.
Kingston has been at the forefront of delivery of the Healthy Streets Programme and sustainable travel agenda in recent years, and being caught up in this wider funding negotiation with TfL is holding us back unnecessarily and preventing us from delivering our targets to cut carbon and improve air quality.
OLD AND UNUSED TECH DEVICES
This year the Mayor of Kingston, Councillor Sushila Abraham is teaming up with recycling and reuse experts Genuine Solutions to relaunch their Mobile Mop Up project, which recycles used and unused mobile phones and has raised £4,700 for the Mayor’s Charitable Trust over two years.
Residents can drop off their old or unused tech devices, such as mobile phones, tablets, laptops or accessories (i.e chargers, cables and headphones), at a number of locations across the borough. These locations will be regularly updated on the Mobile Mop-up webpage.
As well as raising funds for the Mayor of Kingston's Charitable Trust, the items will be recycled in an environmentally friendly way.